Mission World - June 2023

Translating the Bible in Contexts of Mission

There are several missionary organisations that devote their energies and considerable financial support primarily to the translation of the Bible. According to the Ministry Watch, for example, Wycliffe Bible Translators earned over $238 million in 2021. Wycliffe Global Alliance is working on translation in at least 2,401 languages and in 126 countries.

Many of these organisations are theologically conservative and would tend towards the literal (or word-for-word) approach to the task of Bible translations. There are three broad approaches to translation. First, there are these literal translations, whereby the translators try to find a word that, as accurately as possible, means the same as the word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek manuscript.

Secondly, there are dynamic equivalence approaches to Bible translation, whereby a translator is more concerned with the present-day culture and the language into which the Bible is being translated and so allows for greater imagination and thoughtful correlation between the language of the original texts, as much as we know them, and the language of the receiving culture. Eugene Nida (Toward a Science of Translating, Brill, 1964) used the example of translating John 1:38 as “Look, there goes the seal of God” for Inuit people because lamb does not adequately symbolise innocence in their culture.

The third general type of approach to Bible translation is what is called the paraphrase approach. This is generally carried out by translators who rewrite the Bible to make it speak to people in a manner that Kenneth N. Taylor, who created The Living Bible, called “from thought to thought.”

Within the English-speaking world, those Bibles that use the literal or formal equivalence approach include the New American Standard Bible (1971), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV, 1989) and the English Standard Version (2001). These would be recommended for academic study. Use of both dynamic equivalence and even some paraphrase is found in the New English Bible (1970), Good News Bible (1976), New Jerusalem Bible (1985), and the CTS New Catholic Bible (2007). These are suitable for liturgical purposes because they read well and for personal reflection.

Most translators of the Bible would work along the spectrum between the literal and the dynamic equivalence approaches. They would, for example, create a word in the local culture that closely resembles the word of the missionary culture. Over time, these words, like sipi (sheep) or lami (lamb) in the Fijian Bible, have come to be part of the receiving culture and language. It also tries to pay respect to the probable meaning intended by the original author.

It would be important to note another form of translation. This is the Catholic Pastoral Bible or the Christian Community Bible (Claretian Publications, 2009) produced by the Asian Catholic Communicators, Inc. (ACCI). This Bible goes beyond the task of translating the Bible into language that people can easily read; rather, it provides sections about the historical contexts out of which the books of the Bible emerged and the story of how the English version developed and multiplied down through the centuries and an ongoing commentary. (In the standard edition, one should be aware that the small print can be very daunting.) It is a Bible for community sharing and group reflection and for personal study.

This is where we make the journey from translation into interpretation. Here we will enter the fascinating world of biblical hermeneutics, the art and methods of biblical interpretation, and gain a further understanding of the complexity and diversity of modern-day world mission.

Mission Intentions

June - For the abolition of torture:We pray that the international community may commit in a concrete way to ensuring the abolition of torture and guarantee support to victims and their families.

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