In a post with a style-sensitive English rendering of the opening of Luke’s Gospel, John Hobbins writes about stylistic variation in translation:
What would happen if the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of the Bible were translated with the goal of transferring to a receptor language the flavor of its various parts in terms of style and register? If that were done, the gospel of Mark would come across as plain-speaking and a bit choppy, the gospel of Luke as relatively refined, Isaiah and Job as magnificent poetry, Qohelet as written in a style that gives form to its writer’s dyspepsia, the letters of Paul, as replete with difficult, dialectical argument. Revelation would come across as borderline ungrammatical in several passages; the rough patches in Ezekiel, too, would stand out in translation.
See the post itself for his translation of the Luke prologue: you’ll easily observe that, though actually readable, it takes some more concentration and re-expectation than you usually expect for something as ‘simple’ as the Bible, something written to a Church where many probably could not read much.
Certainly not a fast-food translation, as John explains about his keeping a metaphor from the source text. (Side note: given the stylistic variation in the Gospels, perhaps our church architecture admits this kind of variation as well.)
What I want to ask rhetorically is, what is our tolerance for difficulty, for slow learning, for things beyond our immediate grasp? If the clichés in songs are an indication, they point to perhaps an intolerably low tolerance for new things (subjectively new, historically old), for a more lingering savour, for acquired taste, both in what we receive and in what we make. Odd how America’s exportation of the McDiet wipes out the taste for unfamiliar experience even in language and liturgy.
Or I ask again, what tolerance do Christian parents have for children to learn biblical Hebrew and Greek, given the opportunity cost? There are, after all, colleges to get into and revenues to be generated. By the time we get through one of those big Pauline sentences in Ephesians, or elsewhere, we shall, in the arduous process, have already lost the opportunity to schedule that ‘worship practice’. Obviously I was going for a certain effect in the last sentence; call it useless.
Or what patience have we for learning to be musically literate? Not just the ability to sing or something, but the ability to read and even compose, even for all those in the Church who can possibly learn such things, given the chance. No, the arts are just for prettiness: we’d best lose them too and concentrate on winning souls, except where they can be used for
propagandistic marketing outreach purposes.
Professionals, and everyone is a leader
We expect to leave these things to the professionals? Then forget knowing the Bible, because we can have a professional class of people to give us advice (are those even clergy still?) while we shop around for the one that best fits our ‘personal’ devotional misreadings. Such is not the kingdom of God.
I’ll note here, this knowledge isn’t in me. But if I believe in learning it, will the Church ignore this and say the way the Bible is written was just a phase?