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Monday, December 03, 2007

Bible translation and Bible teachers

John Hobbins continues to post stimulating and provocative comments about the purpose of Bible translation, following up on Rich Rhodes' post here on BBB a few days ago. I just responded to his latest post on this topic by saying:

The job of a pastor, Bible teacher, or other biblical expositor is not to explain the language used in a translation. It is to help people understand the concepts which that language conveys and application to their own lives.

Perhaps you have heard the [legendary] response that some pastors have given when asked why they continue to preach from some old translation, "Well, what would I have to preach about if I didn't preach from that?"

What do you think? Is it one of the jobs of a Bible teacher/rabbi/minister/pastor to explain what words in Bible translations mean?


At Sun Dec 02, 05:19:00 PM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...


The job of the preacher is to um - preach the wake-up call - jolt into conscious joy - the sheep of the flock - as they say 'for the love of God'. this instruction is encapsulated in Ephesians 5:14 - Wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. It desn't require much explanation of Greek or Hebrew - but it requires the preacher to know what is means to be awake - so he or she will need the quickening and correcting Spirit in every aspect. If there were no Greek or Hebrew speakers left, God would make some more from the stones.

At Sun Dec 02, 05:41:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

One of the responsibilities of a pulpit rabbi ("rabbi" in Hebrew = "teacher" in English) is to explain -- not the English -- but the Hebrew and Aramaic both to students and to the Baleei Batim; the assumption being that worshipers wish to learn the Bible and other holy books in the original tongue.

At Sun Dec 02, 09:30:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

This issue is directly related to my "lightbulb moment" about the significance of the translation I use in public. I had taught out of the NASB for years, knowing full well that there were problems with its reading level and places where at times it is too literal. But I had always thought that since I was teaching, it was no big deal--I could explain it. Then when teaching a long term series on Romans, I realized that I was spending too much time explaining what the NASB meant as opposed to what Paul meant. If our translations get in the way, they are not adequate translations.

At Mon Dec 03, 04:39:00 AM, Blogger Peter said...

Ephesians 4:12 is usually translated nowadays to indicate that the pastor/teacher is to 'equip the saints for the work of ministry'. In a given audience (congregation) people will be at different stages, but I believe there will often be times when it is appropriate to deepen the peoples' intellectual understanding of the scriptures, so they (we) are better able to stand, to defend, to proclaim & explain. So sometimes, the "preacher" will need to touch on issues of translation.

But if that's all he/she thinks he/she's supposed to do, then I'd suggest they find a more culturally relevant translation to recommend to their flock!

At Mon Dec 03, 05:13:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Once someone asked, "What would Jesus do"?

And that's started a whole commercial venture that Jesus preaches against, as in Matthew 23! How many preachers and rabbis have explicated this text in light of WWJD? What ironies!

But I think a good question really is, "What does (present tense included) Jesus do (in Matthew's 23rd)?" How does Jesus's practice, but Matthew's practice in textual preaching, and now present-day rabbinical / pastoral teaching/ preaching answer your question, Wayne?

At Mon Dec 03, 08:55:00 AM, Blogger Iris said...

I am not certain it is the responsibility of the teacher but I do know that the more I understand the original language, the more I am able to use that knowledge to give my students the dimensions of meaning, and not just whatever English word was chosen by the translators. It brings a richness in the student's relationship with the Word and with our Lord.

Not a requirement, but a privilege in the course of a lesson -- not every word but maybe one or so that will truly give the sense of the passage -- if the English proves limited in expression.

At Mon Dec 03, 09:52:00 AM, Blogger Jim Swindle said...

I'd second what Iris wrote. The preacher's job is to proclaim the mind of the Lord, as revealed in the scripture, and as applied to the current audience.
A good translation should need little translational explanation most of the time, but every translation is sometimes too literal or not literal enough or not showing what the preacher believes is the best translation. At those times, it's the preacher's duty to make things clear to the flock. Dr. Walter Liefeld said the preacher should think of a transparent page, with Greek or Hebrew on the preacher's side and English on the hearer's side. The preacher, in his view, is to enable the hearers to see on their side what he sees on his side.

Having said all of that, I'd rather have a gifted, God-called preacher who knows no Greek and no Hebrew, than a great scholar who is not called to preach.

At Mon Dec 03, 01:45:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

One of the dangers of an ambiguous (ie. poor English quality) translation is a preacher/teacher can pretty much make it say anything.

And, on the flip side, since the English text is ambiguous, the person in the pew can pretty much make it say something different than what the preacher said (and thus counter some instruction the hearer should heed).

However, if a translation is extensively peer-reviewed and the English is widely field tested, then both preacher and hearer have a much more difficult time contravening what the original actually says.

And, speaking as a Bible teacher and preacher, a better English quality translation tends to both force and enable the preacher to deal with paragraph sized texts and thus actually teach what the text says. In other words, if the preacher has to explain all the poor English, then there is little time left to deal with a sufficiently sized text to assure accurate teaching and hearing.

Lastly, there's plenty of need to help the hearers to get back into the mind of the original audience so that they understand the text more accurately. Preachers can make a text come alive with this type of narration. This encouragement to "make the leap" also encourages people toward understanding the people of today since there's practice in "listening" to the perspective of another person. In the Bible's case, you're listening to the authority. In personal relationships, you can use that gained expertise to dialog with someone with the intent of both of you being spiritually grown.


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