Every so often controversy erupts about Bible translation - one is scattering its ashes through the blogosphere right now, sparked by news of another form of the NIV due in 2011, and fuelled in some quarters by strong criticism of those versions which get anthropos and aner wrong in respect of humanity/man/woman.
One footnote in all discussion about translation is acknowledgement that within Scripture itself translation takes place. An example I came across last night is in Luke 9:1-6 (a reading in the lectionary for this morning's eucharist at St Stephen's, Tahunanui).
In this famous paradigm for gospel mission, Jesus calls the Twelve together and gives them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases. He then sends them out with this task:
'to preach the kingdom of God and to heal'.
With a few more words of instruction they depart, and, according to verse 6,
'went through the villages, preaching the gospel (lit. "evangelizing") and healing everywhere'.
It seems that 'to preach the kingdom of God' is translated as 'to evangelize'!
In this translation lies considerable room for theological reflection and debate. Consider:
- is evangelism announcing the presence of the kingdom of God? (a point N. T. Wright emphasizes, and argues is the Pauline gospel considered in the New Perspective)
- is preaching the kingdom of God announcing the justification of sin through faith in the crucified Christ? (more or less what Paul the Apostle does, especially according to classic Reformation understanding)
- did Jesus preach a message different to Paul? (and Luke here is attempting to unify the two understandings in the context of his great history which spans the mission of Jesus and the mission of Paul)
- is there one message, one 'gospel of the kingdom' (Matthew 9:35) whose dimensions are bigger than many Christians can grasp, which is both a call to sinners to repent (Mark 6:12 // Luke 9:6) and an announcement of God's rule over the world (cf. Matthew 10:7 // Luke 9:2, 'the kingdom of heaven is at hand')?
On the last suggestion, Luke is a clever theologian and literary artist with his subtle, chiastic method of witnessing to the fullest compass of the gospel message!
Also in the last suggestion we note the possibility that Luke, who almost certainly knows Mark's gospel and possibly knows Matthew's gospel as well, is translating other versions of the same story of Jesus' commissioning the Twelve for mission ... and that reminds us of another famous translation in respect of 'the kingdom of God', when John in his Gospel translates it as 'eternal life'.