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Translation is Important But Worth Less Than Love: A Review Essay by Jonathan Downie

Perhaps something like this strategy is needed in this case too. Just as many of us may have moved from preferring one translation and then another as we have grown as believers, so might the Muslims in this article. In the beginning, when they have little Biblical knowledge and many misconceptions, the new translation might be useful. This is similar to the way that Jesus and Paul used parables and illustrations built around familiar, earthly activities to explain spiritual concepts. Of course, the resemblance was not exact (the Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer or a pearl merchant, it is not either of these exactly) but it was enough. All of us need to start somewhere and the Bible offers many examples of God coming to meet us where we are, in the language we speak.

Later on, as they mature, these new converts might move onto a different translation. They might indeed come to the point that Robert Yarborough mentions in the article, where the phrase “Son of God” holds no difficulty at all. The same point might be made about the word “covenant” in English. Few outside the church have any concept of what this word might mean and so some translations have sprung up that use the word “agreement” instead. Again, as believers develop and hear more teaching, the word loses its mystery and so it becomes easier to read translations that use it.

In the meantime, two questions remain. The first is the same question that began this article. Just how far should translators go in their work to make the Word of God accessible? When does “changing the presentation” become “changing the message?” Does such a line even exist?

The only starting point would seem to be the ancient confessions and limits of the Christian faith recorded in the Word and in Patristic documents. It is for crossing this line that Paul corrected the Galatians, who were in danger of replacing “salvation by grace” for “salvation by works.” It is this line that was discussed in the Jerusalem Councils in Acts where the Apostles accepted that God had made salvation open to the gentiles, after it had been shown that God was pouring His Spirit on them too.

The second question is even more important. While we wait to discover ever contour of the line of belief and theology that must not be crossed, how do we treat those with opposite opinions? How should those who disagree with a translation strategy treat those who use it? How should the Church respond to new salvations that come about in ways that we dislike?

This answer is incredibly simple. If we are truly to be the Body of Christ, we must love. To those we disagree with, the response must be love. To our enemies, the response must be love. To those who have given their lives to Christ while reading a translation we would not use, the response must be love. As Paul said to the Corinthians in the middle of their educated arguments over whether Christians should eat food offered to idols: “We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” (1 Corinthians 8:1b NKJV). It is love, not knowledge or arguments or divisions that should be our response.

Reviewed by Jonathan Downie


At the time of printing, the full article was available online:

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Winter 2012

About the Author: Jonathan Downie is a conference interpreter, preacher and church interpreting researcher living in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is married with two children and is committed to helping churches reach out to their surrounding multilingual communities using interpreting.

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