The Western world has been blessed with many different bible translations. The best of these translations are suitable for different contexts and are mutually enriching. No translation claims perfection and no translation attains it, yet the deficiencies of one are often filled by another. In such a context, where God has blessed us so richly, is there room for an individual author’s translation? I want to argue that there is indeed room for such a thing. An individual author’s translation is appropriate in some circumstances for three reasons. First, the nature of the Bible and the translating endeavour means that no single translation will suffice to communicate all that a Biblical text has to offer. Second, the shortcomings of copyright laws and marketing may necessitate alternate translations. Finally, the shortcomings of the present field of academic biblical studies at times necessitates alternative translations.


Consider first the nature of the Bible. In some circles, it is commonplace to think of the Bible as a series of universally valid propositions (truth statements) that are communicated in a culturally particularized form. Thus, Paul’s instructions about head coverings (or long hair) communicate the principle for some, conduct yourselves in a way appropriate to your specific gender as your culture defines it. This is, however, something the Bible never says about itself. In fact, the Bible gives universally binding authority to the very words of the text, in all their cultural garb. Translation, therefore, cannot be about communicating the universal idea, the proposition, of each paragraph into the corresponding language (see this article). This can be helpful, for usually this proposition is a legitimate understanding of the text, but it does not communicate nearly enough to be a definitive translation.

If the very words of the text are authoritative, the definitive translation of a text would be one that communicates all the different ways that that text, as understood in the Biblical context, could be appropriately applied. However, such a translation is impossible; there is no such one-one correspondence between any language. For this reason, every translation is a limitation of the original language text: every translation is adequate for specific purposes but cannot replace the original text. This is, in fact, how the New Testament authors use the Old Testament. Consider Acts 13:41.

You would not know it from a cursory reading, but Paul is here quoting Habakkuk 1:5. Despite the difference in tone and wording, Acts 13:41 is a legitimate application of Habakkuk 1:5 as properly understood in its context. Habakkuk 1:5 is an introduction to a vision of the coming Chaldean invasion. For Habakkuk and the righteous of Judah, it is their salvation. For the wicked, however, it is a message of doom from which they will flee (cf. 2:2-4). Paul is drawing an analogy between God’s present act of salvation and God’s past act. Both salvific acts are accompanied by judgment. The LXX translation of the Hebrew, for all its other deficiencies, brings out accurately this sense. Because a translation is necessarily a restriction of the original text’s meaning, there remains a need for new translations as new applications of the text are needed. Anyone entrusted with teaching the people of God and possesing adequate original language proficiencies finds in this a reason for new translations.

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