Sunday, October 15, 2017

Divine Authority of Present Day Translations

Doug Chaplin, reflecting on a forthcoming new English translation of Scripture, makes this point which I don't think I have ever considered before (being somewhat keen on knowledge of the "original language" Scriptures):

"Indeed, it could be argued that the careful translation of a group of scholars working together (the more common way to produce translations) is more of an authoritative text than the Greek being read by a single scholar who is always more likely to read it in ways congenial to their personal viewpoint, community tradition, or academic theory."

His whole post is here.


Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you, Peter, for drawing our attention to the FACT; that interpretation of Biblical passages is less likely to be affected by a biased viewpoint when undertaken by a group of inter-denominational scholars - rather than an individual from one particular theological persuasion. This is the seminal point that you have extracted from the author's (Doug Chaplin's) article:

"Indeed, it could be argued that the careful translation of a group of scholars working together (the more common way to produce translations) is more of an authoritative text than the Greek being read by a single scholar who is always more likely to read it in ways congenial to their personal viewpoint, community tradition, or academic theory."

In a discipline such as theology, where there are contrasting understandings of what is actually intended by the writers of Scripture, it is important that linguistic/theological scholars of international reputation and diligence are together engaged to separate the contextual from the abiding doctrinal evidence contained in the original text.

In order to produce a viable contemporary version, there needs also to be some agreed collective understanding of today's context - relative to the socio-cultural situation (I'm thinking here of the understanding and treatment of women; patriarchy; slavery; the need, or not, of circumcision; sexual-orientation; etc) into which the translation is being projected.

A very good translation - at the time - for the modern era was that of the New Jerusalem Bible, which used the talent and skills of a variety of denominational scholars (including Roman Catholics) to produce a 'Good News' Bible that could be read by most Christians, with some assurance of its freedom from sectarian/political bias.

Perhaps we do need an even more modern translation for today - but not from the idiosyncratic point of view of one isolated scholar/didact.

I remember, when working in Fiji, at the time of the original 'Good News for Modern Man (sic) Bible, which opened up for the local people in the Pacific Islands, the beauty of the Scriptures in a way not tied to the archaisms of the otherwise ubiquitous KJV.

Andrei said...

This is where we note that we should read scripture with the Church and interpret it with the Church

In any case before any translation can be used in worship the Bishops have to give that translation their imprimatur. And while any translation might be ok to read on a train - for study and worship only a translation with episcopal approval should be used

What you should also note when thinking about this is that the King James Bible has shaped the English language - that is English words and phrases that are well understood originated in the King James Bible

Language is tricky of course which is why it is important to note that the Greek Church has preserved the original scriptures in their original language and form for nearly 2000 years

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
While largely in accord with your comment I do need to ask whether there were any non-Roman Catholic members of the NJB (or its predecessor) translation committee?

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, in response to your question, I had assumed that the J.B. (and presumably its successor, the NJB) was the work of interdenominational and international Biblcal scholars. However, this, seemingly, may not be correct. As a definitive Catholic version of the Scriptures, I must accept that the translators would have had to be approved by the relevant Roman Catholic Authority. Mea culpa!

Doug Chaplin said...

Thanks for the link and comment, Peter

Andrei said...

I understand that J.R.R Tolkien was one of the Jerusalem Bible's translators.

The real questions about translations of scripture is what they are translated from and how they are intended to be used

You can for example tell a class of kindergarten children the Parable of the good Samaritan using a vocabulary and syntax appropriate to a five year old and loose nothing of the meaning

But reading it in Church, is another matter - these are the Lord's own words and there it requires a certain decorum and solemnity

This might be more apparent when you consider things like the Beatitudes or the Lord's Prayer

Think of the later - those who have grown up in Faithful English speaking households will have absorbed that prayer with their mother's milk generation after generation, hearing it even while in the womb - it might take 20 years or more for such a child to grasp its full meaning but if they remain true to the Faith they will

What does following the latest fad in newspeak do to the Lord's prayer?

Let's make it gender neutral as modernist sensibilities might require?

Learned in this context that of being handed down through the ages from grandparents and parents the language of the Lord's Prayer makes little difference - New Testament Greek, Church Slavonic or Jacobean English all achieve a form of perfection that cannot be easily replicated by modernizers who will inevitably produce something jarring to the ear.

And maybe Peter what is often forgotten by scholars as they labour over their translations is that Scripture is supposed to be read aloud!

Chris Spark said...

While there is something to this, it does seem to shift the authority from the text itself to the translator/interpreter. I am happy having authority that is never fully expressed but is located in the text - I don't think the ultimate authority moves to me just because I read a text in Greek and write a sermon from that (or an academic paper, or a commentary if I ever did something like that). At that point translations indeed have a derivative authority, but it is rooted, I would think, more in the degree to which they express the original text well rather than who the scholars were etc.

In other words, the Greek text being read by the single scholar still has every bit as much authority as it had when (for instance) it was being read to a house church in Colossae after coming from Paul's pen, even if the scholar may interpret it wrongly. It would be good if the scholar read it with the church now and through history though :) (true catholicity!) But the authority is in the text itself, and the scholar's authority is only derivative at any time anyway.

And the English text being read by a single Christian still has authority to the extent that it rightly represents the original text (which most translations I have had the privilege of interacting with do very well), but again good if they read with the church now and through time.

The authority resides in the text itself, not in those who interpret it or translate it.
Having gone and read the whole article now, I think Doug C would disagree with me, and while he raises good questions about this understanding, it is still arguable there is an objective text, even if our subjective readings of it are always just that - subjective, to one degree or another. Keeping a distinction between author/text and reader/interpreter is a good way to respect the text and author I think (and even more so in Christianity, where we need to respect the ultimate Author). Ontological objectivity and hermeneutical perspectivalism, I was once taught, and I think that is right. (sorry, that was geeky, but it is a post about translations and authority after all!)

Now I have to go do some objective work!

Bryden Black said...

"Perhaps we do need an even more modern translation for today - but not from the idiosyncratic point of view of one isolated scholar/didact." Ron

Have you encountered the NLT, Ron? New Living Translation, from Tyndale House?

In my view, better than the Good News Bible (GNB), as both readable and accurate, and modern.

Father Ron Smith said...

Today, 'cathnews' - in the link provided below - reports the opinion of Pope Francis on the matter of 'Sola Scriptura', when he states that the Bible should not be wrapped in cotton wool but allowed to speak with a voice that is contemporary. Here are his reported words:

" “doctrine cannot be conserved without allowing it to progress.

“The Word of God cannot be conserved in mothballs as if it were an old blanket to be preserved from parasites. No.

“The Word of God is a dynamic reality, always alive, that progresses and grows because it tends towards a fulfilment that men cannot stop.”

Here is the link:

Bryden Black said...

I think Ron you should be made aware that many seriously deny what you are saying and especially would contradict the current Pope:

Father Ron Smith said...

Well, Bryden, I would defend the authority of Pope Francis against that of many conservative Anglican theologians. At least, the Pope is Catholic.

Bryden Black said...

Sorry Ron; all those references are from RCC, not Anglican!

Father Ron Smith said...

I know that, Bryden. That does not alter my preference for theological veracity. If you want to cite the opposition to the Pope in the R.C. Church, that is your choice.
However, you will probably find a colleague in Nick, who also has problems with Pope Francis being in charge at the Vatican. He obviously has the same sort of problem with il Papa's theology as you do. However, he is bound by it, you are not.

Bryden Black said...

Well; let's be more specific and more careful then Ron.

What the article is raising is the question of true criteria of development versus false ones. In citing Newman, at least we have before us something cogent and coherent. So far, all we have with the current pope is ... well, what? And may I quietly also suggest that it would appear your own criteria are but an echo of the modernist myth of progress ... I'm not sure that now fast fading stance has or ever had the theological veracity you or we seek.

Father Ron Smith said...

May I remind you, Bryden, that in Cardinal Newman we have a former Anglican divine, versed in the Oxford Movement, who afterwards became a Roman Catholic Cardinal; whose close fraternal relationship to one of his clergy caused some scandal to the Roman Catholic Church. However, he is recognised as an eminent theologian by both Churches, and I'm pretty sure he would have been a worthy supporter of Pope Francis' openness to the world - for which Christ died.

I would also remind you, Bryden, that no single theologian has all the truth - not even N.T. Wright, whom you appear to lionise. We all have our favourites - usually those closest to our own biases.

Father Ron Smith said...

Here, mainly for Bryden and Nick - whose opposition to the openness of Pope Francis to the World is (IMNSHO) inimical to the outworking of the Gospel - is a link to CATHNEWS (NZ) on the Pope's achievements since his installation:

(key to IMNSHO - In my not so humble opinion)

Bryden Black said...

Well Ron; let’s give this yet another crack, shall we?! For you’re only avoiding the key thing ...

The point at issue is by what criteria do formulations of belief and practice change legitimately and by what means might we identify “corrupt” (the term is Newman’s) changes. These questions are as old as the hills themselves! However, they especially took on a keen focus in the 19th C with the then Zeitgeist; just so, Newman’s seminal Essay of 1845/78. And of course, the question itself remains acute today, since we’ve an added awareness of the seeming plurality of things, given globalization, and not only the shifting nature of ‘history’.

What this First Things article is merely doing is to use the current pope as an example of the problem. Yet when it’s the pope being vague (deliberately vague, some might say) around the matter of “development”, it raises the stakes - for some folk of course more gravely than for others. And even for folk outside the RCC, the issue itself is seriously pertinent: we are all having to deal with the nature of the “development of doctrine”. You seem to be simply dodging that bullet - or asserting your own favourite conclusions without declaring how you actually got there - back to the criteria again.

Theological veracity has therefore to be clear about its very second order principles, its shifts in understanding, the reasons for these shifts, and their very legitimacy or otherwise. And when you express the hope Newman would be a worthy supporter of Francis, my own suggestion, governed by Newman’s own profoundly nuanced criteria or “notes”, is frankly otherwise: to date, Francis has been rather equivocal about expressing clearly any criteria for development. Read Amoris Laetitia for yourself and then the formal “dubia”, let alone other assembled challenges. For back to my earlier comment: we need both cogent and coherent criteria. So far, the sought for “dialogue” with the present pope and my desire for some sort of declaration by yourself re developmental criteria have fallen on stony ground. For what on earth does it actually, concretely mean to “heed the voice of the Holy Spirit working through a growing understanding of the liberation brought by Jesus in the Gospels. The zeitgiest has ever been active in our world, and there is the need of discernment on the part of Church Leaders to seek that spiritual gift” [your comment, October 20, 2017 at 6:46 PM under Resourcing discussion on SSB, submissions for 17 November] That is, by what criteria is anyone to discern, concluding changes are either good or bad?! Mere change - or “growth” - over time is not necessarily “good”: that is but to espouse the modernist myth of progress!

Anonymous said...

Father Ron, I often wonder whether, all in all, N.T. Wright is not much closer to your biases than J.H. Newman was. If you and he had not disagreed on That Topic, you might have been a bigger fan of his work than of Francis's.


Anonymous said...

Nicholas Lash once argued for something more sensible and less imperialistic and narcissistic than a *development* of doctrine: the deposit has been more fully understood as the Holy Spirit has unpacked it in ever-stranger settings (eg the ordination of women today). God willed the diversity of the settings (Genesis 1:28), and has adapted the Body to them (Acts 2), but dates do not matter. Neither the settings, nor the unpackings, nor the adaptations ascend in a series from Adam and Eve to the Jews of old to the benighted apostles through the centuries to our own transcendently glorious selves. The last word is not the best, nor need it be.


Father Ron Smith said...

Thanks, Bowman. I think the daily sacramental involvement of Pope Francis, with the ongoing Presence of the Spirit of Jesus - that informs his pragmatic pronouncements on current and future directions of the Church, may be a more effective roadmap for human ethical behaviour than a diet of ten theses a day from academic theologians. Thus, my preference is for the praxis of Francis over NTW (very much like his illustrious forebear in The Faith).

Dear Bryden. I'm wondering at your distinction between change and progress. I suppose, in the end, the progress I'm for is that which enhances the ultimate good of the majority of God's children - bearing the divine Image and Likeness.I'm not in favour of change for the sake of change. My name is not Winston Peters.

If you are determined not to engage with my way of dialogue, then I guess I'll have to try to make my observations even more simple. I must confess that I do sometimes struggle with you own voluminous postings.

Bryden Black said...

“Dear Bryden. I’m wondering at your distinction between change and progress”: many thanks indeed Ron for this very enlightening question/observation by you. Let me reveal the distinction. “Change” = a mere alteration from state A to state B. “Progress” = a change from state P to state Q, where Q is seen to be a better state than P. And to go further: “corruption/decline” = a change from state P to state R, which is the opposite of progress, since R is worse than P. You yourself go on to illustrate this evaluative extra dimension when you say: “... the progress I’m for is that which enhances the ultimate good ...” NB all those evocative evaluators for the better/worse in both what you say and in my definitions ... Just so, I hope now to make some progress with our initial communication: let’s give this yet another crack, shall we?! For you’re only avoiding the key thing - so far.

What began this part of the conversation is the real and pertinent issue of establishing criteria for the development of Christian doctrine, of our beliefs and practices in a changing world, where it seems time’s steady flow shifts our human perception of things. THAT is the problem and the issue to be addressed. For, are those changes for the better or the worse? Are they enriching, or are they ... heretical even?!

Frankly, personally, for what it’s worth, I agree the present pope has “achieved” much to date - even as there’s much that also remains open ... That said, it’s NOT what I’m seeking to address here, triggered by your quotes from cathnews on October 20, 2017 at 8:59 PM. Those quotes ride upon a number of vital factors which have been the subject of intense scrutiny these past 200 years - ever since our western culture became preoccupied with ‘the historical’ and its ‘nature’, and the seemingly inescapable drive towards “change”, and notably change in human institutions, etc. The Christian Faith especially has been caught up in this vital dynamic. And you seem to wish to avoid serious engagement with all this. I say this, since you seem most reluctant both to examine the hidden assumptions behind many of your own declarations, and behind those declarations you wish to put before others - like those of Francis via cathnews. While I’m all for the possibility of both “pushing the envelope” and “breaking molds” (Jesus did surely do both, even as he precisely fulfilled the OT at the same time; I’ll come back to this essential hermeneutical concern), this is, once more, NOT the root issue. Of essential concern is our need to establish/try to establish criteria for discerning legitimate change and illegitimate change re Christian faith and practice, and what constitutes their differences (NB the evaluative dimension). Newman clearly saw this need, whatever we might think of the details of his actual proposals ...

I suggest the Bible itself, Old and New Testaments, begins - NB begins - to give us a real handle on this problematic dynamic. Herewith my (published and also now edited) tuppence worth:

Bryden Black said...

A basic analogy. The OT presents us with a whole lot of pieces of a jig–saw puzzle from a box. These pieces consist of people (like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David), events (like the exodus, exile, and restoration), institutions (like priesthood, temple, its cult and sacrifices, prophecy, kingship), and essential cultural traits (like Torah, covenant, creation theology, Wisdom), plus those “motifs” from the first studies above not already mentioned [I’m extracting a question from God’s Address]. The trick is then to see Jesus and his mission in the NT as providing the picture on the lid that fits them all together, fulfilling them—even if in rather unexpected, even radical ways! Capturing this idea of the complete “picture on the lid”, Origen fondly describes Jesus in an extraordinarily compressed formulation of his identity as αὐτοβασιλεία (autobasileia), which we may translate as “the kingdom itself in person”. For we simply cannot understand the NT without the Old, yet the OT itself only comes into its own in the light of the New. St Augustine’s famous saying is apt: “The New Testament is hidden [Latin: latet] in the Old; the Old is made accessible [patet] by the New.” We may compare this classical play on words with a contemporary example. Richard Hays has this to say: “in the first lecture, I proposed the twofold thesis that the OT teaches us how to read the Gospels and that—at the same time—the Gospels teach us how to read the OT. The hermeneutical key to this intertextual dialectic is the practice of figural reading.” For Jesus pulls the whole Story together—so Luke 24:25–27; indeed, he is shown to be not only the climax of the Story but even the premise of the Story! E.g. John 1:1, 8:58, 1 Cor 8:4–6, Col 1:15–20, Heb 1:1–4. Re this last reference from Hebrews: “the new corresponds to the old, but surpasses it, and does so absolutely, by providing the perfection of the true, spiritual order” (Harold Attridge commenting on Hebrews). And so we may come full circle, with a comment from Henri de Lubac, which itself concludes by referencing Origen’s αὐτοβασιλεία in a note, as above:

The intimate links between the two Testaments are of quite another kind. Within the very consciousness of Jesus—if we may cast a human glance into that sanctuary—the Old Testament was seen as the matrix of the New or as the instrument of its creation. This meant something much more than extrinsic preparation. Even the categories used by Jesus to tell us about himself are ancient biblical categories. Jesus causes them to burst forth or, if you prefer, sublimates them and unifies them by making them converge upon himself.

In other words, as we seek to address the question of how Jesus with the New Covenant fulfills himself in history what God first established via the Old Covenant, whatever answers we gain here will help us address how the Christian Faith itself then engages with the ongoing history of the Church thereafter. The likes of Newman’s seven “notes” may be easily recognized as they echo the shifting dynamics between OT and NT.

So Ron; let’s try and address the foundational issue here, and leave the journos to give others their crumbs ... I’m far more interested in what soils may produce true wheat as opposed to mere chaff.

Bryden Black said...

And now back to the original thread:

Father Ron Smith said...

" For we simply cannot understand the NT without the Old, yet the OT itself only comes into its own in the light of the New. St Augustine’s famous saying is apt: “The New Testament is hidden [Latin: latet] in the Old; the Old is made accessible [patet] by the New." - B.B. -

In the meantime, Bryden, I guess that Jewish Scholars might not agree with you Do you think then, that they are no longer 'heirs to the Promise'? If not, I think that even Saint Paul might not agree with you.

I agree with you that The O.T. is necessary for Christians to understand the Mission and purpose of Christ who was, after all, a Jew of the Jews - not only an heir of 'The Promise' but also it's Enablement. However, Jesus did circumvent some of the legalism that had cluttered up the Mosaic Law - in ways that obviously confronted the Judaisers whom Paul was able to refute from within the Tradition.

In fact, Paul, a Jew of the Jews, took great pains - for which he was vilified by the Teachers of The Law - to rectify the common understanding that living 'by The Law' was sufficient for salvation. The concept of Grace - implicit in the Gospels - opened up the prospect of Salvation through the actions of God-in-Christ alone, rather than the works of humanity; something that many conservatives Christians of today seem to have forgotten.

This is why the saying: "The Gospel is one poor man showing another poor man where to find bread" is so appropriate to the mission of the Church.

Bryden Black said...

“In the meantime, Bryden, I guess that Jewish Scholars might not agree with you. Do you think then, that they are no longer 'heirs to the Promise'? If not, I think that even Saint Paul might not agree with you.” Ron

Two brief things, Ron:
1. Either Jesus IS the Messiah, or he is not. And if not, then Christianity is FALSE.
2. Your sequence of sentences above does not flow. I do disagree with them; but that does not imply Jews have ceased to be the People of the Promise - of course they remain so - there’s NO “then”; naturally, Paul’s exegesis of the OT in either Rom 9-11 or Gal 3-4 stands.

That said, perhaps we need to also go back to that other thread and recall the Sabbath discussions, which I will not repeat.

Lastly, I see you’ve continued to avoid the real point of our recent round of comments ... Fine!