Bible translation - the Future Perspective

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Bible translation history

Bible translation as we know it started around 250 bce with the translation of the Jewish Scriptures (Hebrew Bible) into Greek, resulting in a text known as the Septuagint . This text served both those Jews whose primary language was Greek and the ethnically diverse early Christian church (see Acts 2:7–11 for evidence of this diversity). Not long after Jesus’s crucifixion, it became important to the Christian community to translate and make a record of the oral traditions circulating about the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus. This was done in the lingua franca of the day, koine Greek. The theological centrality of the Incarnation to the NT writings that were being recorded and shared by the church at this time—e.g., the Word becoming flesh (John 1:1–5, 15–16); the Son’s leaving his place of divine privilege in order to give life (his “condescension,” John 6:33–35); and Christ’s self-emptying (kenosis, Phil 2:7)—would comprise an incarnational translation principle and become a standard theological understanding for Christians to the present day.

The academic significance of Bible translation is realized in works like The Cambridge History of the Bible (1989), A History of Bible Translation and the North American Contribution by Orlinsky and Bratcher (1991), and A History of Bible Translation edited by Philip Noss (2011, 1–25).

The orientation of Bible translation toward mother-tongue and homogenous ethnic units, which are closely interrelated, contextualizes the Bible in an increasing number of cultures and cultural units, hence resulting in an ongoing proliferation of Bible translations. Both mother-tongue and homogenous ethnic-unit orientation were introduced by the missiologist Donald McGavran in the 1960s (1965), and later expanded upon by Susan Conway (2002). These approaches were implemented in Bible translation by the translation scholar Eugene Nida (1960; 1965). Although the homogenous unity principle is criticized by David Bosch who calls it racially motivated (1991, 464–66), it still forms the best model for the outreach of the Church as summed up by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch (2004, 51–52). The combination of both mother-tongue and homogeneous-unity approaches serves as a foundation for the establishment and encouragement of culturally-sensitive churches. However, the focus on microcultures and smaller linguistic units has provoked argument about threatening the Church’s unity because of its lack of a unique liturgical text, as had previously been the case with the Vulgate for the Roman Catholic Church and the KJV for English-speaking Protestants. As a result of this tendency, ongoing debates frequently arise regarding the “right,” “authorized,” or “inspired” Bible translation as shown by Orlinsky and Bratcher (1991; see also Glassman 1965).

First, the Bible contains rich evidence about translation activities (e.g., Gen 42:23; 2 Kgs 18:26–28; Ezek 4:7, 18; Dan 5:6–7). Second, the Bible asserts its inspiration (Job 32:8; Eccl 4:12; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:21) and authorization by a divine author (Isa 55:11; Jer 1:12; John 5:24; Rev 3:8; 22:18–20). Third, the Bible contains a unique history of salvation (Ger. Heilsgeschichte), representing the communicative act of covenant theology linking God and humankind (e.g., Noah in Gen 9:9–17, Abraham in Gen 15:18, David in 2 Sam 7, and the Church in Gal 3:15–29). This is expressed in the concept of the kingdom of God or covenant theology, which motivates the translation task (e.g., the Jewish Diaspora as motivation for the LXX translation). Such theological understandings led subsequent generations of Bible readers to translate the Hebrew Bible together with the NT. One early example of this move was the Bible translated into Latin by Jerome which contained both OT and NT. The incarnation principle represents a further theological basis for Bible translation. The duality of the spiritual and material world is highlighted best in the person of the Messiah as seen most clearly in the temptation of Christ in Matthew 4:1–11. Bible translation, as the manifestation of the written Word of God as the Bible, intermediates between the spiritual concepts of inspiration and salvation history.

Models and principles of communication and translation. Bible translation makes use of or can be credited with emerging models of communication and translation used by Bible translators. One attitude in this context is the literal model which is found as far back as the beginning of translation. Defended by Charles Turner (2001), this model is represented by the very formal literal rendering of the Darby Bible (1997). However, this approach’s lack of semantic synonymy and rejection of any concordant way of proceeding led to the development of the dynamic equivalent approach. This translation theory was introduced by Nida (TASOT 1964), it was extensively expanded to Bible translation with Taber (TAPOT 1969), and was further developed into functional equivalence with Jan de Waard (FOLTA 1986). The Good News Bible (GNB) was edited in light of this new model (1976). The scope of equivalence within the science of Bible translation was extended and publicized by SIL translators John Beekman and John Callow (1974) and Mildred Larson (1984).

Since the 1970s, the shortcomings of “equivalence” have been criticized, given that it can never truly be reached in translation and cannot be measured in a convincing way. This led to the skopos approach and derivative functional models carried out by German scholars Katharina Reiss and Hans Vermeer (1991) and Christiane Nord (2003; 2005). Nord as linguist translator, together with theologian Klaus Berger, translated the NT into German (Berg and Nord 1999), using her functional approach. This model has also become popular in South Africa where it has been used to translate the Scriptures into Afrikaans (van der Merwe 2003).

A recent trend in Bible translation points to the adaptation of mixed translation models based on different theories, singling out basic constituents and adjusting them in theoretical reference frames, as displayed by Paul Newmark (1988), W. K. Winckler and Christo van der Merwe (1993), Timothy Wilt (2003), and Ernst Wendland (2006; 2008).

New approaches in Bible translation come from its interdisciplinary orientation including linguistics, anthropology, social sciences, translation and communication sciences, cognitive and neurological developments etc.