The Incarnational Thrust of Biblical Translation Part 1 | Translation as a Theological Task

Not so long ago I wrote a blog about the issue of translation whereupon I borrowed a quote from Gordon Fee where he advises serious exegetes to: “use almost any modern translation rather than the King James Version or the New King James Version. 1

I realized that it is quite supercilious of me to assume that such position should be put upfront without giving ample space for explanation and that is why I would like to use this space to explain why I have said such.

Please note that much of this post this borrows to a large extent from the lecture on Biblical Translation that Professor Noli Mendoza, has given at our Hermeneutics class at the Asian Theological Seminary.

With regards to biblical translation Eugene Nida, writes: “Translation is the process of reproducing in the Receptor Language the closest natural equivalent of the Source, Language, Message, first in meaning, secondly in style, for a particular audience .2

Here Nida, directs us to the two languages that are always involved in Biblical translation these are the:
  • Source language – The text in its original language
  • Receptor language – The closest equivalent of the original text according to the reader’s language.
This shows that translation is not merely the act of doing a word-per-word transferring of an ancient text into contemporary language but rather: “translation is reproducing in the receptor language a text which communicates the same message as the source language but using the natural grammatical choices and lexical choices of the receptor language .3

I believe that it is safe to say biblical translation is basically the synthesis of communication and linguistics which when looked at in the Christian context points towards the task of what can be regarded as theologizing.

Translation as a Theological Task

Translation is a theological task since in this process the translator communicates the Word in a particular context using contemporary symbols.

This is a very important facet of the work of theology, that is, to engage in a meaningful dialogue between the sacred text and the contemporary context.

A good example of this can be found in the Incarnation 4 reveals the nature of God as someone who wants to communicate and be understood –the archetypal Word Made Flesh expression that Gospel of John used to depict Jesus Christ as the fullness of God’s revelation in human form, suggests that the Incarnation reveals the nature of revelation as contextual, or incarnational, wherein God uses culture, language and thought patterns of the recipient.

Translation as Theological Incarnation

The Incarnation offers a wonderful model for both theology and Bible translation.

We see here an example of how the Word of God was made incarnate in a given socio-cultural experience, using the full resources of a given context to become a channel of God’s message.

In other words, in the Incarnation of Jesus as the Word the message of God enters into a dialogue with the human condition. Thus in the Incarnation Christ gives flesh to the Word of God and to our encounter with God through His Word in a concrete socio-cultural experience.

The goal then is to make translations that are accurate and faithful to the meaning of the original languages of the Bible. This demands that we translate NOT from English translations, but from the original languages.

Since we communicate the message of the sacred text to the contemporary context, it is therefore very important to be faithful to the Word and at home with the World for there will be no real transformation without this dynamic encounter between the Truth of the Gospel and the realities of humankind.

1 Fee, Gordon et al. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth 3rd Edition(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007) p. 40
2 Nida, Eugene et al. The Theory and Practice of Translation, (Boston: Brill, 2003) p.12
3 Larson, Mildred Meaning-based translation: a guide to cross-language equivalence (Lanham: University Press of America, 1984) p.17
4 Incarnation is the terminology used to describe what happened when the eternal Son of God, "became flesh" as he was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary according to the Bible.

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