Proclaim God. Don’t Prove Him.

Originally posted on jacksonwu:

In the first post of this series, I suggested that many people might settle for a sub-biblical view of monotheism. My second post summarized the way that ancient Jews conceived of the one true God’s “divine identity.”

Now, I want to talk about application. In an upcoming post, I’ll suggest ideas for contextualizing the gospel for animists. Today, I will address apologetics or “pre-evangelism.”

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It’s All about The Story

Originally posted on A Word in Edgewise:

The university where I teach, Houston Baptist University, is hosting a consultation this week for the International Orality Network. I will be attending the consultation and learning all I can regarding this new and important missions emphasis that recognizes that most of the world consists of people who are oral preference learners. What excites me about the movement is that they focus on sharing the gospel by learning to tell great stories from the Bible in the mother language of the unreached people. This is exactly what we hoped to do with The Voice Bible.International Orality Network 1

One of the articles I read in preparation for the consultation is from Tom A. Steffen, former professor at Biola University and missionary for 20 years in the Philippines. In an article entitled, “Why Communicate the Gospel through Stories?” Steffen tells his own story about trying to teach new believers a simple version of systematic…

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Is the Bible Translatable? Part 3

Part 1 of this overall topic I suggested options regarding the translatability of the Bilbe. I suggested that the Bible is translatable, meaning that the Bible translated is still the Bible. Part 2 suggests the ramifications of saying that the Bible is translatable. It is a challenging viewpoint. Abd al-Jabbar in 995 AD (reference “Translating the Message” by Lamin Sanneh) wrote considerably on (against) Christians and the “Hellenization” of the teachings of Jesus. Of course I would argue that the primary underlying purpose of the book is to deal with the fairly obvious issue that Mohammed’s interpretation of Jesus is considerably different from the Apostle’s interpretation. Al-Jabbar suggested strenuously that the problem was that Jesus was “Hellenized”— translated into Greco-Roman culture while the Quran portrays a Semitic (although not Jewish) culture. Much of the rest of al-Jabbar’s arguments appear to have strength more in terms of aesthetics than logic. In other words, al-Jabbar liked the idea that God’s revelation is not, or at least should not be, translatable.If one does not share such a preference, the arguments become weaker.

John 1:14-15 in the Ibaloi language

The Bible, in my mind at least, argues strongly for God’s message being translatable.

1. Pentecost. It is sad that many miss the fairly obvious point of Pentecost. Some like to take the “speaking in other languages” and ascribe it to ecstatics (in part a problem of sloppy application of 1611 lingo). How did the church start? The Holy Spirit came and filled the 120 initiating the church age. The defining character of the Pentecost was that the message of God was given to Jesus’ disciples translated into the languages (and cultures) of the different groups who were present.

While Jewish rabbis separated between the Tanakh and Apocrypha, in part, on language, the defining characteristic of the church from the start is that God’s words are God’s Words regardless of language or culture.

2. The Gospels. Jesus spoke mostly, if not completely, in Aramaic. However, all four Gospels were written in Koine Greek– the lingua franca of the common people. Church tradition says that the Gospel of Matthew was originially written in Hebrew and then later translated. There would be nothing wrong if that was true, but it seems doubtful. If one assumes that the traditional authors ascribed for each Gospel is correct, Matthew was a Galilean Jew who decided to translate the story of Jesus into common Greek.. Mark was a Hellenistic Jew who took the recollections of Peter, a Galilean Jew, and decided to translate the story of Jesus into common Greek. Luke may have been Greek, but still took the eye witness accounts of Jesus life and words and translated them into common Greek. John was another Galilean Jew who decided to translate the story of Jesus into common Greek. In other words, it is not the case that Jesus’ message and story was taken over by the Greeks. Rather, the followers of Christ, the ones who were to carry the message of Christ to the world, made a conscious choice to translate the message of Jesus into the common language of most of the known world.

There is more than coincidence here. The OT (Hebrew Bble) referenced in the Gospels was the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew text. My Biblical studies are a bit weak at the moment, but I believe that the comments of Jesus suggested that he often was referencing the LXX, rather than the Hebrew version. So it is not simply the activity of the Gospel writers utilizing Greek translation. Jesus did also (hoping someone with more time can correct me if my memory is failing me).

3. Multi-cultural Bible. The Bible was written over many centuries (some suggest 1500 years… some less). During that time three languages were used: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Even more, there were numerous cultures over all of that time (from Pre-exile, to exile, to post-exile, to Roman era Judea, to Roman era Gentile regions). At the very least, this fact rejects the idea of a sacred culture or a sacred language.

4. Jerusalem Council. Acts 15 speaks of the council regarding contextualization, or cultural translation. Can a Christian be culturally Greek and be a Christian, or must he (or she) become culturually Jewish. The council decided that based on the works of the Holy Spirit with the Samaritans, Cornelius and family, and in Antioch and Asia Minor, God accepted Gentiles as followers of Christ without taking on Jewish culture.

It would be hard to make the argument that cultural translation is blessed by God while believing that language translation is not.

I will stop here. The impact of translation on people’s lives around the world could argue in favor of the translatability of the Bible. One could also point out that cultures often appear to open people up to the gospel rather than inhibit it. But I will leave that for others to consider. Ultimately, The Bible is translatable and still be the Bible. That is a good thing for us since the languages and cultures of the Bible are gone.

Is the Bible Translatable? Part 2

This is part 2. Part 1 speaks of different views of translatability.

St. Jerome, translating the Bible into Latin

A. Since translation always happens anyway, recognizing the validity of translation helps ensure that distortion is minimized. If a person ls immersed in one culture/language and must interpret a holy writ in another language, translation still happens… but it is in the mind of the reader. The problem is that not all are equally competent of converting a less familiar language, and its associated subtlety of culture, into their own understanding. There are two ultimate choices one can make:

Translation by experts in translation versus translation by amateurs

Translation that is done and honored versus translation that is done and is disregarded

B. The Word of God is, for practical purposes, NOT the Word of God to a person who cannot understand it. When there is a language/culture gap between the Word and the recipient, the communication error is a failure of neither… unless translation is rejected and the reader is expected to do the change.

For example, if a person speaks only American English, then the language and culture “limitations” of the person are a hindrance to receiving the message of the Quran. Even if the Quran is “translated” into contemporary American English, it is not considered the Quran but something else. Whose fault is it? Is it the fault of the Quran? It had no choice what language it was recited/recorded in. Is it the fault of those who are English-speaking Americans? No. It is the fault of those who won’t translate or won’t stand by their translation… yet do (effectivly) stand by the internal translation of untrained strangers. Additionally, if a person speaks only American English then the language and culture “limitations” of the person are also a hindrance to receive the message of the Bible, IF the latest “real” Bible is AV-1611. The cultural (and language) gap between 1611 and 2014 must be overcome to understand the language. In the Philippines there are “KJV-only” churches. Many of the preachers and membership struggle with a dual language gap— mentally converting 1611 English into Filipino English and then into a Filipino heart language.

C. If the Bible is translatable, it is NOT appropriate to think of certain sacred languages or cultures. While in Islam there may be something sancrosanct in the culture and language from which the Quran was recited (or developed), the Bible should hold no such sacred status. The Pre-exilic culture of Israel, the exilic culture of the Jews in Babylon, the post-exilic culture of Judea, and the Hellenized-Latinized culture of the Eastern Mediteranean in the first century are no more holy in culture or language than any other. God gave his message into and through those particular cultures… but the message could have come to and through any culture and have enriched it and have been enriched by it.

D. Related to the prior, if there are no sacred cultures, but find God working in several cultures… PERHAPS God is working in all cultures. And if God is working in all cultures… then translation, drawing as it does from the symbolic wealth of language and culture of a people, potentially involves taking the revelation of God and combining it with the present work of God.

This suggests that if the Bible is translatable, we need a more dynamic view of inspiration. For Option 1A, such as the Quran, inspiration is dictation and occurring only once. For Option 1B, KJV-only, rabbinical view of the Septuagint and such, the inspiration may happen more than once but is limited and people are still likely to have a more passive role in the process. But if the Bible is God’s revelation that is being translated with reference to God’s work in a culture, then for the translated work to be still considered the Bible, the work is a divine partnership. On some level good translation involves divine partnership… a form of inspiration/illumination.

E. Translation suggests that there is a message in the Word that is Supracultural. For example, when the 23rd Psalm describes God as my shepherd and I am one of His sheep, this is an ancient Semitic metaphor. When translated into a different culture, a different metaphor may be more understandable. Yet saying so only makes sense if one understands that language is culturally informed symbolism. Behind the symbolism is a core message. The process of translation helps us separate between the message (God as one who loves me and cares for me personally and sacrificially) and word (God as a Jewish sheepherder).

Now these points may seem strange, but I believe there are reasons, primarily in the Bible itself, for believing that God’s message is translatable. That will be in the next post,  Part 3.

Is the Bible Translatable? Part I

Is the Bible translatable? Now when I am asking that, I am not asking whether the words of the Bible can be translated into another language. I am asking:

  • Can the Holy Bible be translated into another language and still be the Holy Bible.
  • Can the Bible be translated and still be reliable?

There are two options. Option 1 is NO. Option 2 is YES.

I would argue that the Bible is translatable. But first it is only fair to look at the options, then consider the pretty strong consequences of such a view, and finally look at why (I believe) that such a view is accurate.

OPTION 1. NO. The Bible is not translatable. There are then two sub-options.

Sub-Option 1A. The Quran route. In classic Islam, the Quran is untranslable, inerrant, and always has been (uncreated) in 7th century (or later) Arabic. The recitations may be translated in the sense of putting them into a different language, but it cannot be described as being truly the Quran. Of course, if we were actually asking the question of whether the Quran meets that criteria, we would have to address issues of textual criticism with regards to source materials, development, and redactions. But we are dealing with the belief, not necessarily the reality. In classic Islamic sense, any translation of the Quran is not the Quran. Farily simple.

Sub-Option 1B. This is a bit more subtle and can be seen in some classic thoughts regarding various translations of the Bible such as the Septuagint, Vulgate, Textus Receptus, and KJV. Consider the Septuagint (LXX). The LXX the “official” Greek Translation of the Hebrew Bible was, according to Rabbinical tradition, created by 70 rabbis translating for 70 days. After 70 days each of the rabbis brought his translation of the entire Hebrew Bible out to share with the other rabbis. To their amazement, all of the translations were exactly identical. Now, like with the Quran, we are not considering the historicity of such a belief… but the implications of such a belief. For 70 to all translate identically is absolutely improbable… ridiculous… on a human level. What is being said is that the LXX was not actually translated by man, but “RE-REVEALED” by God. The same logic has been applied to the Vulgate (Latin) translation of the Bible, as well as the Textus Receptus (Greek), and the King James Version (“AV 1611”). The argument is that the translation was not actually a human activity so much as a re-revealing of inerrant divine word. I think you can see why this re-revelation option is still pretty similar to the Quran option. Even though there may be Bibles in different translations, strictly speaking, the Bible (as in God’s revealed revelation) only exists in one, two, or three, or so specially inspired versions. Anything diverging from that is a human construct and not to be trusted. This sub-option is more subtle that 1A, but not much.

Option 2. Yes. The Bible is Translatable. To say that the Bible can be translated and still be the Bible does not negate the possibility of special status for the original revelation. One might say, for example, that the Bible is “Reliable” (or some other word suggesting that the Bible exists as a historic revelation given or inspired by God) in its original manuscripts (in their original languages), but it is possible to bring message forward into new languages accurately enough to be considered Reliable… and not something lesser. Again, I am not going to go into issues of inerrancy and reliability… but rather consider the implications that I believe follow from saying that translation of the Bible is possible and it still being the Bible.

In the next post, we will look at the ramifications of the belief that Yes, the Bible is translatable.

Quote on Indigenization of Faith

Quote of Reverand James Johnson (1836-1917). Quoted by Lamin Sanneh in “

Bishop Crowther (1809-1891). Colleague of “Holy Johnson”

the Message: The Missioanry Impact on Culture,” chapter 5. Johnson (aka “Holy Johnson”) was an African assistant Anglican bishop of Western Equatorial Africa during the time of British colonization of the region.

“Christianity is a Religion intended for and is suitable for every Race and Tribe of people on the face of the Globe. Acceptance of it was never intended by its Founder to denationalise any people and it is indeed its glory that every race of people may profess and practise it and imprint upon it its own native characteristics, giving it a peculiar type among themselves without its losing anything of its virtue. And why should not there be an African Christianity as there has been a European and an Asiatic Christianity?”