Are You Sure You Want To Do That?

It is so tempting, but are you sure you want to do that?  Perhaps a commentary suggests another way to translate the text.  Or perhaps you have studied a little Greek and think that they have made a mistake in their handing of a tense or whatever.  So you’re tempted to criticise the translation the people are reading as you preach.

Now there are advantages to criticising it.  For one, it makes you look like you know what you are talking about when it comes to original languages – which may or may not be the case.  Another advantage is that it shows you have been studying hard in preparation.  Then, of course, presuming you do know what you are talking about, there is the advantage of greater understanding of the text for all who are present.

But there are some very real disadvantages too.  First, and most important of all in my estimation, you are planting seeds of doubt as to the trustworthiness of the rest of the translation.  They may see this particular verse more clearly (may is the important word here), but now they don’t know if they can trust the other 1188 chapters full of verses.  Also, they are now probably celebrating your knowledge (whether you have it or not).  This should make you a bit twitchy, unless your goal is the praise of men, of course.

Why am I making this point, does it happen?  Oh yes.  I heard a fine Hebrew scholar completely undermine the translations in a sermon almost ten years ago . . . and I still have that lingering sensation of not being able to trust the translations as I think of that message (sermons can prove to be very memorable).  A while ago I heard a well-read, but poorly or incompletely trained Greek reader inadvertently critique the translations.  Now this gentleman would presume he knows enough about Greek to say what he said, people always do.  But his errors were those of a relative novice.  If you haven’t studied Greek seriously beyond about the second year of seminary, presume you don’t know enough to comment too firmly in public.  And as the first example shows, even if you do know enough, are you sure you want to do that?

What to do?  Often it is possible to “correct” a translation subtly in the explanation of the text, or even in the reading, without drawing attention to it.  Often it is enough to say something like, “this could also be put this way . . .” without saying such things as “the translators got it wrong here,” or, and I can’t believe I heard this one, “the translators played a trick on us here…”

Are you sure you want to do that?

2 thoughts on “Are You Sure You Want To Do That?

  1. Good words. My pastor will often say that this or that translation captures the original better than the NKVJ (our pew Bible). He never speaks negatively about translations, he just refocuses a positive statement about the word or phrase.

    In my personal experience, I’ve “corrected” translations in pride… and usually unfounded pride at that.

  2. Great point! I’ve wrestled with this in the past because I see such a danger in undermining people’s confidence in scripture, especially if they don’t truly understand the nuances of the translation process. Your suggestions in the last paragraph are an excellent approach! Thanks!

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