Translation is theology
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:12 AM [+]
Here is a fascinating article.
In my experience, as a former member of the Assemblies of God (AG), they have always gotten along sportingly with Wycliffe. But the AG is especially sensitive to issues of the Trinity because in their midst at their own birth during the much lauded Asuza Street Revival of 1914 were heretics who preached the "oneness" doctrine of Jesus which ultimately rejects the traditional understanding of the Trinity. I've never heard any word on whether the AG believe that the heretics' glossolalia was faked at Asuza Street. Anyway, two years later at their 4th General Council, the AG officially adopted the historic and traditional understanding (for the most part) of the Trinity. It does give me pause to chuckle a bit about a council in 1916 coming to the conclusion that they should affirm the Trinity. I've no idea if they gave any attention to our councils held more than a millennium before their own...might have saved them the trouble. Regardless, their council - as councils often do - led to what was no doubt a painful schism. Henceforth, the AG is REALLY sensitive about being mixed up with or confused as having some ongoing relationship with the United Pentecostal Church whose only otherwise contrary doctrine is on the Trinity. So, all of that to say I'm not surprised the AG is at the forefront of criticizing the translation.
There's a great deal of red meat in this article, but I'm really sad that the reddest of meat is lacking. For example: They don't tells us exactly how they translated "Holy Spirit." Or the absolutely critical phrase "only begotten Son." It would be great to see how they dealt with this because I think the importance of the traditional terms is not so much that they inform us about what they are or how we relate to them, but how they relate to one another!
Father and Son are terms we can relate to which help us to understand the Holy Trinity, which is itself ultimately something that will always be beyond our comprehension. All of the terms God gives us in relation to Himself are going to be a condescension. Indeed, even the early councils of the Church had to elaborate upon them because the terms alone in Scripture were too open to interpretation and they did not properly frame the great mystery. I should clarify: nothing is going to fully frame this mystery, the councils were simply setting boundaries. I think we all understand the apophatic approach toward theology of the Church was such that the only ever made positive statements about the nature of God or the Trinity when there was a trend toward moving outside established boundaries.
I recently had a woman very deliberately correct me when I referred to God with the masculine pronoun, which she did by promptly replying and calling Him a She. Okay, fine, I get that God is ultimately beyond our definitions but the point of not also calling Him "She" is because He did not reveal Himself as such, and we Orthodox, as huge proponents of apophatic theology would just as surely not call Him "He" if He Himself hadn't done it first. Not to mention that whole incarnation thing and how that played out. Again, I think the issue isn't about us making sure God is a man, but it's about God relating to us the means by which we can even begin to understand Him and the relational dynamics of the Holy Trinity...again as much as we are able. We get very quickly into presumptuous arenas when we use terms for Him which were not given to us from Him and this is precisely because He is so beyond our definitions. And so abandoning the relationship of Father and Son, I should think, is very precarious.
Now, Wycliffe is claiming that some cultures need to have these terms changed because they would not understand the concepts of "father" and "son" and thus in the spirit of "dynamic equivalent translation" they believe they need to find something that they would understand. Ummm...wait a minute...is there really a culture in the world that doesn't have any concept of a father and a son? Let's be clear here, the issue is NOT that these cultures don't understand the idea of "Father" and "Son" in the same way that some cultures might not know what sheep are, but that specifically Islamic culture not only doesn't understand the notion of God "begetting" or of God incarnating, but they find the very idea to be PROFOUNDLY offensive to their understanding of God. Let me be even more frank: show a devout Muslim an icon of the Bridegroom-Extreme Humility and explain to them that we believe that image is of God, and the odds are your evangelistic efforts are over. The god of Islam is NOT one of extreme humility and he certainly isn't Triune.
To be fair to Wycliffe, the orthodox concept of the Trinity is, I'm sorry to say, not overtly spelled out in Scripture. I know many protestants would find that statement absurd, but I've spent my fair share of time listening to and participating in Trinitarian Christians and non-Trinitarian "christians" lobbing textual grenades at one another to no avail. And while I of course as a Trinitarian find the former more convincing, I do so mainly because I believe that there is a context of Tradition in which the Scriptures have their being. Take that context away and I'm afraid the Trinitarian Christians have a harder time of it. Sure the vast majority of Christians are Trinitarians, but if you could, just ask those present at the Asuza Street Revival where "bible-believing" brothers and sisters could not come to agreement on this basic Christian tenant. I've heard all the proof texts that lay supposedly lay out the traditional christian doctrine of the Trinity and I'm sorry to say that there is nothing that overtly spells it out for us beyond question - far from it. And, quite simply, the reason for this is that the Bible was never intended to function in such a capacity as it currently does for most protestant Christian. This being the opinion of the Orthodox Church, one can understand why Wycliffe is not consulting us about their translation.
The importance of translation springs from the early centuries of Christianity, when the books of the New Testament, originally written in Greek, were translated by believers in places where that language wasn’t spoken, said Ray Van Neste, director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University.
Ummm....what are they talking about here? Which early centuries? The early centuries (quite a few of them actually) were spent to one degree or another just trying to figure out which texts would be included in the canon of Scripture at all and how to translate and evangelize with them wasn't an issue about which I've ever heard of in the "early centuries." I should add that in those centuries the argument about the content of the New Testament was always specifically about which texts were worthy of being read in the Liturgy; the debate was not couched in terms of which texts were to become the sole authority of Christian doctrine. Furthermore, please remember that the existence of theses texts were RARE and EXPENSIVE. Christian communities that had copies of letters from St. Paul guarded them with their very lives and indeed pagan persecutions often involved their destruction precisely because of their inherent value and difficulty in reproducing. Early missionaries didn't head out to places like Britain with wagons full of Gideon New Testaments to pass out on street corners, rather they went out with a Tradition to pass on...you know, that whole paradosis thing which Protestants have no problems perpetually mistranslating in the Scriptures when it more definitvely supports their understanding of Christian doctrinal authority. This leads us to this great statement:
“Translation is theology,” Beal said. “You cannot translate without doing theology. Any time we translate a text, we’re really creating something new.”
Brilliant. It could not have been better said. But this becomes heavily buffered when Scripture is retained in its proper setting: Holy Tradition. Scripture cannot exist in vacuum as much as people might think that it does, there is always going to be a context we bring to it and the issues becomes what theology that context ultimately produces. This explains why there are so many thousands of bible-believing Christian denominations - each had their own context which they brought to the Scriptures and out popped a new theology and a new way of "doing church." Translation no doubt followed.
Seeing the Bible as the principal means of evangelizing, Wycliffe is trying to make it more palatable to Muslim ears. Good luck with that.