The Bible: What Is Lost in Translation?

blueberry buckle

(photo credit)

So I haven’t become a mom-blogger, posting photos of my latest kitchen creation, but my wife and I have been enjoying old episodes of Good Eats online in the evenings.  As I worked on my sermon from Isaiah 55:6-11 this afternoon, I was thinking about the panache of translating the Bible, and how it is a lot like baking.

Here is what I mean.  Well, first let me explain what I think most of our translation is: building an erector set.  Do they make those anymore?  I’m not sure, but most of us bible translators treat the text like a bunch of clunky metal pieces.  We screw, latch, and bolt together the words until we end up with a rigid, ghastly, industrial, wooden, and stiff English translation.  Any connections in the text are merely artificial, and our readers can still see all of the seams in our work.

I believe many of us see this as the best kind of translation.  It leaves no room for nuance; everything is laid out quite plain so there will be no mistaking exactly what the text means–or so we think.  Words are merely vehicles for meaning.  We are willing to sacrifice every part of the text on our altar of “getting something” out of every text.

The problem with this understanding of Bible translation is that it treats words like pragmatic pieces in a clunky metal frame, and it ignores the beauty of Scripture.

This is why I would like to argue that Scripture translation ought to be treated more like baking.  If any of you have baked a cake or blueberry buckle (as pictured above), you know that there is a science to it.  All of the acidic and alkaline elements must balance perfectly, ingredients must be added at precise moments, and steps are methodical.  If not, the ingredients will never produce  the beautiful–and tasty–cake you are looking for.

It’s the same way when we translate the Bible.  The words are not merely vehicles of meaning; they have a beauty that cannot be ignored.  They are like the cinnamon, baking powder, or molasses that were added by God in just the perfect measure to produce a text that is so much more rich,  satisfying, and delectable than the rigid and dull fact book we sometimes pretend the Bible to be.

So for all you who are translating the Bible out there, whether in a seminary library, in your pastor’s study, or at home, stop using a ratchet on the Word of God, and start using a spatula.  Blend those ingredients gently; your goal is to present your readers with a translation that is pleasing to all of the senses, not just the pragmatic part of our Christian brains.  Remember, the head and the heart must be affected by His Word.

Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC

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