JA! In Which I Answer the Top Biblioblogger

by Feb 5, 2016ChurchLife, NTScholarship, Piety, Theology4 comments

  1. Doug Wilson wrote a post asking a provocative question about Bible translations.
  2. I wrote a post for the Logos Talk Blog answering that question.
  3. One of the top bibliobloggers out there just flatly contradicted my answer—the title of his is a (Barth-like) “NEIN!”
  4. I wrote the following comment on his blog, and will post it here as well:


In true blogging style, I won’t back down. I claimed a 23% improvement in understanding, and I’m sticking to it. =) But I don’t think we’re as far apart as your post title would seem to indicate.

Because I’m happy to confess that you’re right about a great deal, and as one commenter on my post put it, echoing Warfield, “What! than ten translations, along with the Greek?” I’d never, ever want to “denounce the originals.” Perish, perish that thought! And I have been quacked at by the heirs of the people who quacked at Luther and Jerome—I know from many years of personal experience with Greek and Hebrew the kinds of things that can only be known by knowing the original languages, and I am deeply impatient—yea, righteously angry—with the anti-intellectual insistence that such knowledge is superfluous. I even (mostly) agree that “only those who read the biblical text in the original and can make sense of it are worth hearing as expositors of it.” In my experience, preachers who don’t know Greek or Hebrew suffer great lack, and I find it hard to listen to them without continual wincing. (I only mostly agree because I don’t want to throw under the bus all of the Bible teachers around the world who have genuinely had no opportunity to study Greek or Hebrew; but I’ll happily throw under the bus those who did have the opportunity and didn’t take it up!) I’m all for direct exegesis in the originals.

But I wasn’t speaking to expositors; I was speaking to lay students of the Bible. And I made my argument precisely because “translations are interpretations and commentary both at the same time.”

One paragraph that my good editor suggested I cut from the piece might help you see what I mean:

Let’s acknowledge that it is possible for one person to have a better grasp of Ephesians than someone else. The 21-year-old me knew it a lot better than the 17-year-old me, because in between those two birthdays I listened to a riveting, extended sermon series on the book by a world-class expository preacher. Christian—and physical, and intellectual—maturity surely also played a role for me and the many other college students who sat in the pews for that series. But being led through the book by a skilled teacher is supposed to increase your knowledge, right? Ephesians 4 says so.

In my experience, the greatest leap forward I ever took in my understanding of Ephesians came from a man gifted to teach it to me in English—in reliance upon Greek. To this day, after doctoral level training in Greek and a dissertation which focused a great deal on Greek linguistics, I find it best to read in English and refine in Greek. On the macro level, it’s English Bible translations (and even good paragraphing) which have best helped me understand Paul. On the micro level, it’s Greek.

The layperson without Greek training must not be told that he can only hear God’s word through a sheet; he can hear it, and hear it clearly, through the work of translation. He can be rooted firmly in good doctrine, Ephesians tells us, through the work of teachers Christ gave to his church. And some of those teachers, those gifts, are the translators who have given us our embarrassment of riches in Bible translation.

Because of the anti-intellectual quackers out there, I’m sensitive to defend the value of Greek and Hebrew exegesis. But because of the priests out there, I’m sensitive to defend the value of lay Bible reading.

And I think my confidence in translation is a trust Jesus and the New Testament writers shared—because you can see their continual reliance on the Septuagint in the pages of the NT.

You say, “Those who rely on translations alone, no matter how many, are simply parrots repeating they know not what.” Really? Luther’s hilarious and accurate boasting is appropriate to direct at fellow clerics, but do we really want to tell laypeople that they can only ever be parrots?

I won’t back down; I can do no other.

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  1. bethyada

    I think speaking Greek gives an advantage, but advantage like a tall runner who therefore has a slightly longer stride, or a mathematician with a slightly higher IQ. But these things need to be used, and biblically literate man has an advantage over the Greek speaker who hardly reads the Bible.

    What I would add is that what you are getting at is the ability to know, and I suspect your interlocutor is addressing accuracy. Listening to the Bible, or reading it again, or in a different version has helped me see new things (come to know) that I hadn’t noticed before. When I go back to my usual version it is there, but I hadn’t seen it. The Greek reader may not see what I have seen, not because it is absent in the Greek (it is as it is in the English) but because he has not noticed it despite his linguistic advantage. Now lacking Greek I may not see some things that I really need Greek for, however sometimes seeing the same thing from a different vantage point is more helpful than seeing it up close.

  2. mlward

    It’s kind of impossible to abstract the skill of reading Greek from the skill of reading the Bible. It was something of an artificial exercise.

  3. bethyada

    I realise your response was a little tongue in cheek, the percentage and title gave that away! But I stick by my vantage point versus distance claim.

    By the way, the slavery lecture was excellent, I’m linking to it.


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