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Grace in the Process

Some more wonderfully insightful stuff from Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s Caring for Words in a Culture of LiesThis passage concludes a discussion of the highly politicized history of translating the Bible into English:

But the equally obvious fact remains that the Spirit works in and through every one of those translations—the flawed, the inaccurate, the unpoetic…. What such comparisons and revaluations continue to teach me is that there is grace in variation, grace in the process, that efforts to find ways faithfully to render the sacred story will be blessed. Each time a translator picks up the ancient texts, God puts Gods word and self once again in human hands and submits to our care. That, in itself, is worth a good deal of reflection: while we see through a glass darkly, we receive all that we can know through the filters of human discourse, and yet the one who is living Truth manages to keep offering and maintaining relationship with us.

It is awe-inspiring (and sobering) to consider a God puts himself in human hands and submits to our care. It is a incredible that despite all of the ways we mishandle, mismanage, misinterpret, and misrepresent the living Truth—all of the ways that we demonstrate that “our care” is a fragile and selfish and unreliable thing—God keeps graciously offering himself to us.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    I don’t know which translations are disparaged in your church. At the PCUSA seminary I attended, where the Bible was indeed highly politicized, only the NRSV was blessed. (There was more tolerance in the churches, but only a little.) The rest of the translations were trashed, especially those associated with evangelical translators, such as the NIV. They also hated the KJV – they regarded it as a fundamentalist Bible. The dynamic equivalence translations or linguistic translations like the TEV were all considered trash – poor translations for idiots. Not being of the same mind, I took a TEV with me to class from time to time. I remember their scorn quite well.

    Personally I admire many translations, philological like the RSV, ESV and NRSV, and linguistic like the TEV, as the author you quote does. Translation is an difficult art, as anyone knows who has attempted it. I think of the KJV as a masterful translation. Such great poetic prose. That was the view at the secular university, University of California, where I studied the Hebrew Bible, among the faculty there, who are some of the best translators of our time.

    August 20, 2010
    • I also use and profit from many translations (ESV, NRSV, TNIV, etc). I think the NIV would be the most popular translation in our church (The Message is also a favourite, although we almost never use it for public worship), but we don’t see much trashing or disparaging of other translations. Occasionally people express reservations about translations that are too “liberal” (mainly because they make some attempts at gender neutrality), but this is fairly rare. I think in general, people appreciate the difficulty of translation and are happy to consult multiple translations.

      August 20, 2010
      • Ken #

        If someone at the PCUSA seminary I attended brought the Message to class I think it would have driven the faculty and students berserk. And the NIV: that was considered the Bible of the enemy.

        When I look at the words in the quotation and your words in your posting, I also hear a theological implication: God is involved in some way in the words of the Bible, at least blessing them, perhaps inspiring them. That is language one is unlikely to hear in the PCUSA today, even though such ideas are part of its creeds. Perhaps, some believe, God may speak to our hearts as we hear the words, but the words on the page are just human words. It is the message received in the heart that receives emphasis. It is, of course, a reformation idea that God’s covenant is written on the hearts of those he has elected. There is not much said about election these days in the PCUSA either. But the “heart” language lingers. It is odd in that circumstance that the seminary was so exclusionary towards so many Bible translations.

        Translating the words in the heart: that is particularly hard. Even figuring out what those words are is hard.

        As for me, while I do meditate on scripture, I find that I spend much time as well meditating on nature, trying to translate it into theology.

        Does nature have a part in knowing God in your tradition, or in your heart?

        August 21, 2010
      • Does nature have a part in knowing God in your tradition, or in your heart?

        Absolutely. I would say that that creation has always been one of the ways through which God’s beauty and creativity have been explored and appreciated. In a similar way, the waste and destruction and pain in nature are interpreted as pointing to a time of healing and restoration. The created world provokes both awe and groaning—thanksgiving and delight in what is good and beautiful, lament and anticipation for what is a source of pain.

        August 21, 2010
      • Ken #

        When I read nature, I read it through Darwin’s eyes. What I see through those eyes is emergence, not creation, or at least not creation as that word has been used in history. I know that we can say, as some do, that God creates through emergence. But when we say that I think we change theology.

        One can see in Jesus an emergent event, perhaps. But if we take it as emergence, rather than fulfillment, theology changes.

        These are the kind translation issues I think readings of nature through Darwin’s eyes raise up. Emergence does not translate into creation and fulfillment.

        Bible translation presents a similar challenge. If we take each language as a game of its own, then one is confronted by an awareness that neither words nor meanings translate as we wish they did.

        If we posit as the author you quote does that there is transcendent meaning behind the words, something that can never be completely said in words, then I think we can reach her conclusion. But if instead we posit emergence, then we can neither believe that any one translation is best nor believe that all are blessed.

        August 22, 2010
      • I guess one of the main differences between how we read creation/nature would be in the place Darwin gets. I would say that the story Darwin tells is a part of how I interpret the natural world, but it isn’t the whole story. I don’t embrace Darwinism as a philosophy or worldview. I don’t think emergence is inconsistent with creation and fulfillment.

        Re: translating language, there are of course numerous challenges in translating across linguistic, historical, and cultural boundaries. I don’t think they are insurmountable, though. Perhaps my main reasons for believing this are theological in nature. We don’t need to completely understand/inhabit the linguistic/cultural/historical contexts of every author we read in Scripture (or anywhere else, for that matter) in order to learn and grow and be transformed. If we did, we would all be in serious trouble. That’s not to say that we don’t do our best to understand our various language games and the worlds that produced them; but, as the quote above says, God can (and does) work with less.

        August 22, 2010
      • Ken #

        I hope you are right, at least in some way, even if I don’t see it now.

        August 22, 2010

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