We have entered a period in the history of Bible translation when few are concerned with translating for the glory of God.
In the last sixty years a shift has turned the attention of many translators to the question of how to best translate for specific audiences or functions. Many translators now define their success in terms of achieving their own plans according to their own goals, that is, their skopos.
It shouldn’t be surprising in this context that the place of God as the Author of Scripture is less and less important and the glory of God of less concern still.
It is imperative that we return to the glory of God as an essential element of Bible translation, providing our motivation for the task, our strength to persevere, and our ultimate hope for success. Even in the process of translating, the desire to glorify God has implications which are largely neglected.
What does it mean to translate for the glory of God? Translating for His glory involves engaging in Bible translation in a manner that seeks, first and foremost, to reveal God’s greatness and supreme character. And this perspective begins in the heart.
Translating the Scriptures for the glory of God begins with the relationship between the translator and God. To seek God’s glory, translators must first acknowledge the God who reveals Himself in the Scriptures as their Creator and Lord. Furthermore, they must confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Finally, they must seek the power of the Holy Spirit daily as they endeavor to live in obedience to their triune God.
In addition to having a right relationship to God, translators must also have a divine calling on their lives to engage in the ministry of Bible translation. In other words, they engage in translation with a confidence that it is God’s will for them and not simply their own desire. With such a confidence, they are able to approach the task as faithful servants instead of presumptuous interlopers.
Furthermore, they must see their ministry as integrated with the church, both being sent out by a local church and serving to strengthen believers and local churches in the context of where they are translating.
It is not always possible to have the blessing of the organized, visible church. William Tyndale, for example, asked for the permission of the Roman Catholic church of his day in England, but the bishop he approached wasn’t willing to grant him permission. Yet he understood that he was translating for the sake of strengthening believers and leading those lost in tradition to faith in Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, to glorify God in the translation of His Word, it is essential to submit to what God says about the Scriptures. They are His inspired, infallible, inerrant, and authoritative Word for His people. The church is commanded to publicly read the Scriptures and also preach and teach from them as part of corporate and individual worship. Moreover, they contain the gospel message that followers of Jesus Christ are to proclaim to all nations.
It follows that the task of translation produces a text that equips the church to preach and teach, leading to the advance of the Kingdom of God. If translators do not submit to God and His Word, they risk translating in a way that only brings glory to themselves.
With a desire to glorify God in translation, it is essential to pray for the Spirit to move and bring God the glory He is due through the translated Scriptures. Such prayer is an expression of our utter dependence on God who alone is able to work through us to bring Himself glory.
With our trust fully focused on our Heavenly Father, we must persevere even when we see no glory being given to God, because we know that He works in ways we can’t see or imagine. It may be His will to receive glory through the translated Word in decades to come, and so we persevere in faith.
Some may think this topic has no place in a conversation about translation, whether of biblical texts or otherwise. Still others may be dismissive of this topic and doubt its value. The current focus is on how to translate and not the place of God in translation.
However, for those who truly desire to honor God with their lives, it is essential to engage in the translation of Scripture as a ministry for the glory of God. Translation must be more than the transfer of meaning, more than communication, more than elevating language communities, and even more than establishing churches.
With a right focus on the glory of God, we have confidence that He will work all things together for His glory and our good, using our feeble efforts to accomplish His wondrous purposes.