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Thursday, October 20, 2005

It takes a team

As Elena and I packed and moved to our new home in Spokane, I realized again how true it is that many activities in life require teamwork. It would have taken Elena and me much longer to pack and move if we had not had the help of a good team. One of our daughters, Esther, drove with her family from Spokane to our home on the reservation to help us. Esther worked beside her mother, helping pack our things into boxes. Her husband, Pete, is mechanically gifted. He has keen spatial intelligence and that was especially helpful stacking boxes and furniture in the U-Haul truck. We had many boxes, so we got help from a couple of teams of younger men who are strong and have a lot of energy. Pete enjoyed driving the rental truck, so he shared that responsibility with me while Esther and Elena (and Pete, when I was driving the truck) drove their car. On the Spokane end, Josh, our other Spokane son-in-law had recruited a friend from their church to help unload the truck. Josh's father was able to help for awhile also.

Moving takes a team.

So does Bible translation.

Yes, translations of the Bible have been done by single individuals. And if those individuals are especially good with the English language, as was J.B. Phillips, the result can be a translation which is stylistically more vibrant and attractive than a translation produced by a committee. But, still, there are aspects of the translation process for which teamwork is best.

Although few English versions have undergone rigorous fieldtesting of the kind that computer software programs do (during their Beta and similar tests), translation teams are better equipped, by virtue of their greater numbers, to conduct such important tests. Such fieldtesting among people who have the ability to objectively spot non-English and other odd wordings can help improve the communicative accuracy, clarity, and literary quality of a Bible translation.

Translation teamwork can maximize the gifts that different individuals bring to the translation task. Some are trained and/or gifted at exegesis. Others have a gift for expressing the meaning of the biblical text in good quality natural English. Sometimes, although not very often, a single individual will have both gifts.

Some exegetes on a team are better equipped to do translation of the Hebrew Bible. For others, the New Testament is their translation turf.

Increasingly, we are seeing the value of in-depth footnotes which are oriented toward the forms of the biblical languages and the translation options a translation team face. The NET Bible has the most extensive notes detailing the various decisions that a team faced as the translated the Bible. Hopefully, other Bible versions will include extensive translation notes, such as those of the NET Bible, in the future.

Production of a translation is not the end of a translation project. It is important how the translation is published, whether it is published only in print form or also in some non-print medium. It takes people skilled in publication issues to know what font faces and sizes are good for published Bibles.

And the audience who uses a Bible version can be an important part of a translation team. Bible translation teams are increasingly recognizing the value of inviting public feedback to their translations. This continues with the NET Bible. The ESV team provides an address on their website where ideas for improvements can be emailed. Perhaps other translation teams are also benefitting from feedback, whether through Internet websites or compiled from comments from Sunday School teachers or others observing the reactions of non-scholars to translation wordings.

Bible translation truly takes a team. I am thankful for Bible translators who recognize the value of getting as much team input as possible. I am thankful for teams which invite the Bible-reading public to give input which can help them make even better Bibles. Better Bibles communicate more accurately and more clearly the eternal message of God's written Word.

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