Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The English Version

The argument that arises when we talk about the Bible being inspired by God Himself is that well, maybe the original Bible was inspired, but the one most of us are using today is a translation of that Bible, done by a human being (or a group of human beings) who lived in a certain time in a certain place and had a certain theological orientation and certain cultural influences. So maybe the Hebrew and Greek bibles were inspired, but the English version is most certainly corrupt. 

I'm still working my way through the book that in part inspired this series, and the author is even less helpful here. He creates even more a mess about what is the original Bible and what is not. In the chapters that I read this past weekend, he says that Israel wrote their Bible (our Old Testament) during or after their exile in Babylon in order to create a national identity through story. He then goes on to say that their Bible was later translated into Aramaic, which was the primary language of this period. Do you see the complication?

He's saying that a people of a certain time and place wrote their Scriptures in not-their-contemporary-language and only generations later translated it into the tongue they were all speaking. 

That doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It seems to me that if you're living in a time when you're all speaking Aramaic predominantly, you don't write your Bible in a language you aren't speaking. If your goal is to create a national story to inspire your people, you put it in the language they are most fluent in. In the exilic and post-exilic times, that would have been Aramaic, but here we are continuing to say that Hebrew is the original language of the Old Testament (at least, of much of it) and that the Aramaic translations that came were later. 

So what language was the Bible even written in? 

This is important because at the same time that we're saying the OT was originally written in Hebrew, we are drawing on the Aramaic and Greek translations of it as authoritative for our purposes. We are saying that the ancient Aramaic and Greek translations are legitimate because we have found so many scraps of them and are able to piece them together. In fact, for some passages, that's primarily what we have - these translations. We have formed much of our Bible as we know it by drawing on these remnants of translations to fill in the holes for us. 

You know the question that follows: why are the Aramaic and Greek translations authoritative and absolutely valid in creating the Bible that we know, when they are not the original versions (and we confess that they are not), but all English versions are prejudiced junk? 

Some scholars and pastors solve this problem by saying that we know that the Aramaic and Greek versions were just as skewed as the English versions because they were translated by human beings in certain times and places and cultures and that we're not actually deluding ourselves and not even trying to. We're just using the best of what we have. And yet, that "best of what we have," we have called holy when we refuse to use the same word for the English versions. 

It's contradictory. 

And there is, of course, a better way. A simpler way. A way that answers the questions without raising more of them. We'll dive into that tomorrow. 

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