A “liturgical” translation

Some correspondents note the important issue of a “liturgical” version, a translation that is suitable for use in public worship. Dr. Eugene Nida, the “father” of the DE/FE translation approach, though his primary focus of attention was elsewhere, did not ignore this type of a rendition. He normally referred to this type under the category of a “literary” translation, one that uses a style of language that is “intended to be esthetically pleasing, characterized by careful, often elaborate use of words and grammatical and stylistic devices” (TAPOT, p. 205). Of course, one’s particular religious background and history of Bible translation use also plays a major role here. Generally speaking, a liturgical version will tend to be more formally correspondent in nature–yet hopefully not woodenly so (like the ESV). I have heard some commentators recommend the REB as a possible translation that serves this purpose.

There is a related point to make in this connection: Often a denomination’s recommended liturgical translation will turn out to be the version that is normally used in that church’s general publications program, including materials prepared for Christian education (youth and adult) as well as evangelism. So these factors too need to be taken into consideration when selecting a denomination’s “primary” translation (if the church happens to function in such a centralized manner).

I too come from a church body with a strong liturgical tradition (WELS Lutheran) so I realize how complicated and at times controversial these issues can become, for example, when a new general “church version” is being considered for selection (in our case now that the old NIV-1984 will no longer be published or supported). One major principle to encourage is that all these discussions, negotiations, and debates should be held on the basis of mutual understanding (regarding the principles of Bible translation, the various options involved, etc.) and in an irenic spirit of give-and-take, with a willingness to compromise for the good of the whole body (and The Body)!

Church denominations should be flexible enough to select different types and styles of translation for different audiences and purposes–public liturgy and worship, doctrinal statements, private devotion, youth education/ catechetics, adult Bible study (where several different versions may be profitably compared), evangelistic outreach, and so forth. The problem, I guess, arises from the time and expense required to gather and prepare printed resource materials for all these functions, including dealing with copyright-related issues. So for many churches, and their official publication agencies, a single all-purpose version often has to be chosen, one that needs to be acceptable, first of all, in the worship setting. But perhaps those interested in educating their members about Bible translation in general (and later in more detailed terms) might begin the process with the use of various versions in smaller study groups (where the number of copies and the size of text reproduced would not be an issue) and work out from there into the congregation or larger fellowship.

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About ewendland

I am currently an instructor at the Lutheran Seminary, Lusaka, ZAMBIA (since 1968). My academic training has been in biblical studies (BA, Northwestern College; MST, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary), Bible translation (several SIL courses), linguistics (MA, University of Wisconsin, Madison), and African languages (PhD, UWM). I am a “retired” translation consultant for the United Bible Societies (having worked with projects in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). I currently still serve as an external examiner in Zambian languages (University of Zambia) and as visiting professor in OT, NT, and Ancient Studies at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, with an affiliation to the Centre for Bible Interpretation and Translation in Africa (http://sun.academia.edu/EWENDLAND). My research and writing interests focus on the literary (structural, poetic, rhetorical) analysis of biblical texts and their oratorical translation, especially in southeastern Bantu languages (http://www.amazon.com/Ernst-R.-Wendland/e/B001HPLMX6).
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