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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

One for all and all for one?

Doug Chaplin of Metacatholic describes himself as
I’m an Anglican parish priest. ... I went to an evangelical seminary, but see myself standing in the catholic tradition of the church. My liberal friends think I’m conservative, and my conservative friends think I’m liberal.
And he is continuing to ask some excellent questions about the Bible. His latest post is One for all and all for one? No such Bible. In it he takes up ElShaddai Edwards' question "What would it take to create a Bible that was acceptable to [all Christians]?" He identifies three main problems with doing so: canon; language, by which he mainly means the gender issue; and text.

It is interesting that he does not mention translation principles, apart from the gender issue. It seems to me that there would be a very real problem, which Doug does not note, in getting all Christians to accept either a dynamically equivalent translation or a rather literal one. I think the best that can be hoped for in this area is agreement on a largely formal equivalence translation which makes real efforts to use natural modern English, as HCSB and TNIV do, for use as some kind of standard for formal public reading in church and for study purposes, while recognising that various dynamic equivalence translations, or perhaps a single one accepted by all, may be used privately and in informal situations.

Also Doug does not mention the problem of acceptability, the "not invented here" syndrome which leads to people rejecting something in which they do not feel they have had a personal stake. This would be a serious barrier to wide acceptance of a Bible translation like HCSB originating from a single denomination. Products of ecumenical bodies are likely to be more broadly acceptable - although perhaps not to hard line evangelicals who reject ecumenism.

I was one of a team, and for a time its coordinator, which had to find an answer to ElShaddai's question for a particular language group, as we set about translating the Bible into this language, the national language of a former Soviet republic. We could only work on one translation, at least to start with, which was intended for the whole language group. So we needed to solve these problems for this situation.

We avoided serious problems in the area of acceptability by trying to work with all the churches in the country, not a very large number. When we put together the translation team we invited every church to put forward candidate translators, and we selected a team representing several churches. There is a project board including the pastors of several churches. So, although some issues remained in this area, none of the churches felt that the project did not belong to them.

The question of canon was easily resolved, because in practice all the local churches which we were able to work with are Protestant. The Orthodox church declined to get involved because they continued to work only in Russian. So we set about translating the Protestant canon. In principle we remain open to translating the deuterocanonical books if there is a demand for that, but so far there is none.

Gender-related language was rarely an issue because in this target language personal pronouns and indeed most nouns for people are gender generic. As an exegetical adviser to the team I had to ensure that the translators were using the gender specific word for "man" only when appropriate, which means not in places like 2 Timothy 2:2.

The text issue was more problematic because the churches were used to the Protestant edition of the Russian Synodal Bible. Its Old Testament is more or less based on the Masoretic Hebrew (although name forms follow LXX), and since the Orthodox were not involved in the project we simply followed the Masoretic Text in our translation, the first of the Old Testament into this language. In the New Testament the Russian is based a strangely mixed text, something between the Byzantine Majority Text and the Textus Receptus, with some Church Slavonic readings thrown in; an older version of the New Testament in the target language had more or less copied this text. After some discussion we agreed that our new translation of the New Testament would follow the UBS critical text, with footnotes wherever there was a significant difference from the Byzantine text, the Textus Receptus, or the Russian.

But probably the most difficult of these issues in our situation was that of general translation principles. We started from a situation where the translators, who were all quite new Christians, were familiar only with formal equivalence translations in unnatural old-fashioned language. But as they learned about translation principles and different possibilities their preferences began to shift to a more dynamic approach. However, this caused tensions with church leaders who expected something more literal. But the team would not compromise on clarity and naturalness even while following a generally formal correspondence approach. Eventually, and after having to revise some books, we ended up with a modified literal type of translation, which I sometimes describe as like NIV, but without its unfortunate reading of the New Testament into the Old.

So, hopefully, we are ending up with a translation which will be acceptable to all of the rather small number of churches in one country. I don't hold out much hope for a single translation being acceptable to all the churches in the English-speaking world, but I would think that if we are to get anywhere near to this the approach taken will have to be along these lines.


At Wed Jul 25, 04:27:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Peter wrote: ElShaddai Edwards' question "What would it take to create a Bible that was acceptable to [all Christians]?"

There's a related question.

If we had a Bible translation that accurately and clearly communicated the meaning, would it be rejected by most Christians?

Ironic, isn't it, that ambiguous translations, often thought of as more accurate because of their amibiguity, allow for Christians to stay settled safely in their own camps.

One for all and all for one. Amen.

At Wed Jul 25, 04:55:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

My favourite topic! A Bible acceptable to all.

At Wed Jul 25, 07:15:00 PM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

Ironic, isn't it, that ambiguous translations, often thought of as more accurate because of their amibiguity, allow for Christians to stay settled safely in their own camps.

A blogger after my own heart! My question came after an interesting discussion on another blog about how I felt denominational fragmentation was being fueled, in part, by the wide variety of Bible translations that allowed groups to choose their own Christianity. After much rhetoric and table pounding, I posed the question quoted in the original post here...

At Thu Jul 26, 02:04:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

Maybe the problem is getting all 'Christians' to accept the Bible.

At Thu Jul 26, 03:45:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I made the following comment on the post ElShaddai linked to. I want to repeat it here as it relates well to the issue here.

In a comment on that post, ElShaddai wrote: We ought to be living in one Kingdom, not 50 denominational states. Yet that Kingdom seems to be in a War Between the States.

Indeed we ought to be living in one Kingdom. And certainly the different denominations should not be at war with one another. But that doesn't mean that we have to tear down all internal boundaries. Just as the USA is made up of different states with separate state governments and different traditions but (more or less) united in purpose on important matters, so the Kingdom of God has room for different groups with separate structures and different traditions, even different Bible translations, as long as all are united in the basic purposes of spreading the gospel and glorifying God. So, I think we should look not so much for visible unity as for working together with mutual acceptance of our diversity.


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