God and Translation

In selecting a translation of the Bible, there must be an awareness of the limitations that mark all translations, whether good or bad. When we speak of the inspiration of the Scriptures, we are speaking of what is divine: “holy men of God spake under the power of [the] Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1: 21). The translation of those same Scriptures, however, is a human thing. No matter how dispassionate a translator may be, his work will, to some degree, reflect his own thoughts and opinions. Of course, where the original text has been faithfully rendered, no one would object to a translation itself being referred to as ‘The Scriptures’, even though, strictly speaking, it is really only a translation of the same. To go further, however, and imply infallibility in a translation, is to ascribe to a human work what only belongs to the divine original.

   Yet having said that translation is a human thing, we must not conclude that a mere technical ability in Hebrew and Greek is sufficient. The Bible is no ordinary book, and so demands no ordinary translation. Being
Holy Scripture, it must be handled by reverent hands - but even reverent scholarship is not adequate for the task. What is contained in Scripture is “spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2: 14) - it is not simply a matter of words alone. That discernment must enter into the choice of words in translation. To illustrate: A man writes to his fiancée. Now the letter might fall into the hands of a stranger. Would he be able to understand it? In part maybe, but to do so properly would require an intimate knowledge of the sender and intended recipient. To go further, and translate the note into another language would be a step of even greater difficulty. So it is with Scripture. Since it conveys “spiritual [things] by spiritual [means]” (v13), its translation demands spiritual competence as well as academic ability.