Theology+ Lecture Series explores ‘Are Translators Traitors?’

By Kaitlynn Little, reporter
Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018

Dr. Roy Millhouse, assistant professor of biblical studies, and Dr. Mark Watney, assistant professor of language and literature, held the second lecture of the Theology+ Lecture Series in the Presentation Lab in Cooper Hall on Wednesday afternoon.

The lecture — “Are Translators Traitors?” — explored how the poetry in the Bible should be interpreted and translated from a theological point of view and a literature point of view.

Millhouse proposed questions like, “How do we get the words of the Bible, written over 2,500 years ago, into something we can understand,” and “How does a translator avoid miscommunicating the text?”

He explained that there are various theoretical models that translators of the Bible consider. The two main ones are Formal Equivalence, meaning that the language is translated word for word, while the other model is called Functional Equivalence, where the language is translated instead into thought for thought.

Translations are more difficult to read the closer they are to Formal Equivalence (a 12th grade reading level; NASB), while Functional Equivalence translations are easier (a 5th grade reading level; MSG).

Millhouse explained that the series is relevant to college students, because we all choose what kind of Bible we like to read from.

“It’s important that you understand what the translators are trying to accomplish with the Bible, because that helps to guide you into what kind of translation that you’d like to use for study. To have an idea of what the translators are trying to accomplish—to know that this is basically a discussion between form and function—then learning the NIV is going to lean a little bit more towards function than the ESV is, if form is important to you, then maybe you want to use the ESV,” Millhouse said.

Dr. Watney introduced literature’s standpoint on translating the Bible by reading Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s poiema,” using the Greek word for workmanship—meaning poetry. He compared the process of writing poetry to God’s care in creating us.

“To accurately translate the Psalms, you have to look at the poetical form. Because Psalms were written to be performed, to be chanted, to be sung. If you translate it simply as prose, then you lose that performative element. It’s one book in the Bible, that is to be used very differently from any other book in the Bible. We don’t chant through Genesis and we don’t sing through Revelations, but we do with the Psalms. So that has to be taken into account, that the poetical form is essential for the Psalm’s function–what it was written to be,” Watney said.

A question and answer session followed after the speaker’s presentations, and students had an opportunity to ask the two professors their questions about translation.

“I am also very interested in learning about the ways the Bible relates to other aspects of daily life or culture. Learning about the Bible in the context of literature brings more meaning into the scripture that I’m reading,” junior Elizabeth Berens said.

Future lectures to look forward to will occur next semester, and will include a Theology+Science lecture as well as a Theology+Business lecture.