Archive for the ‘Faith, Philosophy, Worldview’ Category

Kept in translation – a case against dynamic equivalence

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Few contemporary Bible translators translate word-for-word.  They instead often operate on the theory of “dynamic equivalence,” summed up by one of its advocates as the effort to find “in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent to the message of the source language, first in meaning and secondly in style.”

The theory is a bold expression of modern hubris.  Most obvious is the assumption that we know the “message of the source language” accurately enough to reproduce that message in the receptor language.  Armed with the tools of modern research, we can stitch together tatters of texts, bones and buildings into a three-dimensional model of the ancient world.

The subtler hubris is the more dangerous.  Older translators settled for word-for-word translations, often mangling the style and syntax of the receptor language to reproduce the source language (cf. the doubled Hebraisms – “dying you shall die” – of the Authorized Version) because they believed they were handling mysteries beyond their understanding.  As Stephen Prickett has pointed out, they rendered the “original in all its starkness and oddity” because they knew they didn’t have mastery of the text.

- Peter J. Leithart (in Touchstone)

Awhile back I posted about my experience of reading through an eight-version parallel New Testament.  I still like the NLT and some other dynamic equivalent versions for their readability, but I think Leithart’s argument for word-for-word translation has merit.  I’ll stick with a combination of the two.

A moral dilemma

Friday, June 26th, 2009

And then think of ME! It would get all around that Huck Finn helped a nigger to get his freedom; and if I was ever to see anybody from that town again I’d be ready to get down and lick his boots for shame. That’s just the way: a person does a low-down thing, and then he don’t want to take no consequences of it. Thinks as long as he can hide, it ain’t no disgrace. That was my fix exactly. The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the  plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there in heaven,whilst I was stealing a poor old woman’s nigger that hadn’t ever done me no harm, and now was showing me there’s One that’s always on the lookout, and ain’t a-going to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared. Well, I tried the best I could to kinder soften it up somehow for myself by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn’t so much to blame; but something inside of me kept saying, “There was the Sunday-school, you could a gone to it; and if you’d a done it they’d a learnt you there that people that acts as I’d been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire.”

I recently finished re-reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, that masterpiece of the satirist Mark Twain, for the first time since my boyhood, and the part that affected me the most was Huck’s moral dilemma over helping to free Jim, the runaway slave.  After resolving to change his ways, straighten up and turn in Jim,  and even going so far as to write a note to the owner betraying the runaway’s location,

I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” — and tore it up.

Of course in retrospect it’s easy to say that Huck made the right moral choice, that slavery was wrong, and that the society that taught its children otherwise was not following Christian biblical teaching on equality.

But I can’t help but wonder what choice I’d have made if I were in Huck’s place in that society.

An intellectually honest atheist

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Singer writes, “My colleague Helga Kuhse and I suggest that a period of 28 days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to life as others.” Singer argues that even pigs, chickens, and fish have more signs of consciousness and rationality—and, consequently, a greater claim to rights—than do fetuses, newborn infants, and people with mental disabilities. “Rats are indisputably more aware of their surroundings, and more able to respond in purposeful and complex ways to things they like or dislike, than a fetus at 10- or even 32-weeks gestation. … The calf, the pig, and the much-derided chicken come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage of pregnancy.”

Some people consider Singer a provocateur who says outrageous things just to get attention. But Singer is deadly serious about his views and—as emerged in our debate—has a consistent rational basis for his controversial positions.

To understand Singer, it’s helpful to contrast him with “New Atheists” like Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins. The New Atheists say we can get rid of God but preserve morality. They insist that no one needs God in order to be good; atheists can act no less virtuously than Christians. (And indeed, some atheists do put Christians to shame.) Even while repudiating the Christian God, Dawkins has publicly called himself a “cultural Christian.”

Dinesh D’Souza in Christianity Today, on the intellectual honesty of bioethicist Peter Singer.


Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

He makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for man to cultivate—
bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine,
and bread that sustains his heart.

- Psalm 104: 14-15

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”
- Matthew 11:18-19a

“Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused.  Men can go wrong with wine and women.  Shall we then prohibit and abolish women? The sun, the moon, and the stars have been worshiped.  Shall we then pluck them out of the sky?”
- Martin Luther

A recent discussion on a friend’s blog on the topic of alcohol consumption by Christians – moderation vs. abstention – set me checking some sources, and I came across a 7-part blog series called, “God Gave C2H6O”.  I think it makes a strong biblical case for moderate drinking.  If interested, start by clicking here for Part 1 and follow the links to subsequent parts.

The Pope says AB and his critics say C but I think ABC

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

“I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome with advertising slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanisation of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness – even through personal sacrifice – to be present with those who suffer. And these are the factors that help and bring visible progress.

“Therefore, I would say that our double effort is to renew the human person internally, to give spiritual and human strength to a way of behaving that is just towards our own body and the other person’s body; and this capacity of suffering with those who suffer, to remain present in trying situations.

“I believe that this is the first response [to AIDS] and that this is what the Church does, and thus, she offers a great and important contribution. And we are grateful to those that do this.”

So spoke Pope Benedict several days ago.

And boy did it set off a media firestorm.

In the news and opinion articles that I’ve read, I haven’t seen much mention of the so-called ABC strategy.  That is the strategy that Uganda used to dramatically reduce that nation’s HIV/AIDS infection rate, where A stands for Abstinence, B stands for Be faithful to a single committed partner, and C stands for Condom use if you can’t commit to the first two points.

To me this just seems like a no-brainer.  Abstinence is indeed the surest way to prevent infection (recognizing the slight chance of infection from intravenous sources etc.).  Faithfulness is also excellent, if indeed both partners remain true to their vows (recognizing that many faithful spouses have been infected by unfaithful partners).  Condoms have a fairly high success ratio … I’ve heard as high as 99% protection and as low as 80% (would you encourage your child to play Russian Roulette on condition that he/she only places a single cartidge in the cylinder?), so it makes sense to use them if engaging in risky behaviour.

The Pope’s opposition to condom distribution is consistent with Roman Catholic teachings forbidding contraceptives.

While I think the media has distorted his message, I do think he is wrong on this issue.  Whether a sex trade worker or the faithful spouse of an unfaithful partner, a lot of people are dying who might have lived if a condom had been used.

However I also think that his critics who discount abstinence and faithfulness are equally wrong.  I don’t see the same media indignation over the way that abstinence and faithfulness are dismissed as unrealistic.

For what I consider a fair analysis of HIV/AIDS prevention, check out the April 2008 article by Green and Ruark in First Things – “AIDS and the Churchs: Getting the Story Right“.

Only a week till Saint Joseph’s Day

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

One of my favorite movies of 2005 was “Millions“, a delightful story of a boy who memorizes statistics on saints (did you know that Saint Clare of Assisi is the patron saint of television?) the way some boys memorize sports statistics.

Several saints make an appearance in the movie.  One of them was Saint Joseph.

As I’ve mentioned previously on these pages, my evangelical Protestant church background hasn’t had much place for saints.  I was aware of the Joseph of the New Testament mostly as the kid in the Christmas pageant who accompanied Mary to Bethlehem, asked the innkeeper if he had a room, settled for the barn, then stood around the stable while the real action happened.

I didn’t realize until recently that March 19 is Saint Joseph’s Day.  A recent article in Touchstone magazine helped me realize that Joseph isn’t just a kid in a bathrobe with a towel on his head, but as the step-dad of Jesus and the husband of Mary, is an excellent model of manliness for Christian men to emulate.  Read the article here.


(That same issue of Touchstone has a couple of other good articles on the subject of Joseph (Abba, Joseph! by Russell D. Moore; Father Joseph by Patrick Henry Reardon), but they aren’t online.

So many paths up the mountain?

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Can those who believe that every faith system is an equally valid path to God explain their logic to the albinos of Tanzania and Burundi?

Update on those eight bible translations

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Way back in the summer of 2007 I posted about a parallel New Testament containing eight translations that I had recently started reading through.

Well I finished the book of Revelation some time ago, but hadn’t got around to posting an update.

However today I noticed that Marc has a post on the subject of bible translations, so I figure this is an appropriate time to give my top picks.

1. For a “reading” bible, my next purchase will be the New Living Translation (NLT).   A couple of the other “dynamic equivalence” translations were close, but I thought the Today’s New International Version (TNIV) wasn’t quite as readable, and I found “The Message” somewhat annoying after awhile … it seemed to be trying too hard to be colloquial.

2.  For a “study” bible, my next purchase will be the English Standard Version (ESV).   I agree with Marc and a couple of commenters on his post that the average reader is in no position to really know how close a translation is to the original (I can’t read Greek), but the fact that it’s been criticized as the translation favoured by “conservatives” endears it to me.


Reading through the eight translations simultaneously was a worthwhile experience.  I might even do it again some year.

Church shopping – advice from Screwtape

Monday, February 9th, 2009

You mentioned casually in your last letter that the patient has continued to attend one church, and one only, since he was converted, and that he is not wholly pleased with it. May I ask what you are about? Why have I no report on the causes of his fidelity to the parish church? Do you realise that unless it is due to indifference it is a very bad thing? Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that “suits” him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.
The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a “suitable” church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil. What He wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise—does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going. (You see how grovelling, how unspiritual, how irredeemably vulgar He is!)  This attitude, especially during sermons, creates the condition (most hostile to our whole policy) in which platitudes can become really audible to a human soul. There is hardly any sermon, or any book, which may not be dangerous to us if it is received in this temper. So pray bestir yourself and send this fool the round of the neighbouring churches as soon as possible. Your record up to date has not given us much satisfaction.

C.S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters

screwtapeI’m not sure if I entirely agree with that master devil Screwtape’s contempt for “the congregational principle”.  After all, I am currently serving on a committee that is into the process of searching for a pastor for our local church.  However I do think that Screwtape is onto something in his advice to the novice demon Wormwood.  Turning the followers of Jesus into critics rather than pupils is a very effective way to destroy the unity that “The Enemy” of the demons desires.

Atheism evangelism

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Last week the Mormons dropped by for a chat.

Now it’s the atheists.

I believe strongly in free speech and freedom of religion, so I don’t have a problem with either the Mormons or the atheists’  efforts to proselytize, nor any other group that wants to participate in the marketplace of ideas in a civil manner.

In fact I agree with Don Huchinson’s opinion column on – religious expression in the public square has been discouraged in the past, and this atheist bus campaign can start a healthy dialogue.