Friday, January 2, 2009

Leap of logic

One thing that is posing a major learning curve for me right now in the translation task is how to effectively and faithfully connect the dots of Paul's logic in Romans. Many times the very nature of our more literal English translations have forced me to make leaps of logic between sections of the text. So while all the Greek words are there and rearranged to fit English grammar structure, some of the connections are largely ambiguous or even altogether absent. That being the case, I've often been forced to 'jump' from one section to the next, sometimes fairly certain of where the text is leading me and other times not so much. Thankfully, it turns out that with some education, lots and lots of commentaries, and often years of reading the same passage over and over again, those connections have become clearer. I often take that information for granted though and so the temptation for me is often to keep much of the form of the original text. When I do that though, almost invariably the translated text ceases to make any sense. It ceases to be a message, maybe becoming instead, merely a string of pearls made up of momentous sayings that may or may not bear meaning in relation to one another.
For example, as I'm translating the first chapter of Romans I realize that there's a rather large gap between 1.16-17 and what follows in 1.18. That Greek word 'gar', typically translated 'For...' in English says that there's some connection there, but what is it? Does it relate just the following sentence to the former or does it connect a much larger section? How does Paul move from talking about his not being ashamed of the gospel and the reason for that being that in it 'the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith' to talking about God's wrath? Does the connection and/or transition there go further than just that mention of God's wrath? If so, what is the connection and how do I make it clear without delving into the world of mere loose paraphrase? If I don't make that movement, or flow, of logic clear in the translation, or if I don't connect those two sections the way Paul intended them when first penned, then the reader will just finish with verse 17, hop over the foggy waters to verse 18 and beyond, and likely not have actually made the connection between the first and the second. Then as is very common, Paul may have appeared to just be throwing out random, disconnected thoughts that have something to do with God and man and his message to man... oh yeah, and he's angry too.
Then in other areas (like Romans 3.1-8) there are many things that Paul assumes his readers know. He knows what his Jewish readers are thinking. Paul knowing what they're thinking plays a huge part in determining the information that he leaves implicit; the things he doesn't make obvious. Even though that information is not explicitly stated, it's a very integral part of the message that Paul intended. And thus, it becomes very important information to consider and maybe even explicate when transmitting that message. In this case (Rom 3.1-8) the information that is an integral part of making any sense of Paul's argumentation is regarding the fact that the Jews had common conceptions regarding who they were as God's chosen people; specifically here, that they were the recipients of his promises of blessing. Paul knew what they were thinking about God's promises and also the act of circumcision. What Paul wrote assumes these things but does not explicitly state them. Because of who he knew his audience would be, he knew that he didn't have to explicitly state that information in order to get the point across. But these are things that the Mibu people (heck, even a lot of us) don't know without reading it in a commentary, or going to seminary, or otherwise being taught it. Yet, this was an inherent and integral part of Paul's message. Shouldn't it be clear then, in the text itself, when being transmitted into another language? So while I could very easily translate this into a fairly literal form for the Mibu people, it would come across as utter nonsense. It would be a bunch of questions that bear no connection to the rest of the text. The questions in this section probably wouldn't even come across as being supposed objections raised by the Jewish reader. If that's what happens when they read this then the meaning of the text is lost. I loathe the threat of how easy that would be to do.
It seems to me that when God's message gets obscured like that, it either gets left on the shelf, or the form of the text somehow escalates in value above that of the actual message that God is communicating. Maybe the wonderful good news even starts being perceived (as it has in the past and still is, even more than we'd like to admit) as a kind of 'holy' language meant to be understood only by those who are educated or otherwise dedicate significant time to studying it in order to understand it. That's not to say that diligent study of God's word doesn't have a place in our attempts to understand the depth and application of it's truth. But the message itself does have something to say and it was intended to be understood, even if elements about that message remain difficult and mysterious and in need of meditation and study.
So this means that the form of the Mibu translation ends up looking VERY different from that of the Greek and of our English translations. As great as they are if similar forms are used in our translation here it absolutely will not be understood. So that is one thing you can continue to be in prayer about as I study the meaning of the texts that I'm translating - that I would not follow the temptation to rush ahead before I'm convinced of what the intent of the author was for everything that he wrote. Only then, will I be able to communicate that intent faithfully into the language of the Mibu people. It's so easy to gloss over difficult connections and assume, "Awww, It'll make sense if they bother taking the time to think about it." But a long history filled with similar mistakes spread out over many different ministries shows that they won't get it. Those forms just don't fit in their language and the way that they process information.
I thank God that a good contingency of folks a whole lot smarter and capable than me have been able to glean from their mistakes and victories over the years to devise a process that allows us to move forward in translation, all the meanwhile being able to check and understand how the Mibu people are understanding the text. We learn and hone our skills in very practical ways as we go because of this process and I am very thankful for the many levels of checks that hold me accountable.

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