Wednesday 22 February 2012

David Lyle Jeffrey on Bible Translations and the Loss of Transcendence

David Lyle Jeffrey, ‘Our Babel of Bibles: Scripture, Tradition and the Possibility of Spiritual Understanding’, Touchstone 25, 2 (March/April 2012).

The March/April 2012 edition of Touchstone allows online access to a typically well-written and sparky essay by David Lyle Jeffrey. The opening paragraph provides a kind of summary of the burden of his piece:

‘From the perspective of one who values freedom of choice, individualism, and the market, the proliferation of new translations and paraphrases of the Bible must seem, on the whole, a good thing. From a perspective that places a greater value on theological probity, spiritual understanding in the laity, and coherence in the witness of the Church, however, the plethora of English translations and the Babel-like confusion of tongues they create is arguably a calamity. While every new translation is evidently a “market opportunity” and may express in some way the particular slant or voice of individual denominations on certain doctrines, the dissonance and “white noise” of competing Bibles tends to confuse rather than clarify discussion across denominational boundaries. In fact, the “Babel effect” intensifies the confusion.’

In the proliferation of contemporary translations, not to mention the many niche editions of the Bible now available (I stumbled across a forthcoming ‘Curious Kittens Bible’ the other day), Jeffrey detects what he calls ‘a symptom of an increasingly materialist rather than spiritual understanding of Scripture itself’.

‘These efforts, even if they leave the canon intact, are a species of immanentizing, in the name of “humanizing,” biblical language, effectively making the reader the primary locus of meaning rather than Scripture itself.’

He seeks to support this with a number of examples, some (I think) more telling than others, in what amounts to a stimulating essay.

No comments: