I have recently been applying the tenets of comparative study to Scripture. What is a comparative study? In World Literature, one would compare the different national languages and literature in order to bring out the national character of each and also their unifying, human, or contemporaneous character.
In a comparative study of Scriptures, one is also comparing the translations with their originals, or the contemporary translations in various languages of a single work. In my personal daily study, I am looking at the different translations of Scripture: French, Russian, and Greek.
Why study Scriptures through translations?
First, I felt that studying the Scriptures in a second language translations would force me to read slowly and carefully each word, phrase, nuance, meaning that was originally intended by the Holy Spirit. How cool to think that we, as English speakers, are actually reading a translation of the scriptures from Hebrew and Greek into English. Therefore, the inspired words from God to the Hebrew and Greek writers were also inspired through each translator of Spanish, French, Chinese, etc. and as translators, this is an important factor to keep in mind. Translating scripture is not just allowing readers to perceive the text emotionally and artistically which corresponds to the aesthetic experience of the first readers as in literary texts, it is presenting a text which can and will be experienced on a spiritual realm, which is out of our wheelhouse!
Secondly, studying the Scriptures in French, Russian, and Greek has helped me keep my second language acquisition skills sharpened. In the process of translating, I strive to hear the first version of the work as profoundly and completely as possible, to discover the linguistic charge, subtle implications, complexities of meaning and suggestion in vocabulary and phrasing, and cultural inferences. Equally important is the emotional impact of words, the setting and mood, author’s voice, social context, etc. and the social aura that surrounds them. Just as we have tried to imagine the world that Jesus Christ was born into the first century based upon information from the Old Testament, World History and Biblical scholars in our context here in the United States, the French translators of the Version Semeur have had to use their context (France, Canada, Africa, etc).
Back to the comparative study of translations. I am approaching this through several steps.
First, where were the writers of Scriptures from?
The writers of Scriptures were from different parts of the world, different cultures, different languages, different world views. One needs to consider that the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and was then translated to Greek (possibly using the Septuagint) and then English for our purposes. Therefore, as we look at the grammatical structure of the Old Testament, I need to consider three different languages and grammatical structures just in the interpretation: Hebrew to Greek to English. Wow!
Secondly, how were these works translated and by whom? How were these translations received—what further effect did they have? What eyes did the different translations see and judge one another?
This will be the most arduous part of this task—researching and piecing together the various translations, and translators, for the Old Testament (between 1200-165 BC) and the New Testament (First century AD).
We are privileged to read the Scriptures in English translations from the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic languages of the Scriptures. The translators had to keep the original meaning considering that the Hebrew language of the Old Testament has no fewer than 10,000 words as compared to the English language which has nearly 1,000,000 words (at the time of the first English translation, the Tyndale Bible was translated into Middle English which consisted of about 50,000 words)-the Greek speech with 200,000? We do have to consider divine inspiration as a large part of the answer.
For one hundred years before the coming of Jesus, Hebrew was a forgotten language. Therefore, other than some scholars, the Jewish people no longer knew Hebrew. The other citizens spoke a derivative of Hebrew known as Aramaic. In the synagogues, the scriptures were read in Hebrew and had to be translated to the listeners into Aramaic. One danger in this oral translation was to avoid adding human feelings and actions to God. This dynamic continues to be true in translation from Hebrew to the Modern languages.
The New Testament, on the other hand, was written in Greek and Aramaic. For example, in the Gospels, John was presenting Christianity to the Greek world, not the Jewish world, so he had to keep these grammatical structures in mind. John writes: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (1:1)”. In Greek, this Word is Logos defined as: 1. “a word, uttered by a living voice, embodies a concept or idea; 2. The sayings of God.”
Based on tradition, the writers of the New Testament books are: Matthew, Mark, John Mark, and John=Gospels; Luke=Acts; PAUL=Romans, I II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I II Thessalonians, I II Timothy, Titus, Philemon; James=James (brother of Jesus); PETER= I II Peter; JUDE=Jude; JOHN= Revelation.
Now, in translating the Greek words of the book of John to English, what does the translator do with Word? The Greeks were familiar with the idea of the Word, or Logos, from around 560 B.C., so John could have used this concept. As we know, it stays the same, no change. One just needs to refer to the Greek Lexicon or consult a Bible scholar to know that this is referring to Jesus. According the “tense” of this text, Jesus has been in existence since the beginning of time.
Finally, in a comparative study, I will next consider what the historical connections are between the different writings? When, at what points, and how have they influenced each other? How were these works translated? How are these translations received—what further effect do they continue to have? What writers appeared to establish conversation between their narrative? What eyes did the different literatures see and judge one another?
So cool, so cool. I hope you will think on these things.