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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Qualifications for Biblical Interpretation

Yesterday three people posted on what qualifies a person to interpret the Bible. They are not talking about translation per se, but the matter is closely related.

Adverseria Dilettantes and the Bible

Jim West Further Observations on Dilettantism and Biblical Interpretation

James Crossley Who is best at biblical interpretation?


At Tue Jun 06, 08:38:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

They are not talking about translation per se, but the matter is closely related.

For sure, Suzanne. I've heard some people say that only Christians are qualified to translate the Bible adequately. I disagree.

At Tue Jun 06, 11:21:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

That is a very interesting comment, Wayne, and one I would like to explore further.

At Wed Jun 07, 01:13:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Wed Jun 07, 03:17:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

I think you will find that Dr Grudem was not talking about translation and as such you have quoted him out of context to the post.

God bless

At Wed Jun 07, 06:39:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Wed Jun 07, 08:29:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I believe that high quality translations can come from atheists, agnostics, deists, Jews, evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, and those outside the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I agree. The only requirement to do high quality translation of any document is adequate knowledge of the source language and native speaker fluency of the target language. Some of the best translations of the Hebrew Bible are made by Jews, such as Robert Alter. Some of the worst translations of the Hebrew Bible (or at least some parts of it) are made by Christians attempting to Christianize the Hebrew Bible in in the light of New Testament interpretation. The latter has become one of the litmus tests in the current Bible wars. How sad! How we have allowed our theology to influence how we translate.

I would sure like to be able to call you something other than "anonymous". Can you help me do so?

At Wed Jun 07, 09:14:00 AM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

When it comes to translation, it is obvious that anyone who is qualified is allowed, nay encouraged, to participate in the duty of translating. However, that, as we can all readily see, is NOT what this post is actually about. This post is about actual "interpretation" of the words. Who is qualified to do this?

The line between interpretation and translation is thin. So thin, I would not hesitate to say that many have crossed over into both realms without even realizing it (at least some of the time). However, typically interpreting something implies that you seek to explain or to tell the meaning (Webster, 1913). On the other hand, interpreting a text can in fact mean to translate it from one laguage to another, etc. So, on definitions alone it is somewhat difficult to differentiate between the two tasks because they partially overlap with one another.

So I ask myself a different question, who is qualified to teach Christian truth? R. A. Torrey remarks that "Many difficulties that we have with the Bible arise not from what the bible actually says, but from what men interpret it to mean." I find this to be true, because all of us have trouble deciding what is actually being said or taught in certain portions of scripture (whether adopted children of God or not).

I believe what A. W. Tozer has said about this subject stands true, it is a rather fundamental belief or opinion, but scripture itself lends credibility to this mindset, and I am inclined to agree with him.

"The notion that the Bible is addressed to everybody has wrought confusion within and without the church. The effort to apply the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount to the unregenerate nations of the world is one example of this. Courts of law and military powers of the earth are urged to follow the teachings of Christ, an obviously impossible thing for them to do. To quote the words of Christ as guides for policemen, judges and generals is to misunderstand those words completely and to reveal a total lack of understanding of the puproses of divine revelation. The gracious words of Christ are for the sons and daughters of grace, not for the Gentile nations whose chosen symbols are the lion, the eagle, the dragon and the bear."
"Not only does God address His words of truth to those who are able to receive them, He actually conceals their meaning from those who are not. The preacher uses stories to make truth clear; our Lord often used them to obscure it. The parables of Christ were the exact opposite of modern "illustration," which is meant to give light; the parables were "dark sayings" and Christ asserted that He sometimes used them so that His disciples could understand and His enemies could not. (See Matthew 13:10-17.) As the pillar of fire gave light to Israel but was cloud and darkness to the Egyptians, so our Lord's words shine in the hearts of His people but leave the self-confident unbeliever in the obscurity of moral night."
"The saving power of the Word is reserved for those for whom it is intended. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him. The impenitent heart will find the Bible but a skeleton of facts without flesh or life or breath. Shakespeare may be enjoyed without penitence; we may understand Plato without believing a word he says; but penitence and humility along with faith and obedience are necessary to a right understanding of the Scriptures."
"In natural matters faith follows evidence and is impossible without it, but in the realm of the spirit faith precedes understanding; it does not follow it. The natural man must know in order to believe; the spiritual man must believe in order to know. The faith that saves is not a conclusion drawn from evidence; it is a moral thing, a thing of the spirit, a supernatural infusion of confidence in Jesus Christ, a very gift of God."

Sorry for the long quote, but the fundamental position on this subject deserves to be heard, if not at least for its traditional importance to Christianity. I realize that some have said that the Bible was "not written for you", and I find this to be true in a matter of degrees. However, in the manner of degrees, I also find the fundamental position, so well articulated by Tozer, to be true as well.

At Wed Jun 07, 09:21:00 AM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

Just so the comment doesn't get lost above, I find that anyone qualified to translate may do so, without reserve, because translating one text into another text, no matter the spiritual content, can be accomplished by said qualified individuals or committees or what have you.

I brushed the "translating" aside early in my post, to concentrate more on "who should teach Christian Truth?". I hope that my subject change was indeed noted, because I do not find "unbelievers" or "unrepentant sinners" translating the Bible to be a problem personally. My preference when it comes to translators is that they know what they are doing. They should be renowned experts in their fields. However, I guess you could summarize it this way, that when I see someone teaching or "preaching" Christian truths, that the Bible claims are shed abroad in the hearts of those who believe, then I pray that those who are doing so are truly repentant adopted children of God.

Do you see my differences between the tasks of teaching Christian truth and actual translating of texts? I feel that I am not articulating my seperate opinions well. Sorry...

At Wed Jun 07, 08:33:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I appreciate the efforts to define interpretation. I have thought of two possible models.

In the first, there is

A - translation
C - praxis

A is open to anyone with academic qualifications and C is necessarily defined by belief and action. In ths model, interpretation is translation.

In the second model, there is

A - translation
B - teaching or theology
C - praxis

The first is open to those with the academic qualifications, but the other two are not. In this model interpretation is B.

So, in the first case, interpretation is seen as A, (although I think that could go either way.) However, I definitely understood West and Crossley to be talking more about A than B, but I could be wrong.

I hold to the first model now, with only two distinctions, although I once held the second model - I would not consider one more liberal than the other, but different models of limited use and application only.

Dr. Packer probably holds more to the second model, the interaction of theology and interpretation by the church with translation. He told me,

When you are translating scripture into a language that has never had Christians congregations you need to settle for the fact that no translating will be good enough not to need revising 25 years down the road when people will have settled for their favourite term for something.

I understand him to mean that the theological community and its interpretation is a separate activity from the original translation, and that it should interact with the translation. So the act of translation for Dr. Packer is, what does the orthodox Christian community hold that the words mean. Naturally this requires defining the orthodox Christian community.

I hope that I fairly represent his views on translation.


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