Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Multiple Bible Translations -- part 2: The difficulty of defaulting to a single modern translation
Addressing problem 1: The impossibility for many churches to “default” to a single modern translation.
In my first post, I provided a list of potential problems associated with multiple translations. In this post, I will expand on the first of these “problems.” The listing of this first issue as a problem is perhaps misleading. First, it is not “impossible” to default to a single translation. Many churches have indeed done so, and without fanfare. For many churches, however, defaulting to a single translation is difficult because it demands us to make certain choices are do a lot of extra work. So, having only one translation is not impossible, but for many congregations, such a move can only be done with great difficulty, by significantly narrowing the choice of programs and materials, or by opting for a translation that is not the one preferred. Here are some of the options for those churches who desire to be a single-translation church:
• Choose denominational curriculum and materials. Usually, denominational materials are available in a consistent translation. The problem here is that the translation is either outdated (e.g. NKJV or NIV) or is not the one you want (e.g. while the HCSB is a fine translation, some churches might not prefer it over, say, the NLT or ESV). Also, one is limited to those programs and materials provided by their denomination.
• Provide the single, preferred, translation along side the one in the curriculum via handouts, powerpoint, etc. While such provision is certainly an option, it is also time-consuming and may be costly. I am not aware of any churches that do this, though I provide it as a possibility – at least hypothetically.
• Write your own curriculum and materials. Many churches have opted to develop their own resources for Sunday school, discipleship, evangelism, and other materials. While there are advantages and disadvantages beyond the Bible translation issue, such an approach does allow a church to achieve consistency in Bible translation if that is their desire.
So, to say that it is impossible to be a single modern translation church is not really accurate. Defaulting to a single translation is indeed an option for many churches and can be done with varying degrees of difficulty and accommodation depending on the values and resources of the church.
Another reason this first issue may not be a “problem” is that even if it is possible for a church to default to a single translation, such a practice may not be the best practice anyway. The single-translation problem is only a problem if having a single translation is a desired value of the church.
In many languages, only one translation is available. English speakers, however, have benefited from the availability of numerous Bible translations. Admittedly, the number of translations strikes me a bit as over-kill and is, in part, economically motivated. Granted, also, not all translations are created equal and there is some discernment required in selecting which Bible translations to use. Still, there are more than a few Bible translations that are conservative and trustworthy renderings of the biblical text into our language.
The question concerning limiting Bible use to a single translation is whether or not any one translation can fulfill all the functions of an adequate translation. Ultimately, the question becomes one of readability versus word for word correspondence or, to use translation parlance, between literal and dynamic equivalent translations.
If the Bible, as God’s word is to be useful for “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, [and] for instruction in righteousness,” is there any single translation that accomplishes all of those purposes? Because there are many available translations that are trustworthy, perhaps it is better to enjoy the benefits of multiple translations and work around the problems. Most church members are not proficient in the biblical languages. Church members come in a variety of reading levels, and functional vocabularies. Given these realities, many churches will see the value in the prudent use of multiple translations, accompanied by education concerning how and why they are different. The use of multiple translations, both literal and dynamically equivalent, may in fact ultimately yield a better understanding and obedience to God’s word among God’s people – and isn’t that a primary goal of translation?