Friday, May 28, 2010

some thoughts on translations

Good morning! The last few days I’ve been working backwards through Proverbs. I started with chapter 10 and read backwards because that’s not something I usually do, and I wanted to see what it was like. I spent an evening in the section about staying away from the adulteress, trying to soak up the wisdom of “can a man put coals in his lap and not be burned?” (6:27).

I’m bad about placing differentiations on sin. I’m a pro at rationalizing what’s right and what’s okay, and what’s not okay but probably isn’t too bad. But reading these chapters, and really, this whole book, is a solid reminder that the way of wisdom turns away from all unrighteousness. Not in a holier-than-thou elitism, but in a pure, humble heart that honestly desires to please God. If I’m honest, more often than not i’m more concerned with pleasing myself than pleasing God, and my actions, words, and thoughts reflect this.

So Proverbs is turning out to be a wonderful dose of medicine to my heart. I’ve been reading it in the NLT, because I enjoy the beautiful translation that they employ. It is so difficult to balance beauty with precision and accuracy in translating. I know this from the last year of Greek. Sometimes you want to force a word here or there but the context just won’t let you do it. But the thing I like to keep in mind when I’m translating is this: as a translator, i’m trying to make the text as clear and as beautiful as it is in the original. I’m not spinning my own narrative. I’m not pushing my own theological opinions. I’m trying to do the best I can with my knowledge of english and greek/hebrew to bridge the gap between the two.

Peterson’s Message is a little bit too much on the side of subjectivity. When you stray as far as he does from original meaning you begin to make leaps that you just can’t sustain. But texts like the NIV, the NLT, which are closer to the original while still being readable, are a better blend of the beauty/clarity/precision triangle. If I’m honest, after learning Greek I have a hard time reading a looser translation of the New Testament and would rather have a more literal translation. But the Greek language, just like English, deserves to be unchained from the strict shackles of literality if we’re going to let the Spirit speak in various ways.

Achieving a good balance is the goal, at least it seems that way to me. I need the hard-nosed literal translations (NASB) as well as the looser, freer translations (NLT, Good News). And in between, the NIV and ESV emerge. All of these translations are worthy of our time and attention, because they bring us closer to the Word, and that’s the whole point of it all. Not to develop some uber particular way of interpretation, but rather to just spend time with God through his revealed Word. As I’m reminded in Proverbs 4, “My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words. Don’t lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart.” That’s the whole point. When the words penetrate our heart, our actions can't help but be changed.

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