Relevance Theory And The Translation Of Scripture -- By: Karen H. Jobes
JETS 50:4 (December 2007) p. 773
Relevance Theory And The Translation Of Scripture
Karen H. Jobes is Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor of New Testament Greek and Exegesis at Wheaton College, 501 College Ave., Wheaton, IL 60187.
In recent years the religion of Islam has assumed much greater prominence in western society than ever before.1 One of the striking differences between Islam and Christianity is in the doctrine of Scripture. Muslims revere their foundational text, the Koran, as God’s word and consequently insist that it must not be translated and should be read only in the language in which Mohammed wrote it, namely Arabic. Any edition of the Koran in a modern language is considered to be an interpretation of or a commentary on the Koran. In contrast, Christianity from its earliest days translated the OT and NT into various languages of the Mediterranean world. Following Catholic opposition to vernacular translations in the medieval period, the Protestant Reformation renewed this practice, most famously by Martin Luther’s German translation. In fact, one of the corollaries of the Protestant Reformation principle of sola scriptura was the publication of the Bible in the language of the people. The Reformation probably would not have happened without Luther’s translation into German. Today evangelical Protestantism has zealously supported the translation of God’s word into all the languages of the world, as the mission of organizations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators and the International Bible Society attests. This difference in attitude toward Scripture is one of many between Christianity and Islam that reveals profound implications for how each religion perceives the nature of God and his relationship to humankind.
The question of the divine authority of translated Scripture is, of course, one that deeply concerns evangelicals whose doctrine locates divine inspiration, and consequently divine authority, in autographs that were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and yet who confidently preach the authority of God’s word in English translation. This raises interesting questions at the theoretical level about an evangelical philosophy or theology
JETS 50:4 (December 2007) p. 774
of language and at the level of praxis about what relationship a translation of Scripture must have to the original in order to have God’s authority behind it.
Evangelicals claim that because God’s authority is behind the words of the original texts of the Bible, his authority also stands behind translations of the Bible into other languages as long as the translations are faithful to the original language. However, what const...
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