Translating the Bible

Michael Spencer, that conservative internet monk, has a post up about Bible translations. Of course this is too much fun to pass up since plenty of bloggers within the biblioblogosphere have recently been posting on translation (and for those I didn’t link to you can check out the most recent Biblical Studies Carnival at Ketuvim).

So, on to Michael’s thoughts. After a lengthy disclaimer he gets to the meat of what he wants to say, which is basically: “Conservatives should stop yelling at each other about what Bible translation one uses, since they are all translations made by scholars.” Michael is right; in fact, often the same scholars work on vastly different translations. As a case in point, Moises Silva, whom Michael mentions as one of the translators for the NLT, also served as a translator for the ESV and the NASB (source here and here).

I personally think that we could get rid of the problem entirely by actually teaching Hebrew and Greek in our churches, but this opinion apparently makes me a “Bible Expert,” (though, to be fair, I think the Bible perfectly understandable–more or less–in any of the English translations we have). Ultimately I find all of these discussions about translation and translation philosophy extremely stimulating. But, at the end of the day I would still rather be reading Hebrew or Greek with the students in my youth ministry.

It’s true. Teaching others to read the language is far more exciting, to me, than discussing how one tries to make Hebrew make sense in English with any kind of regularity. It is also true that I have four high school students or recent graduates who are learning Greek. It’s an odd story, but extremely exciting. To be sure, anyone can learn Greek (and Hebrew is even easier). The amazing thing is not so much that they are learning Greek, but that they want to learn it. Someone should write a book about church youth ministries using language study as their main paradigm for ministry. Now that would be exciting!

In fact, writing this post has been somewhat of an inspiration to me. I plan to talk with my Greek students this evening about their preferred translations and why they prefer them. Of course, eventually, they won’t need them–does that make them Bible experts too?

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Better Study Bibles

John Hobbins has offered his thoughts on what needs to be improved in study editions of various translations. I agree wholeheartedly. Having an edition of a translation that was more forthcoming with information on the text critical decisions that were made in producing the translation would be a huge step forward.

Of course, the problem is one of economics. There is a relatively small number of people who would be interested in such a tome. I won’t hold my breath for a “raising of the bar,” as Hobbins puts it, of study editions for Bible translations. But, I will hope that we might see at least some movement in this direction in the future. One never can tell.

On Youth Pastors and Hebrew

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. This semester has been crazy, but things are beginning to slow down. Next week is my last week of classes. I’ve finished the first draft of both my big papers, and so I finally find myself with some time to do other things. I have something exciting to talk about, but it will have to wait for a couple days. To those of you who have somehow endured with me over the last couple months – thanks!

As anyone who has been reading my blog for any length of time knows, I think that too few youth pastors really have the tools to undertake intense study of the Bible. One of those tools is knowing the languages (Hebrew and Greek, and I guess Aramaic if we want to get 100% coverage). One important reason to know the languages is that most, if not all, of the best commentaries deal with the languages. But, tonight I have another reason I’d like to share. You might call it a more personal reason.

First, some background: as we all know Advent is upon us. This will be the first year that I’ve focused on Advent during a Bible study with students. I’m very excited about the opportunity to celebrate the start of the Church Year with the students in my youth ministry. We’ll be talking about Advent, and using the traditional categories of Christ’s advent in the past, present and future. As part of the format of our Bible study we’ll begin each week with a time of Lectio Divina, with the scripture being taken from the Revised Common Lectionary’s Hebrew Bible reading for that week. There are many good Bible translations out there, but I wanted to give my students something special. Because I know Hebrew, I am translating the relevant passages for our Lectio. I don’t think that makes me better, or somehow means our ministry is closer to God. But think for just a moment about how special that really is. As a youth pastor I have the incredible opportunity to translate God’s word for my students. I’m doubly excited for Sunday because I have a gift of sorts to give my students.

This is just one of the myriad of ways that knowing Hebrew can have practical implications for ministry. Knowing Hebrew and Greek is so important. I know some youth pastors, and even pastors, have taken courses in Hebrew and Greek and found them to be useless. But I refuse to accept that diagnosis. If you keep up on your languages, they can be an incredible boon to ministry, to spirituality, and to study. So, consider this just another of my calls for youth pastors to learn the biblical languages, keep up with the languages, and use them in youth ministry.