Lost in Translation

A few months ago, a good friend of mine wrote a blog post entitled Bible Translation Snobbery. And within this short treatise lies a simple premise: many people are tired of being persecuted for liking easier-to-read translations like the NLT instead of the more *cough cough* scholarly translations like the NASB or NRSV.

Now I agree that Bible snobbery is a very real issue with its root in arrogance and pride. And I agree that the purpose of Bible reading should be to deepen our relationship with Jesus, not flex our intellectual muscles. However, I disagree that the solution to this is as simple as picking the translation that makes the most sense to you. Because I believe that there's another issue at play: biblical illiteracy.

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Not long after the apostles passed away, the early church grew concerned about how to maintain orthodoxy amid the uneducated masses. And back in the days of handwritten manuscripts, the easiest solution according to Cyprian of Carthage was to consolidate the power of the bishop. But with the gospel entrusted to only a select few, unchecked abuses arose.

Now in a world this side of the Reformation where the Scriptures are mere seconds away, you'd think that we would cherish the opportunity to read on our own. Sadly, I know people that have read every John MacArthur book, yet have never read any of the minor prophets. People are flocking to personalities, not the power of the gospel. And even though Bible Gateway has an app, the gospel is once again controlled by an unwitting oligarchy, not the community of faith.

A second factor to illiteracy is this misleading little word, perspicuity. In doctrinal terms, it refers to the notion that the Bible is clear in its teaching. And you guessed it, this wasn't popularized until the Reformation. In other words, it wasn't until the church leadership couldn't be trusted with the gospel that the church decided the gospel could be understood apart from its leadership. One problem, even the Bible doesn't support this:
...be diligent to be found by him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:14-16)
It's not that the gospel was only meant to be understood by a select few; it's that the gospel was meant to be understood by those who seek to understand it. And referring to this as "the clarity of Scripture" has lent itself to the belief that the Bible does not require education to be understood. Thus, we have many today who want to be teachers, though they have no understanding (cf 1 Timothy 1:6-7).

Christianity is about a relationship. A relationship with God. And if the Bible is his direct communication to us, then cultural and historical context are his body language. Not a single person in a committed relationship would argue against the importance of inflection and body language to communication. This doesn't mean that we all have to be scholars. But it does mean that we all have to be students. And that means getting an education beyond ourselves and our favorite thinkers. Because regardless of our preference, every translation has a bias. Trust me.