The Pokey Finger of God

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The Folly of Translation

April 27th, 2012 · No Comments · christianity, history, media

Some Pentacostal Evangelicals have their panties in a knot about some translations of the Wycliffe has made for Muslim cultures. Read the news article here. The complaint is that “language in some of their translations intended for Muslim countries misses the essential Christian idea of Trinity: the father, son and the holy spirit or ghost.” Where they expect to see “Father”, the translation is to “Lord”; for “Son”, they used “Messiah”.

The article does a good job of describing some of the difficulties of translation in general, and of translating the Bible in particular. But there were still a couple of points it didn’t make, so I’m making them here.

Technically, the translators are correct. The use of familial relationships to describe God is specifically denigrated by Islamic tradition. Had they forced the issue, they would have lost many potential readers who would have been put off by such descriptions.

Another thing the protestors have working against them is that the Trinity is a post-Biblical construct. It doesn’t make sense to complain that a Bible translation doesn’t prop up Trinitarianism, since there exists no translation which does so.

The first century of Christianity after is structured by the series of severe and often violent conflicts regarding efforts to describe the nature of God or the Messiah. Folks who disagreed back in the day would refer to their opponents as “heretics” and their ideas as “heretical”. However, the difference between an orthodox idea and a heretical one had a lot more to do with the of those in charge at the time than anything specific to the ideas themselves.

Early on, the idea of the “Trinity” was cooked up as a way to describe, without describing, the nature of God and the Messiah. Unfortunately, this did not diminish the conflicts between the various political groups that made up the . If anything, it increased the furor as folks tried to authoritatively describe the Trinity, or how its members inter-related.

Returning to the more recent past, American Evangelicals have repeated nearly every heretical idea in their quest to redefine Christianity on their own terms. It may make sense to some of them to read the Trinity into Biblical passages, but by demanding a change to a Bible translation, they are assuming authority to define both the Trinity and the members thereof that would have made St. Augustine blush.

By taking on the overwhelming task to translate the Bible into as many other languages as possible, Wycliffe has set for themselves a difficult path: and they’re aware of the many pitfalls and traps along the way. Even those who aren’t Christian can appreciate the scale of the work they have already done and how much they still have left to do. I don’t think they do themselves any favors by trying to accommodate noisy and irritable bullies who can only use such issues to prop up their own failing sense of authority.

 

 

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