on approaches to bible translation

Prayer A Powerful Weapon

Last week, I posted a survey on languages and bible preference, which is still open by the way.  (If you haven’t spent the 30 seconds necessary to complete its four questions, I would greatly appreciate it.)  Soon after, I came across these thoughts on bible translation in the preface to a commentary on Romans by Fr. Lawrence Farley, a priest in the Orthodox Church in America serving at St. Herman’s Church in Surrey, British Columbia.  After briefly describing the two principle approaches to translation–formal and dynamic equivalence–he writes:

The English translator is faced, it would seem, with a choice: either he can make the translation something of a rough paraphrase of the original and render it into flowing sonorous English  or he can attempt to make a fairly literal, word-for-word translation from the original with the resultant English being stilted, wooden, and clumsy.

These two basic and different approaches to translation correspond to two basic and different activities in the Church. The Church needs a translation of the Scriptures for use in worship.  This should be in good, grammatical, and flowing English, as elegant as possible and suited to its function in the majestic function of the Liturgy.  The Church also needs a translation of the Scriptures for private study and for group Bible study.  Here the elegance of its English is of lesser concern.  What is of greater concern here is the bring out of all the nuances found in the original.  Thus this approach will tend to sacrifice elegance for literality and, wherever possible, seek a work-for-work correspondence with the Greek.  Also, because the student will want to see how the biblical authors use a particular word (especially St. Paul, who has many works included in the canon), a consistence of translation will be sought and the same Greek word will be translated, whenever possible, by the same English word or its cognate.

So, what do you think about Fr. Farley’s observations concerning the place of different translations in the life of the Church?  Do you agree that we would do well to utilize a more flowing, dynamic translation for public reading and liturgy as part of worship while resorting to a more literal translation for study?  It seems the desire of many (most?) of us is to find that one bible translation that is perfect (or at least suitable) for both worship and study.  In the ever-changing landscape of English bible translation, this quest is as elusive as it is ultimately frustrating.

What do you think of Fr. Farley’s advice?

photo credit: Creative Commons | abcdz2000

the ‘problem’ with theology

Coffee Shop Study

I have been a student of Christian theology my entire adult life.  I have tested the waters or swum in many diverse Christian traditions from Orthodoxy, Presbyterianism/Congregationalism, Lutheranism, and Methodism/Wesleyanism.  I have well-worn, dog-eared, note-filled theology books from all those great traditions on my bookshelves.  Here’s the thing none of the most staunch devotees will typically admit:

In an effort to create ‘systems’ that are logical and comprehensible to man, all of these systems have nearly insurmountable problems.

So, do we throw our hands up and walk away, cynical of any systematic approaches to Christianity?  Do we take upon ourselves the impossible position of “no creed but the bible” or something similar?  No and no.

Here is what we must do…

Above all, we must recognize the difficulty in studying our infinite and wonderful God and approach our studies and those of others with the utmost humility.  We must be aware the difficulties in our own theological paradigms and be charitable in our discussions with those who hold differing views.  We must realize (to paraphrase Roger Olsen) that we ultimate decide on a theological system (consciously or not) because we can more easily live with its problems than we can with those of another system.  Finally, we must be aware the r considerable common ground with share with other orthodox Christians and admit that that which unites us is far greater than that which divides us.

photo credt: Creative Commons | Mark Grapengater

Theology…Knowing God

Yesterday at Glory to God for All Things, Fr. Stephen posted marvelous words about placing emphasis in our lives on those things that are important to God.  In his post, he discussed both the necessity and the aim of theology…to know God:

And this is theology – to know God. If I have a commitment in theology, it is to insist that we never forget that it is to know God. Many of the arguments (unending) and debates (interminable) are not about what we know, but about what we think.

Thinking is not bad, nor is it wrong, but thinking is not the same thing as theology. It is, of course, possible to think about theology, but this is not to be confused with theology itself.

Knowing God is not in itself an intellectual activity for God is not an idea, nor a thought. God may be known because He is person. Indeed, He is only made known to us as person (we do not know His essence). We cannot know God objectively – that is He is not the object of our knowledge. He is known as we know a person. This is always a free gift, given to us in love. Thus knowledge of God is always a revelation, always a matter of grace, never a matter of achievement or attainment.

It matters that we know God because knowledge of God is life itself. “This is eternal life,” Jesus said, “to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

These words ring especially true coming from a Reformed background and having attended a staunchly Calvinistic seminary.  Especially among the students in seminary, all too often our theological ‘studies’ tended to become little more than cataloging of facts about God rather than an effort to truly know him.  Whether formal students of theology or not, we are all guilty at times of the same offense.  We forget that God is not an object of study to be observed and researched–the depth of his will is not a divine ‘problem’ to be solved, the wonder of the incarnation not a mundane occurrence that is easily explained, the mystery of grace and sacraments not ‘parlor tricks’ to be explained away.

As analytical and logic-driven as our minds might be, and as Westerners we deceive ourselves if we claim not to be bound tenaciously by reason and logic, we must focus not on our speculations about theology but on truly knowing our Triune God through his gracious revelation to us–centering, of course, on the incarnation and revelation in Christ Jesus. We must be reminded of Jesus’ words, as Fr. Stephen as done beautifully, that to know God is life eternal.

Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for you timely yet gentle words.