Neil W. Aguiar

“The Power of the Word”

Selecting a good set of Bible translations is essential to a person’s growth in the knowledge of who God is and what God wants for our lives.  Through the Bible, God explicitly describes our world, our history and His full involvement with us.  He explains how He communicates with us, how He wants us to communicate with Him, and how we are to communicate with each other.  God explains who He is, who we are, and who He wants us to be.  In summary, the Bible is our manual for living a holy life and how we can grow in our personal relationship with Him.

So it’s clear that the translation we choose will determine what information we are fed.  So this is an important decision and should not be made lightly.  There is much information presented in this Chapter about the process of translating the 66 books of the Protestant Bible.  The process is quite immense.  Fee & Stuart explain it begins with scholars sifting through the thousands of manuscripts that span nearly 1,500 years, comparing the multiple copies looking for differences, called variants.  These variants need to be examined to determine which copies describe the original text and which are in error.  To do this, it requires that translators make use of textual criticism, which is “the science that attempts to discover the original texts of ancient documents.”  From there, the process of translating involves making textual and linguistic decisions.  These decisions involve balancing the textual translation with language functional equivalence.  The key to any successful translation is to be able to properly convey the message of the original author in the fullness of what was written, who wrote it, when it was written and who it was written for.  This requires much study and human interpretation by linguistic scholars which results in the many English translations we have today.

With the multitude of manuscripts in existence, scholars need to assess these manuscripts considering the external (character, quality and age) and internal (copyists and authors) evidence.  Fee & Stuart explain this requires “careful, rigorous scholarship.”  And one can never separate the “human variables” from the translation.  When scholars work in committee, they may find themselves divided.  In these circumstances, the majority choice may be found in the translation, while the minority choice may appear in the margin.

The actual science of translation involves converting the verbal and grammatical text of Greek and Hebrew to English.  But this is not simply translating words.  It involves much more, such as “grammar and idioms as well as matters of culture and history”, as Fee & Stuart explain.  The following scale describes how translations can resemble the original text:

Literal (Formal equivalence) ---> Dynamic (Functional equivalence) ---> Paraphrase (Free translation)

When translating the original manuscripts, scholars need to decide where they will place the emphasis of the translation.  The risk of literal translations is that the reader may not be able to understand the meaning without knowing much of the history of the writer and original language.  The risk of free translations is the reader is left to the translators’ interpretation which may stray from the original author's intended meaning.

Fee & Stuart suggest the TNIV as a good translation as well as GNB and NAB.  They describe the TNIV (NIV) as a “committee translation by the best scholarship in the evangelical tradition.”  I use the NIV study Bible and greatly enjoy the reading and commentary.  At this point, I have yet to select other translations to study, however I have read the Message Bible, a paraphrase translation, in its entirety and I have gained a wealth of understand and knowledge of God and His Truth.  I now understand the need to explore the deeper meaning of the Bible through the use and study of multiple translations to gain a more comprehensive understanding and apply it to my life.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  ~ Colossians 3:16

Neil W. Aguiar  (4/3/2010)
“A most excellent introduction”

What I mean by this first statement is that while I was reading the introduction, I felt a sense of welcome and encouragement; an invitation of sorts to open my mind and thoughts to new ideas to help me grasp the fullness of the Bible.  As Fee & Stuart state, “the Bible is at the same time both human and divine” so as to say, it is as God intends in its fullness, creativity and variety of writings.  I find it beautiful how God utilizes his very creation (mankind) to deliver to us the words that describe the fullness of who He is and His intentions for our lives.  We are so blessed to have such a book and I am humbled to live in a time and a country where we can freely discover its meaning and incorporate its principles into the essence of our being and our lives.

The meaning of “good interpretation” as to get at the “plain meaning of the text” clearly explores the full avenue upon which a person receives meaning from words; especially words written in multiple languages by people from multiple cultures and historical times.  If I were to illustrate this, it would look something like this:

Original author --> Bible (original text) --> Bible (translated text) --> Reader

Each of these steps involves a person, culture, language, circumstances and intent.  It involves experiences, bias, education and opinions.  Not all of these can be discerned at each step nor should they be.  As Fee & Stuart suggest, a good interpretation is “based on commonsense guidelines”.  And the better this principle is applied in the translation, the better the reader can get at the plain meaning of the text.

The first task of interpreting the Bible, exegesis was described in great detail and I am very thankful for Fee & Stuart’s full meaning explanation.  In addition, I needed to look up the pronunciation of the term in Webster’s dictionary; eggs-za-gee-seas.  Fee & Stuart clearly describe the critical importance of discovering the original, intended meaning of the text of the Bible as the original recipients would have received it and using this avenue is the “first step in reading EVERY text”.  I agree.  How could anyone expect to receive the fullness of the text unless they have some understanding of how the text was written (literary context) and when it was written, by whom and for whom (historical context).  Lastly, the content of the text, the meaning of the words, phrases and sentences, is what Fee & Stuart explain as the “questions of meaning that people ordinarily ask of the biblical text”.  However, to explore the content without first gaining some understanding of the context could be futile or misleading.  So the point is clearly made for the importance of gaining the “plain meaning” of the text through good exegesis using tools like good Bible translations, Bible dictionaries and commentaries.  Of course, that leaves for exploring what qualifies as ‘good’.

Fee & Stuart explain the second task of interpreting the Bible as hermeneutics; described as “seeking the contemporary relevance of ancient texts”.  At this step, we begin to ask the question ‘what does this passage mean in today’s day and age?’.  Fee & Stuart clearly warn of the danger of starting with hermeneutics and making one’s own conclusions based on one’s best guess or hypothetical viewpoint.  While some people can have a profound understanding of the meaning of some biblical text without necessarily incorporating the exegetical piece, this is not an effective way of studying the Bible since it will lead to numerous opposing meanings.  If we are to be one Church as God calls us to be in Matthew 16:18, we should focus on the very meaning God intends for His Word.  This should not be a singular or opposing effort but rather an encompassing one.  Let us embrace God’s Word in its fullness and truth, just as we embrace Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, it is clear that we will never understand every aspect of every text that is written in the Bible.  But that does not excuse us from diligently pursuing its fullness and meaning and incorporating all of God’s principles into our lives.  God calls us to do that very thing in Psalm 119:9-16.  

Neil W. Aguiar  (2/12/2010)