Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Key notions defined series: 14. Translation

Having completed my main review of the New Testament (and some Old Testament) texts, cataloguing almost 500 passages, I am "celebrating" that milestone by publishing a part of the paper that helps me in the weighing of these texts, which is currently entitled Chapter 2: Key Notions Defined. It is also an opportunity for me to tidy up these definitions. Here is the next one:


Translation is interpretation. If you already speak two languages then you already know this, since there are so many words that you have already seen cannot be systematically translated the same way, that require context absolutely, etc. However, it can be, as Anthony Buzzard correctly notes, a most subtle type of interpretation. Gordon Fee concurs: “it is sufficient to point out how the fact of translation in itself has already involved one in the task of interpretation.”[1] 

Buzzard mentions its subtlety during a discussion of the significance of Jesus being worshipped[2]. Imagine the following, slightly exaggerated, example: every time God is worshipped (in Greek, Proskuneo), we get “worship”, every time Jesus is worshipped, we get “worship”, every time a superior human other than Jesus is worshipped (in Greek, still Proskuneo), we get “bowed down”, “prostrated”, etc. That would be a very subtle form of bias that begins before we even start to look at the text, expressing an underlying theological commitment on the part of the translator(s) of which most lay readers of the Scriptures have no awareness. 

Fortunately, I think we can say that translators working in teams, even when they might share some overarching theological perspectives, are steadily removing some of these theological biases that have been historically present in the translations we and our predecessors have been reading[3].

Next Key Notion post: Trinity, trinities and Fourth Century Trinitarianism

[1] Fee & Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Creative Print & Design, Ebbw Vale), p. 15
[3] See my post here, based on two particular improvements to the NIV in Hebrews and Titus:

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