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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sacred speech

Stephen Smith blogged on the ESV Bible blog yesterday about Sacred speech found in liturgies. He refers to Bible translation in his conclusion:
Translating a liturgy does not precisely correspond to translating the Bible, since you often read the Bible outside of public worship settings. Nevertheless, this historical context helps explain how tradition has shaped the translation of the Bible into English.
Some churches with more formal liturgies (even Baptist and Pentecostal churches have a kind of "liturgy" with their own "sacred speech") like the language of the ESV precisely because it has the sound of a Bible within the long Tyndale-KJV tradition. English Bible versions such as the Good News Bible, Contemporary English Version, New Living Translation, and The Message sound too contemporary for most formal liturgies.

I wonder how liturgical and "traditional" the language of the original biblical texts sounded to their audience?

9 Comments:

At Tue Jun 27, 09:31:00 AM, Blogger Dan Dermyer said...

Very important point--this liturgy thing. Liturgy tends to freeze language and many worshipers have a harder time hearing the Lord's prayer without thee or thou than a Bible reading. The same thing happens for many songs that get sung.

I try to sing "you" and change "hast" to have, etc. But I have gotten odd looks from neighbors in the pews.

 
At Tue Jun 27, 09:39:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

Wayne,

Have a look at this article.

http://www.bible-researcher.com/
language-koine.html

 
At Tue Jun 27, 10:07:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Have a look at this article.

http://www.bible-researcher.com/language-koine.html


Thank you, Glenn. Yes, I'm familiar with this article by Michael Marlowe. Please note that I have not advocated translating to "street language." I have been posting about translating to the same level of language that the original biblical texts were written in. I don't think there were many archaisms in the original biblical texts. I don't think that Paul intended his letters to churches to be understood only by those who had done advanced studies in Classical Greek literature. Koine Greek was not "street language". It was a real dialect of Greek that was used widely throughout the Roman Empire at the time of Christ and for some time after Christ. Letters were written in it. It was both a spoken and literary language. I think our English Bibles would communicate more accurately to English speakers today if we used the same level of language that was used in the Koine Greek of the New Testament. It was not street language and it was not full of slang or colloquialisms.

 
At Tue Jun 27, 11:48:00 AM, Blogger Gary said...

What level of language are you advocating for English Bibles then, Wayne? No slang or street language, but more like what we'd hear from a news anchor on the six o'clock news, or what we'd read in Time or Newsweek? Are you saying basically the language of everyday journalism in America, a level that the typical seventh- or eighth-grader would understand?

What translations do we have that would fit the criteria, and which ones would be rejected?

Gary

 
At Tue Jun 27, 12:21:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Gary asked:

What level of language are you advocating for English Bibles then, Wayne?

Hello Gary. Good question. I'm simply suggesting that the language of English Bibles be equivalent to the level of language in the original biblical texts. I think more research and discussion is needed to nail down with greater certainty what level (or more likely, levels) of language was in the original texts.

No slang or street language,

I think if there was slang or street language, and I suspect there might be a little bit, then for those portions of the Bible, our translations should sound equivalent.

but more like what we'd hear from a news anchor on the six o'clock news, or what we'd read in Time or Newsweek?

I don't know.

Are you saying basically the language of everyday journalism in America, a level that the typical seventh- or eighth-grader would understand?

No, I'm just saying that the level of translations should match the level of language of the texts we translate.

What translations do we have that would fit the criteria, and which ones would be rejected?

I don't think we know enough yet to make these decisions. I would suggest, however, that any translation which uses language not understood by most speakers of English is likely not at the same level of language as the original texts. This does not mean that everyone should be able to understand all the concepts in the Bible, only the language of our Bible translations. I don't find very many archaisms or obsolete or technical terms in the original biblical texts, but I find quite a few of these in a number of English Bibles. Those Bible versions would be candidates for not meeting the suggested standard that a translation should be equivalent in level of language to that of its source text.

 
At Tue Jun 27, 01:51:00 PM, Blogger Dan Dermyer said...

I appreciate the emphasis on translation at an appropriate level--and the evening news or Time or even the newspaper does provide a fair guage.

BTW, when I taught reading, we tested newspaper articles and found them in the 10th-12th grade levels.

 
At Tue Jun 27, 10:33:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Wayne,
I'm unimpressed with the insistence that for good liturgy we have to have a Bible like the ESV. I guess I do see a bit of a problem for churches steeped in liturgy to adapt well to a Bible in language like the CEV.

But I recently noticed updating in a prayer book (the BCC? can't remember, but one that is known and used) in language very clear with good, but simple grammar (I thought).

 
At Wed Jun 28, 09:36:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

I would add to this (for whatever it might be worth) that even a translation like the TNIV, for me has a kind of formal flow about it that is lacking in a translation like the CEV or the NLT.

However, when people are accustomed to whatever translation they're using, then certainly, I would think, a liturgy could be developed that is in the same kind of language.

As Jaroslav Pelikan pointed out, the number of creeds Christians have written are in the thousands. And very culturally adapted.

 
At Sun Jul 02, 07:04:00 PM, Blogger exegete77 said...

Sure, I go on vacation for a while, and one of my big interest items appears... LOL

Translation and liturgy cannot be easily separated. Sometimes there is a tendency to consider them as almost two distinct items; this is more characteristic of the last 50 years. Yet, historically, the translations and liturgies grew together. I have more to write, but must regenerate my mind after vacation.

 

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