Friday, January 13, 2017

The Vision (1.13.17): A Confessional View on the Translation of Scripture

This lesson continues our series in the 1689 confession, by looking at chapter one, paragraph 8 (bold emphasis added):

Paragraph 8. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old),14 and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them.15  But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read,16 and search them,17 therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come,18 that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.19

14 Rom. 3:2 
15 Isa. 8:20 
16 Acts 15:15 
17 John 5:39 
18 1 Cor. 14:6,9,11,12,24,28 
19 Col. 3:16

I see three key points overall in this paragraph:  (1) the immediate inspiration of Scripture in the original language text; (2) the providential preservation of Scripture; and (3) the faithful translation of Scripture.

In this lesson we focus especially on the issue of translation. Herein, I see three key affirmations:

1.     The Christian has a right to and an interest in Scripture:

I am struck by the statement here that every believer has “a right unto and interest in the Scriptures.”  One of the privileges and benefits given to each Christian is the right to read a faithful translation of the Bible in a language he can understand.

This is necessary, because we are commanded to read Scripture.  The proof text given is Acts 15:15 where James stands before the apostles and suggests that Peter’s testimony before them is affirmed by Scripture: “And to this agree the words of the prophets….”

Another prooftext recalls the command of Jesus in John 5:39: “Search the Scriptures … and they are they which testify of me.”  The Christian must be able to obey the command of Christ.

Translation was a flashpoint of controversy during the Reformation, as the Roman Catholic Church resisted the translation of the Bible into the “vulgar languages” of the people.  The Reformation gave the Bible back to God’s people, and, thus, restored their right to it.

2.    It is proper and fitting to translate the Bible:

Several of the proof texts which offer the Biblical justification for this statement are taken from 1 Corinthians 14.  The original context regards worship in Corinth.  Paul rebukes persons who were speaking in languages that no one could understand.  He states: “So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air” (1 Cor 14:9).  The principle is this:  Men ought to be able to hear from God in a language they can understand.

This has been the Christian view from the beginning.  The Christian Scriptures have been translated into the language of the people from the earliest days.  Early translations of the Bible were made into Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Gothic, Ethiopic, and other languages, long before English even existed as a language.

In Islam you are required to learn Arabic to read the Koran, adherents memorize and recite in mandated daily prayer by rote memory Koranic verses they do not understand, but in Christianity the Word comes to you in your heart language.

As the confession notes, anytime that Christian missionaries enter into a field where Christ is not known, the first task they should undertake is the faithful translation of the Bible.  This is what Judson did when he went to Burma (Myanmar), and his translation is still being used today. The Bible in a faithful translation is a missionary to you.

3.     The Bible in a faithful translation provides real benefits to believers:

The Bible is translated, “that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.”

A prooftext cited is Colossians 3:16:  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly….”
Notice the primary stress given on worship.  Christians need the Bible so that they can know how to worship God aright.

Uncited, though clearly echoed is Romans 15:4: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”

Having a faithful Bible you can read and understand satisfies and comforts the Christian’s soul.


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