March 11, 2013
. . . I must register one strong protest against one particular translation. When the New International Version was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretive glosses. This contrasted so strongly with the then popular New English Bible, and promised such an advance over the then rather dated Revised Standard Version, that I recommended it to students and members of the congregation I was serving. Dissolusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one. . . . I do not know what version of Scripture they use at Dr Piper’s church. But I do know that if a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about (Wright, Justification, 51-52).
If I had to guess what Bible they use at Dr. Piper’s church–as Wright phrased it–I would say ESV, although I really have no idea. I get the impression that the ESV is quite trendy right now in many circles, not the least of which include Baptist and Calvinistic. And, I recently had a discussion (actually, it was more of a monologue) in which a quite educated theology student praised the various qualities of the ESV, making claims about this translation that are very similar to the above claims about the NIV. “The ESV translates the Bible literally, word for word. And, the translators attempt to render a word the same way each time, so that the English reader knows exactly what is going on in the Greek. What’s more, this translation was done by those from the reformed camp!”
Wright’s claim, that one can never understand Paul’s words if one relies on the NIV, is quite bold. I think it is an overstatement. But, there is also truth behind his words. Translations can make high claims, as they are prone to do, but in the end they remain translations. This point may be lost to many people who only speak one language, and therefore don’t have an appreciation for the differences of language, or perhaps cannot understand why a literal translation is not always the best.
For example, my wife and I were talking last night about the common German phrase, “Wie geht es Ihnen?” A literal translation would be “How goes it to you?” But that makes no sense, the better translation would be the less literal one: “How are you?” or “How are things going?” But then, of course, you need to figure out how to translate “Ihnen,” which is used when speaking formally, often to a superior. So then, you might need to translate the phrase something like, “How are you, Sir?”
Personally, when I read my favorite authors, I prefer to read them in their own language, rather than in translation. So, for example, I recently read Harry Potter in German. Since I didn’t really care about capturing Rowland’s tone and style, I gladly used the books as a chance to improve my German. When I read C. S. Lewis (my favorite author), I cannot imagine wanting to read him in German. Lewis is such an artist with words, so eloquent, with such a style all of his own. To read him in another language, one would lose the feel. Much of the thought would be Lewis, but to really appreciate Lewis, he must be read in English. I think this is true about the great authors in general, they must be read in their original language.
And this brings me back to my point about Bible translation. If one really wants to capture the feel of the authors (in the Gospels, for example, if one wants to sense the casual, vivid style of Mark versus the more lofty style of Luke), one must read the original. Or, if the Bible is really a treasured book, God’s word, then to really appreciate it for all its worth, one must read the original. There is simply no comparison. I think of the often quoted phrase: “reading the Bible in translation is like kissing the bride through the veil.”
February 26, 2013
January 4, 2012
In a recent post I described several ways in which I am trying to prepare academically for studies in Germany. Now in this post let me share some ways that I am preparing spiritually.
- I am looking at my time in Germany not only as a 3 year academic stint, but also as a chance to live as a missionary in a foreign country. Sadly, many parts of Europe, including Germany, are very dark when it comes to the gospel. In fact, I read just this past week that nearly a third of Germans are atheists, with the other two-thirds being Catholic and Protestant — but most of these being “religious.” So living in Germany will mean living in a place that desperately needs to hear about Jesus. Sometimes being a missionary means reaching people who live in huts and work on primitive farms; being a missionary in Germany might mean reaching people who drive Mercedes and work as succesful professionals.
- Living as a missionary begins now, not just when I get across the ocean. We are seeking to be involved with our local church in every way possible. We as a family are continuing to pray for our neighbors and to reach out to them and to seek opportunities at our jobs and in our community. If we are not sharing the gospel now, why should we expect it to be any different when we get “over there”?
- As one who will study in a German University, I am bracing myself for several possibilities. Since I will be studying the New Testament with very conservative beliefs, I am expecting to have to defend my positions on these. For example, I expect to be challenged on my belief about the inerrancy of Scripture. Now, I’m not planning on going into the University broadcasting such a stance, but I’m sure it will eventually come up. I doubt that it will be a huge issue, however, if I have developed a reputation as a good student, a hard worker, and a careful reader of the New Testament.
- I intend to make time for spiritual growth while in Germany. It will be easy to get lost in studies and to neglect prayer and devotional reading. Therefore it will be important to get to know some other believers, to be involved in church, and to daily seek the Lord. I am also planning on reading my fair share of C. S. Lewis while studying. That may sound odd, since he was not a NT scholar. I think he models one, however, who was willing to take a bold stand for his faith within the context of a European University, even though it cost him in many ways. Having such an example will help, I think, during the times when I’ll feel challenged or out-of-place.
March 28, 2011
“Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary. He told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves’, but also ‘as wise as serpents’. He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, singleminded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim. . . . The proper motto is not ‘Be good, sweet maid and let who can be clever,’ but ‘Be good, sweet maid, and don’t forget that this involves being as clever as you can.’ God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. But, fortunately, it works the other way round. Anyone who is honestly trying to become a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself. That is why an uneducated believer like Bunyan was able to write a book that has astonished the whole word” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, 78).
March 4, 2011
“We opened our books at Iliad, Book 1. Without a word of introduction Knock read aloud the first twenty lines or so. . . . He then translated, with a few, very few explanations, about a hundred lines. I had never seen a classical author taken in such large gulps before. When he had finished he handed me over Crusius’ Lexicon and, having told me to go through again as much as I could of what he had done, left the room. It seems an odd way of teaching, but it worked. At first I could travel only a very short way along the trail he had blazed, but every day I could travel further. . . . He appeared at this stage to value speed more than absolute accuracy. The great gain was that I very soon became able to understand a great deal without (even mentally) translating it; I was beginning to think in Greek. That is the great Rubicon to cross in learning any language. Those in whom the Greek word lives only while they are hunting for it in the lexicon, and who then substitute the English word for it, are not reading the Greek at all; they are only solving a puzzle” (Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 79).
One of the things I like most about this quote is the way Lewis describes diving into the original texts. Isn’t it amazing that his tutor thrust him into the Iliad on their very first lesson? It seems that a good goal for those who teach languages is to get students into the text as quickly and frequently as possible.
February 11, 2011
“It is important to acquire early in life the power of reading sense wherever you happen to be. I first read Tamburlaine while traveling from Larne to Belfast in a thunderstorm, and first read Browning’s Paracelsus by a candle which went out and had to be relit whenever a big battery fired in a pit below me, which I think it did every four minutes that whole night” (Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 32).
Did you catch that? Lewis read Paracelsus in a fox hole in world war one with bombs exploding around him, at night, by candle light. Now that is book sense.
I’m learning the joy’s of reading sense, as Lewis describes it. First, always have a book in arms reach no matter where you are — some unexpected delay may afford you the perfect opportunity to steal some minutes in a book. Second, learn to read in short spurts, in an environment full of distractions and noise. Third, have a book next to the bed at night, rather than being frustrated you can’t sleep, be thankful for the chance to read.
February 11, 2011
“Growing maturity is marked by the increasing liberties we take with our traveling” (Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 32)
January 4, 2011
“If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came.”
-Lewis, A Grief Observed, 31, (Quoted by Alcorn, If God is Good, 10).
December 19, 2010
“It is a wonderful thing and a strengthening of faith that two souls differing from each other in place, nationality, language, obedience and age should have been thus led into a delighful friendship; so far does the order of spiritual beings transcend the material order” (Lewis, The Latin Letters, 83 [written by Lewis as he corresponded with an old Italian monk]).
“Older people, as we both are, are always ‘praisers of times past.’ They always think the world is worse than it was in their young days” (Lewis, Latin Letters, 91. [What I love about this quote is how it seems to address the issue of the supposed decline of America, an issue at the front of many elderly people's minds that I encounter.]).
“I am now in my fiftieth year. I feel my zeal for writing, and whatever talent I originally possessed, to be decreasing; nor (I believe) do I please my readers as I used to. I labour under many difficulties . . . . Pray for me, Father, that I ever bear in mind that profoundly true maxim: ‘if thou wish to bring others to peace, keep thyself in peace’” (Lewis, Latin Letters, 51; a profound glimpse into the personal life of Lewis).
“Let us beware lest, while we torture ourselves in vain about the fate of Europe, we neglect either Verona or Oxford. In the poor man who knocks at my door, in my ailing mother, in the young man who seeks my advice, the Lord Himself is present: therefore let us wash His feet” (Lewis, The Latin Letters, 47).
December 5, 2010
“Let us pray to Him that, weakened as we are by age and the long habit of sinning, He may make new persons of us and lead us into His kingdom–that kingdom into which there is no entry except in the likeness of a child. I rejoice that the Lord, who took upon Him all our other miseries, willed not to take old age: in the One True Man, lives youth everlasting.”
-Lewis, The Latin Letters of C. S. Lewis, 63