One of the challenges of biblical translation is that it's easy to fall into the trap of wanting to preserve the original language as much as possible (the Hebrew or the Greek). We have come to associate these words with God's words, marking them as some kind of holy language. But what we often forget is that these were not particularly holy languages.
That is, these were not the languages of God; these were the languages of His people.
The Old Testament is written in Hebrew not because that was the language God used to speak to His people, but because that was the language that God's people spoke. The same is true with the Greek. The New Testament is written in Greek because that was the language that God's people spoke.
Which means that in the very same breath that we find ourselves wanting to preserve the word of God, we must also remember that His Word is our word. It's in our language. He came to speak so that we could understand Him. And that means, to some degree, that even the original text is already a translation.
Even the original text is formed in such a way that the people would understand it. Even the original text has already undergone a rigorous study so as to come up with the kind of language that made sense to the very first peoples who ever read it.
So when the scholars are upset that a reading 'doesn't seem to be original,' we have to remind ourselves that...maybe it was. Maybe the broken word was the first word that anyone ever saw, not because God gave them a broken word but because they were already busy putting it into terms that they could understand. Maybe the Word is written that way not because that's how God speaks, but because that's how His people speak.
If that's the case, then all this worrying that we do about 'the original language' may not be as important as we think that it is.
Now, this is tricky. We can't pretend that it's not. On the one hand, we have a Word that is given in the language of humans, by necessity. It has to be given to us in a way that we can understand it. On the other hand, we know that this is the inspired Word of God, that God is the one who gave it to us in the first place. So we have this fine line to dance in terms of how we determine what is essential and what is cultural to this Word of God that we know and love.
For example, one of the popular images in the Old Testament is the flaring of God's nostrils to indicate His anger. That's how the language is actually used. Now, does God want us to have an image of His flaring nostrils - is that what is essential about the language? Or are flaring nostrils simply the Hebrew understanding of anger, and what is most important here is what God is feeling in response to His people/His heartbreak? Some translators will try to preserve the image of the flaring nostrils because it is 'original,' but is it original because it's God's at the origin, or is it original because that's the way the Hebrews spoke?
See? It's tricky.
We don't want to lose any of the essence of the Word as God has given it to us, but at the same time, we cannot bind ourselves to the language of a culture we do not live in simply because we somehow think the words themselves are holy. The words themselves are a translation already.
And so, we go back to the question we were looking at yesterday: does the 'harder' reading have to be the 'original' one? If one scrap of text says 'the Lord' but another scrap says 'the Lord your God,' is that really an indication that one text is more original than the other? Perhaps it's just a scribe who is, as all scribes have done, putting it in the language of his people and in that case, the difference is null. It doesn't matter. If we know that from its very beginning, the text was being translated into its most meaningful for the people to whom it was given, these stylistic choices of the scribes have very little bearing on the way we understand it. Or the way we should understand it.
Yet, here we are, two thousand years later, trying to figure out which reading is the 'error.' What if neither reading is the error? Honestly. What if? What if both readings are equally valid in God's eyes because it's not His language; it's ours? And it always has been.
One more post on this, tomorrow, and then we'll move on to something different.