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?

These two questions are related. If the Bible is reliable and it is remains the Bible after translated, then the Bible is reliable in translation. There are two options. Option 1 is NO. Option 2 is YES.  I divide Option 1 into two sub-options. One simply remains NO while the other is Yes…. but NO.

I believe that the Bible is translatable (Option 2), partly because of internal affirmation of this point. But first it is only fair to look at the options. Then in part 2 I  consider the pretty strong consequences of such a view, and finally in Part 3 I 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 (Simply No). The Quran route. In classic Islam, the Quran is untranslable, inerrant, and always has been (uncreated) in 7th century Arabic. The recitations may be translated in the sense that its content can be put into a different language, but it cannot be described as being truly the Quran. It is now “a translation of the message of the Quran.” Of course, one might actually ask the question of whether the Quran meets that criteria itself of not taking other source materials and translating and redacting them into 7th century Arabic. But textual criticism and the Quran is a touchy matter for some and I will leave that for those who are more skilled in it (and more cautious in their media outlets). In classic Islamic sense, any translation of the Quran is not the Quran. Fairly simple.

Sub-Option 1B. Christians generally are more subtle in this one. Few say that the Bible is the Bible only if it is in its autograph languages (Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek). What some Christians do is more of a Yes…. but NO.  For them, the Bible can be translated into another language… but that translation is essentailly part of the Holy Spirit’s work to preserve the message. In line with that, certain translations are blessed with an inerrant quality that puts them above criticism. These may include the Septuagint, Vulgate, Textus Receptus (compiled Greek), 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 than 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.

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One thought on “Is the Bible Translatable? Part I

  1. Pingback: A Holy and Wholly Translatable Bible – MMM — Munson Mission Musings

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