Authority in Interpretation
Ideally, a translation should give the readers of the Bible in their own language the same interpretive options that a reader of the original will have.
This quote from a recent blog post by Dr. Daniel B. Wallace on Bible translation caught my attention, because it speaks indirectly to an issue I’ve been struggling with in the past two years, namely, the abuse of authority in public discourse.
To the readers of a translated work, the translator is in a position of authority. For the average reader either has no access to the original, or cannot read the original, and has to rely solely on the translator. The words that the readers receive are those of the translator, not of the original author, for better or worse. When it comes to translating the Bible, much is at stake: To many people all around the world, the translators are speaking in the place of God (think about it!).
When many interpretive options are viable, a translator should have the humility to acknowledge that there might be layers of meaning and purpose in the original text that are beyond him, and he shouldn’t eliminate those options only because they’re incomprehensible or disagreeable to himself. He should exercise self-control, and translate the text faithfully, not imposing his personal opinions on the text.
For a translator, to give the readers the same interpretive options as the original, is to give them the same freedom of choice given by the original author. To deprive the readers this freedom of choice would constitute an abuse of authority.
Freedom from Abuse of Authority
An “authority” or “expert” is someone who has gathered more facts, gained more knowledge and experience in a specialized field than a layperson. An authority has no more no less good faith than a layperson.
Each one of us look at the world from within an interpretative framework, whether we are aware of it or not. An expert is no exception. When an expert does not acknowledge the limitations of his own perspective, nor the existence of different and equally valid perspectives, but presents his own as the only option to the general public, he abuses his authority.
The Bible speaks against such abuse of authority with a jolting image (Ezekiel 34:18):
Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet?
If we exercise more self-control and self-reflection in our pursuits, paradoxically, we ultimately allow ourselves and others more freedom. For by restraining our own prejudices and passions, not allowing them to muddy our vision, we preserve the freedom and possibility to grow, to enjoy greener pastures.
Related External Articles:
- “Pope Francis, The Lord’s Prayer, and Bible Translation” @ Daniel B. Wallace