Thinking about Bible Translations? Part One

(I’ve decided to take a break from the pod casts on holiness. Will be back with more on that subject later.)

Bible Translation 2b

An old Christianity Today article, entitled “We Really Do Need Another Bible Translation,’ by Raymond Van Leeuwen, (Oct. 2, 2001, pages 28-35) has stimulated my thinking about Bible translation and ministry.  People often begin by asking, “Well, what Bible translation is best?” or “What Bible translation do you use?” or “What Bible translation is best for Bible study?” or “What Bible translation is best to read in public?”

“What-the-text-says” Translations:

Let’s begin by talking about the two basic kinds of Bible translations. We often refer to them as “literal” and “figurative.” “Functionally equivalent” is actually a better term than “figurative.” By “literal” we usually mean that the translations in question follow the Greek or Hebrew word order and the syntax of the Greek sentence as closely as possible.  Of course, no translation can follow the order and syntax of another language exactly. Greek, for instance, often puts a predicate noun at the beginning of a sentence (John 1:1, “God, was the word”), while English puts it at the end (“The Word was God.”) Van Leeuwen calls this type of translation a “what-the-text-says” translation. The New American Standard, the New King James, the English Standard Bible, and the Revised Standard Version tend to be “what the text says” translations.

“What-the-text-means” Translations:

A “functionally equivalent” translation, on the other hand, attempts to reproduce the impression of the original on a modern reader. Thus, in order to make the meaning or significance clear words and structure may be significantly changed. Van Leeuwen helpfully calls this kind of translation a “what-the-text-means” translation. The New International Version, Revised English Bible, amd New Jerusalem Bible tend in this direction. The Good News Bible, New Living Translation, and the New Century Bible certainly fall in this category, as do paraphrases such as J. B. Phillips and The Message. I have not used the relatively new Common Bible enough to evaluate it.

What’s the Difference?

Let us clarify the difference between “what-the -text-says” and “what-the-text-means” a little further.  “What-the-text-means” translations aim to make the significance and implications of the text, determined by its background and context, immediately accessible to the reader.  On the other hand, “what-the-text-says” translations aim at giving readers the material to make those implications themselves.  “What-the-text-says” translations are not aiming at unintelligibility and their language need not be wooden or archaic. It is time for an example of the difference between “what-the-text-says” and “what-the-text-means”:

An Example:

In Mark 2:16 the Teachers of the Law who were Pharisees question Jesus’ actions when they say to the disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (NASB).  This translation accurately gives us what they said.  The NLT, on the other hand, has them say, “Why does he eat with such scum?”  The text has already identified these people as “tax collectors and sinners” so the NLT is free to use the term “such scum” so that the modern reader immediately grasp the scorn and distain in the Pharisees voices. On the other hand, the modern reader will have to study the context and look at related references to tax collectors in order to get this same understanding from the NASB.  The NASB gives us accurately “what the text says.”  The NLT gives us immediate access to at least one aspect of its significance. In the next verse Jesus says, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Again the NLT says, “I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.”   Jesus said, “righteous.”  Context, however, shows that he was using this word ironically and thus meant something like, “those who think they are already good enough.”

“What-the-text-says” is Best, Right?

So, obviously, since we want to know what the Bible “says,” a “what-the-text-says” translation is best? Not so fast. We will begin to answer this question next week! See you then!

Holiness Unto the Lord. Part Three: Hope for the People of God.

“Made for Holiness,” podcast #1 in the series on the Biblical Basis for Christian Holiness

“Lord, you have removed sin’s guilt from us so that we will not die for it as a crime. Now break sin’s power in us so we do not die from it as a disease. Help us put sin to death. Rom. 8: 13.” (Matthew Henry, A Way to Pray, edited and revised by O. Palmer Robertson, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2010, p. 91). What a wonderful prayer for the people of God!

This prayer shows awareness of sins debilitating power and expresses urgency for deliverance. How the contemporary church needs to regain this awareness and urgency. Many seem to feel that, provided one has made a “decision” for Christ, sin doesn’t much matter. This situation is little different from the abuse of indulgences that Martin Luther faced in the sixteenth century—except then people actually had to pay something for their false assurance. Is it any surprise that the behavior of Christians differs little from that of unbelievers or that Christian leaders fall into open sin?

The Wesleyan movement has the potential to proclaim an alternate, more Biblical vision of salvation that offers health to the church at large. A small and ever-shrinking minority from our movement still clings to the formulaic understanding described in my last blog. Their approach has little that is attractive for most people seeking to know God more deeply. One student from a non-Wesleyan background told me that they were attracted to Wesley Biblical Seminary by disillusionment with the cheap grace they had been taught and by a desire for holiness, but were then alienated by the formulaic approach to holiness that made claims not reflected in the life of the community. The rest of the Wesleyan movement speaks with an often confused and ambivalent voice.

Several years ago, I was talking with a very distinguish and capable leader of one of the Wesleyan denominations. He told me that his denomination had abandoned the old way of looking at holiness but had not found a new or effective way to communicate the message of God’s transforming grace in the modern world. He also told me that many people viewed Wesley Biblical Seminary as an advocate for that old, ineffective way. I assured him that I followed a different approach and shared with him material from my course “The Biblical Basis for Christian Holiness.”.

Since I am retired, I can no longer speak for the leadership of Wesley Biblical Seminary, and the views I am expressing may not represent their views. However, I began to articulate what I believe to be a Biblical and effective understanding of holiness in the first of these three blogs. I attempted to address some errors in the second. God willing, I plan to continue this teaching with a series of short, 8 to 10 minute podcasts, beginning today. These podcasts will take those interested through the essence of that course on Biblical holiness. Look for a new podcast each Thursday. Be prepare for a fascinating journey through Scripture. You will find the first of these podcasts, “Made for Holiness,” at the top of this blog. Listen today.