Sunday, November 4, 2012


Bible study tip of the week: Beware of secular translations of Scripture.  I've personally ran across this issue this week in a college class I'm taking, and some verses can even be twisted to seemingly "say" heretical and blasphemous things.  There are a couple of problems with secular translations. 

First, they're not always using the same texts that Christians and Jews believe as God-inspired.  You see, there were many other "versions" of Scripture that were altered from their originals - including pre-Muslim-idealogy Arabic alterations for the Old Testament, and Gnostic (an early cult) versions of the New Testament.  Both ancient Hebrew and Greek are lanuages where the slightest change in one letter of one word can radically change the verse's entire meaning. 

Second, many secular translators are concerned with their translation sounding poetic, not with contextual accuracy.  They view it as literature, and literature is open to interpretation - and, there is nothing unethical with shaping a translation to fit your own interpretation/agenda.  But, we know that the Bible is not mere literature, so this is not acceptable. 

Third, it is extremely rare that a secular translation will have the same level of scholarship going into it that a Christian translation does.  Christian translations are performed by teams of scholars who are experts in the language, the cultural context, overall patterns (e.g. translating words with many meanings consistently), etc.  So, they truly are better judges of translation, "biased" or not.

In that same vein, my prayer request for the week is about that specific class I mentioned, because the above translation issue *might* come up in class this week.  Please pray for God to give me wisdom as to when to speak up, whom to challenge, and what to say.
What can I pray for for you this week?

Finally, I'd like to share a song this week, as well.  It's a tad early for Christmas music, but even though this song centers around the Christmas story, I feel it's message applies to our lives anytime.  It's called "I Trust You," by Kenny Rogers.  I think it's a wonderful take on trusting God and treating the ministries He gives to us with humility.


Andrew's Myth said...

Just curious, what qualifies a translation as secular? I've heard many labels applied to various translation philosophies (formal vs. functional, translation vs. paraphrase, etc.) but I'm not really familiar with what a secular translation is. Could you please clarify? Perhaps provide an example or two? Thanks.

Sapphire said...

Hi Andrew,

A secular translation would be when a non-Jew or non-Christian who does *not* view the Bible as Scripture translates it.

This happens quite frequently, as the Bible is considered to be "world literature" by unbelievers (just as, in America, we study, for example, Hindu holy texts like the Ramayana as "world literature"). The specific translation I encountered, which prompted this post, was "The Book of Job" by Stephen Mitchell. If you see one book of the Bible sold stand-alone at like Barnes and Noble, or see part of the Bible excerpted in a literary anthology, it is most likely a secular translation.

Thanks for asking. :-)

Andrew's Myth said...

Good to know. Thanks for the info.