Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love means never having to say ... "What does that mean?"

OK, OK, I changed the original wording. But it's Valentine's Day and I felt like using that allusion in the title to a movie line about love. On this day when we celebrate love, I celebrate God's love for me. I became part of God's family when I was very young, about four years old. But due to some things which I cannot discuss openly yet, I did not really comprehend God's love for me until I was 41 years old. God had to break through some cognitive barriers I had erected so that I would know he loves me, really know it. My relationship to God has been more genuine since that time.

Today I also celebrate my wife's love for me (always unconditional, wow!) and mine for her. She has struggled for more than two years with a serious illness that saps her strength and causes her very intelligent mind not to work so well. I admire her even more today than I did before she became sick. Oh, I did remember to give her a Valentine's Card today. (Guys and gals, if you haven't yet expressed your love for your significant other today, there is still time.)

OK, so what does all this have to do with the title of this post. Well, let's see if I can pull us back there. I do love God and I know he loves me. In a real sense I have loved his written word, the Bible, since I was a small child. I do love the job I have of helping to translate the Bible into other languages. I try to be careful not to let "love" for the Bible to take the place of love for God. They can't be the same. But I care so much about God's written word that I am passionate about it, passionate that it get translated into Bibleless languages, and passionate that it be translated into languages that do have the Bible in a way that people can understand it accurately and clearly. I believe that it is possible to have both, accuracy and clarity. I realize that some visitors to this blog may get tired of my same old, same old sermon on this topic. But it really is my passion in life. I speak from my heart, from where I love, when I plead for both accuracy and clarity in Bible translations. It is because I love God and his word that I lobby for the use of standard forms of English in English Bibles. When we find standard English forms to express the meanings of the original biblical language forms, we increase the ability of translation users to understand the original meanings of the biblical text as accurately as possible. And I'm serious when I use the word "accurately" in this way. Accuracy has to do with communicating a message faithfully. Accuracy is not something that exists in the abstract in a text. It is part of a relationship between a text and how someone understands that text.

So, even if it sounds a little corny, I love God's word so much that I don't want to have to say when I read parts of it, "What does that mean?" Now, I recognize that there are concepts in the Bible which I probably will never understand very well. We got hit with one of those in our Sunday School class this last Sunday. We struggled with the story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob, who was set up by his mother, who deceived his father to get that birthright. Jacob's mother knew that Esau was not the right son to get the blessing that would be carried on down through many more generations of their people. So she took things into her own hands to produce the right outcome. Did the ends justify the means? Could a sovereign God have used some other way to ensure that Jacob carried on the blessing instead of Jacob? These are difficult questions for me. But I can understand the text itself clearly without understanding these difficult concepts.

I am not suggesting that all parts of the Bible were perfectly clear in the original. There are difficult things in the biblical texts, not just difficult concepts, but difficult wordings, things which we are not sure how to translate, problems with textual variants, etc.

But we still have a pretty decent text, overall. And it can be translated both accurately and clearly, so that ...

we may never have to ask, "What does that mean?" as we read its words expressed in standard English syntax following proper English lexical rules.

If the Bible is translated that well (and it is an ideal; there is no such perfect translation), we can come to love it even more, and, better yet, come to love even more the One whose love for all of us is made so clear throughout the biblical texts.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!


At Wed Feb 14, 09:55:00 PM, Blogger Molly said...

Good stuff, Wayne. :)

At Thu Feb 15, 08:27:00 AM, Blogger Carl W. Conrad said...

Indeed, it is a good post. It touches upon a concern that has vexed me a lot lately: are there passages that are so unintelligible as to defy successful translation or sufficiently unintelligible as to seduce the translator into guessing where he/she ought not to?

As for not having to ask, "What does that mean?" what do we say about 1 Tim 2:15. What the Greek text says is not in question; there's little question about how to English what the Greek text says clearly -- and yet the question remains: what on earth did the writer honestly mean to say?

I am an admirer of the NET translators and annotators in their effort to translate intelligibly and explain their translations and even comment on what the more difficult texts may mean where more than one legitimate understanding is possible, but I really cannot quite take that satisfaction in NET's lengty note on 1 Tim 2:15. In my own thinking, it would have been more honest to end the whole accounting with a statement like: "But none of these explanations is really convincing."

Would such a declaration really be abandoning the translation-annotator's responsibility?

At Thu Feb 15, 09:16:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Carl wrote:

As for not having to ask, "What does that mean?" what do we say about 1 Tim 2:15. What the Greek text says is not in question; there's little question about how to English what the Greek text says clearly -- and yet the question remains: what on earth did the writer honestly mean to say?

Yes, Carl, 1 Tim. 2:15 is one of those passages which can be translated to good, grammatical English. We can understand all the words and syntax clearly so that we do not have to ask about *them*, "What do they mean?" Yet, we are left asking that question about the concept(s) that those words and syntax are trying to convey.

My job as a translator ends before I have to ask that second question. But I still have that desire, as you do, to know what in the world the author was talking about. Many reasonable suggestions have been offered. None of them have won scholarly consensus and perhaps never well.


At Thu Feb 15, 09:22:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Would such a declaration really be abandoning the translation-annotator's responsibility?

I don't think so, Carl. On the contrary, I think that declaration would exemplify the mark of good scholarship which states that there are some things we do not know very well. And if we cannot state that, and, especially, if we feel it necessary to choose one exegetical option above the other possibilities, then I think we may have moved from objective exegesis to some form of ideology, following some kind of theological star that guides us, rather than being guided by the text itself, even when it offers little, if any guidance, for some passages.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home