The field of Bible translation is filled with theories, principles, frames and frameworks. When it comes to the relevance of the Scriptures themselves for the task of translation, little is heard beyond references to the Great Commission.
I present here ten affirmations about Bible translation drawn in large part from the Scriptures with the conviction that we should translate the Bible in a manner that respects its authority, sufficiency and perspicuity.
For those who are new to the field of translation, I hope these affirmations serve as an invitation to reflect more deeply about Bible translation.
If you are not familiar with the latest developments in Bible translation, I should alert you to the fact that most of these affirmations will be rejected by many involved in Bible translation today.
For those of you who are translators, I hope you will be challenged by these affirmations and consider how your theology and practice aligns with the Word.
I realize that these statements may disagree with some of your deeply held convictions about Bible translation. I held some of those convictions myself; yet careful study of the Scriptures and prayerful reflection on the history of various theories have lead me to formulate the following statements.
I have used the pronoun ‘we’ because I hope that you and others will join in affirming some if not all of these statements.
1. For the Glory of God
We translate for the glory of our triune God (1 Corinthians 10:31, 1 Peter 4:11).
We translate for God the Father, who reigns in every heart by communicating His propositional truth in the language of every person and receives praise in every language (Psalm 96:10, Romans 15:9-12).
We translate in obedience to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who has redeemed a people for God the Father from every language community and is building them up by His Word (Revelation 5:9-10).
We translate by the power of the Holy Spirit, who Jesus Christ sent to empower the church to proclaim the gospel and teach the truths of Scripture in the languages of those He redeemed, prayerfully seeking the divine strength and direction that the Spirit provides (Acts 2:1-11; 1 John 2:27; Ephesians 6:19).
2. As Servants of the Word
We translate the Scriptures as servants of the Word, affirming the Scriptures as inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient, and perspicuous (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21).
We recognize that the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures extends to the task of translation.
If the source is authoritative, it follows that translators should respect the meaning, audience, and function of the source and not translate with the intent to add or subtract from these qualities of the source.
3. For the Church
We translate for the church as the primary audience, both for the local expression of the church in specific language communities and for the universal church who has been entrusted with the Scriptures (Psalm 102:18; Romans 15:4; Hebrews 1:1).
We desire that those in the church and those outside read and listen to translations, but we do not translate for audiences other than the church.
(It is essential to distinguish between the Scriptures given to the people of God and the gospel message given to the church to proclaim to those outside. Read my blog post on the theology of translation for more.)
As noted earlier, given that the source is authoritative, it follows that translators should respect the stated audience of the source and not translate with the intent to add or subtract from its audience (Deuteronomy 4:2).
The standard view that there are multiple audience in need of distinct translations may have its origin in the American Bible Society and their development of common language translations. To learn more about William Wonderly and his influential book in defense of this approach, read my blog on the concept of the audience in translation.
4. For Public Reading
We translate for the public reading of Scripture in corporate worship, in conjunction with the preaching and teaching of the Word (1 Timothy 4:13; Deuteronomy 17:19; Joshua 1:8).
We strongly encourage private reading as well as corporate reading (Psalm 1:2-3; 119;11). However, we do not accept the translation of Scripture primarily or exclusively for private reading.
I have written about the importance of public reading of Scripture and the benefits associated with in this blog post.
5. With Notes
We translate the meaning of the text and address potential misunderstandings on the part of readers in supplemental materials.
We prefer to use footnotes, glossaries, and other supplemental resources over adding explanatory information in the text of Scripture. Such supplemental materials preserve the distinction between revelation from God and instruction on behalf of the reader.
6. With Accuracy
We translate with the primary attention given to accuracy (Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18-19).
We prioritize accuracy over comprehension or clarity. Furthermore, we consider comprehension as more important than naturalness and acceptability.
It is increasingly common to view accuracy as an imprecise and outdated concept. Some even affirm that accuracy is important but then argue that there is no scriptural basis for accuracy in Bible translation.
I have another article here on the importance of accuracy and how it relates to the claim that all translations have value for their readers.
7. With Consistency
We translate key theological terms consistently, with appropriate attention to precedence in translation.
Consistency is not necessarily uniformity; some terms may be translated differently when distinct meanings are justified by the context and affirmed by precedence.
8. To Be Read Multiple Times
We translate with the expectation that readers will interact with the translation multiple times, giving them opportunities to grow in their understanding and appreciation of the Scriptures (Psalm 119:15; 2 Timothy 3:15).
We should not decide how to translate a word or verse based on the assumption that readers will have one opportunity to understand and, if they do not understand, they will never read Scripture again.
9. For More Than Communication
We believe that the Scriptures are intended to instruct their readers and equip them to preach and teach as well (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 1 Timothy 3:16). Consequently, we do not accept the view of translation as communication of the basic “message” of the Bible.
The view of “translation as communication” attempts to produce a text that the intended audience can read with minimal effort. Hence, the resulting translation “communicates” in contrast to a translation that instructs or even challenges readers to reflect and learn.
We believe that a translation should communicate without being overly simplified. It is appropriate for a translation to educate readers on theological topics and other concepts not previously known in their own culture.
10. The Full Counsel of God
We seek to translate the entire Bible, not just the New Testament, since the Old Testament was written for New Testament believers as well (Romans 15:4; Hebrews 1:1).
We also affirm the importance of translation over the summarizing and storying of passages of Scripture since we want to see the church fully equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).
I hope these affirmations lead you to reflect more deeply on what the Scriptures reveal about God’s purposes for His Word, His church, and the translation of the Scriptures.
It is essential for translators to view the Author and source text, the Scriptures, in their proper light. A translation should attempt to be no more or less than the source text, whether it be in terms of the meaning, audience, or function.
Translators should not view themselves as more or less than stewards and messengers charged with being faithful in their ministry on behalf of the church for the glory of God.
In an era of innovation and calls for bold creativity, l hope you will consider the Scriptures in a new light and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to a more profound understanding of how this crucial task and your part in it might bring Him greater glory.