Theological Influence On Translation -- By: Martin H. Woudstra

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 10:2 (Spring 1967)
Article: Theological Influence On Translation
Author: Martin H. Woudstra

Theological Influence On Translation

Martin H. Woudstra, Th.D.*

1. Definition of terms

When Henry J. Cadbury was asked whether the transition from the quiet of the scholar’s study to the chairmanship of the American Friends Service Committee was not rather abrupt he is said to have replied: “I am still trying to translate the New Testament.”1 In Cadbury’s reply the term “translation” is used in what may well be called its widest possible meaning. It stands for putting into action the truths of the gospel.

While in the context of the present discussion the word is obviously used in a much more restricted sense the wider sense of the term “translation” should be constantly kept in mind. Both senses, the restricted and the comprehensive sense, have to do with the perplexing question of meaning. Both require a total understanding of the Bible’s message and a corresponding desire to communicate that message to future generations. It is in this wider sense of the term that the Bultmannians seek to bring the “kerygma” in step with the present. Also in the past history of the church there have been these comprehensive “translations” of the Bible, especially of the Old Testament. What rabbinic casuistry, Qumranian eschatology and the allegory of Philo did with the Old Testament is a form of translation in the comprehensive sense. Some would even include here the early Christian understanding of the Old Testament.2 But the term “early Christian” in this connection is of dubious clarity. It tends to blur the line between the canonical understanding of the Old Testament as contained in the New Testament and the post-canonical interpretations of the apostolic fathers and subsequently.

However, this stricture does not affect the main point. The main point is that translation involves interpretation and this in turn means that the translator, whether he conceives of his task narrowly or broadly, is bound to confront all the knotty problems which the field of interpretation ordinarily presents. As Kenneth Hamilton, the critic of the death of God theology, has remarked: “The claim to be able to translate is the claim to be able to go behind the words to the meaning of the words; and the claim to have discovered a radically new translation is the claim to have discovered a meaning obscured by previous translations. Any such claim has far-reaching dogmatic implications.”3

It would seem therefore that translation is bound to be influenced by theology in one form or another. For translation is a sp...

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