Sunday, September 11, 2005

On Translations

What makes something a good translation verses a bad one? There are many groups who have a pet translation and insist all others are corrupted. This is nothing new, but before we look at individual translations and critique them and judge them as good or bad, we must establish certain criterion for making such judgments. Here are two very basic ones:

1. The translating committee must be looked at carefully. Who are these people? Maybe they have an agenda that is harmful to an honest translation, but before we even get to that we need to investigate their credentials. Are they all scholars in the original Biblical languages? The average person is not skilled in the Biblical languages -this is just a fact. So, we have two options: we can either take the years and years required to adequately learn the Biblical languages for ourselves and then read the Bible in its original languages, or must rely upon these committees of scholars to accurately translate the original languages for us. Are they scholars? Do they know the languages? Do they have good credentials? Is this certain person on the committe a mere 2-year student or a scholar who has been learning and studying the languages in a professional capacity for perhaps decades? Also, are the committee members all scholars? It would be easy for one who seems to be far more advanced than others to steer the committee into erroneous directions, to fit the man's bias or predisposition, if all of the members were not able to objectively see an error looming on the horizon because of lack of training. Also, consider the number of people on the committee. It is not a rule, of course, but most committees number in the tens (I believe 56 men in total for the KJV, for example, broken into six groups), not a mere two, three, or four people. The goal is to have the men on the committee "check" one another, and if there are a larger number it is probably more difficult to force a particular bias into the translation since others, many others, are overseeing what is going on.

2. Evaluate the quality, objectivity, and honesty of the translation itself. Ease of reading is not a good basis for judging a translation to be accurate, and neither is taking someone's word for it. Check out differing translations. When we come to a verse in the translation we are examining that differs from the majority of other translations, especially if it is on an important doctrinal point, it would be wise for us to look also at these other translations and research, ourselves, into the reasoning behind the difference. Why is this translation right, if it is right, and the others wrong? Why do the others all translate it differently? Is there a valid reason that perhaps this translation is missing, overlooking, or even hiding? Men translate our Bibles, and as such, bias and predisposition to certain beliefs can and sometimes do influence the translation. What we want to look out for is a consistent and obvious bias that repeatedly leads the translation in question to avoid a certain conclusion in text after text. No single major Christian doctrine is founded upon just one verse, so a dangerous bias in the translation would be evidenced by a consistent rejection and hiding of the proper translation in various places so as to conceal or avoid a certain doctrinal conclusion.

No translation is perfect, but this does not mean we should not be discerning about which translation we use. Most major translations are just fine, even if there are minor quirks here and there -no major Christian doctrine is effected. But let us think twice and use some valid criterion, perhaps such as the two listed above, to evaluate the translation we are using, especially if it claims to be different and superior to all the rest. Perhaps it is the only translation that truly "got it", but perhaps it is full of misleadings and biases as well.

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