Kenny is dealing with an important issue which has seldom been addressed as clearly as he has. He is thinking there are probably statements in the biblical language texts which are even more culture-bound than those in Luke 2:40. I agree. I think this one is a candidate: 2 Cor. 12:2 where Paul spoke of a "third" heaven. Multiple "heavens" was part of his cultural worldview. It is not part of ours. So do we keep Paul's wording and footnote about the worldview difference? Or do we try to find a way of expressing the "underlying" meaning (culture-free?) of what Paul said, to enable readers of our translations to understand more immediately what Paul was saying.
Here's another: How many days went by after the birth of Jesus, or any other Jewish boy, before he was circumcised. The biblical texts say 8 days, but that is based on Jewish reckoning of time. We English speakers count days differently from the Jews and the time between birth and circumcision for us is 7 days. We can choose to "literally" retain their time counting, which results in inaccurate understanding for readers of English translations of how many days actually went by, we can footnote or teach that the number of days in the translation is not actually the number of days for us, but the number of days for the Jews, or we can convert Jews days to our days. One good translation solution is to say "one week" rather than either 8 days or 7 days, since 8 days was one week for the Jews and one week for us.
I think it all largely comes down to some basic questions about what are the most important reasons for translating the Bible to other languages. I suspect that the answers will largely depend on who our audience is for a specific translation. We can be glad that there are different kinds of translations in English (not all people groups have such a wealth of different translations), ones for seekers who know little about biblical cultures and others for biblically literate people who know much more and can convert culturally conditioned wordings to something close to how we, in our language and from our worldview, would express it.
I would never want to remove the historical and cultural context of the biblical texts. But which ones are so "significant" that we risk changing the text improperly if we transculturate them, and which ones are culturally insignificant, such as many of the biblical metaphors. "Bowels and mercies" (Phil. 2:1), is one which Bible translators today, including essential literalists, seem comfortable converting to an English equivalent, even though bowels were viewed as having an important emotional function within the Hebraic worldview reflected in the Hebrew Bible and the Greek of the Jewish authors of the New Testament.
It's often not easy to know where a proper balance is when trying to be true to the cultural conditioning of the language of the Bible and how much of that conditioning needs to be retained for a translation to cultures which have different worldviews, especially if doing do will communicate inaccurately without footnotes or added teaching beyond the translation. I think much more discussion of the topic Kenny has raised is needed. And the discussion needs to enter biblical academia so that the profile of this issue will be raised higher and more people will understand the issues. There also needs to be tolerance expressed toward those who will choose different points on the culture/language continuum in a specific translation.
Categories: Bible translation, cultural conditioning, biblical culture