Saturday, February 03, 2007


Concerns and issues about rendering something into another language confronts all readers of the Bible. Especially those reading it in a secondary language. I've been reading "On Translation" by Paul Ricoeur. He says (from George Steiner), "To understand is to translate." Translation, he tells us, follows from two ineluctable features of the human condition: the plurality of natural languages and the ­non-­transparency of the self to others, or even to ­itself. Beyond a reaction of paralysis in response to Babel, he proposes translation so as to overcome: 1) the impossibility of translation and 2) the creation of an ideal artificial and universal language to overcome the deficiencies of natural languages. In communication we have to overcome notions of inadequacy and resenting the necessity of the task (particularly if you are an introvert). Clarity and self understanding are the twin goals of the enterprise.

Any translation of the Bible is a hybrid: a translation and at the same a text in its own right. What of its authority? Richard Whately (1787-1863), Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, held up an Authorized Version to his clergy and said, "Never forget, gentlemen, this is not the Bible!" He continued, "This, gentlemen, is a translation of the Bible!" The preface of the KJV stipulates that "the very meanest translation by people of our profession contains, nay, is the Word of God" just as the King's speech uttered in parliament and translated into Dutch, French, German etc. is still the King's speech.

Rendering the language of God into human speech is an impossible hence fraught undertaking.

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