Bible translation, a possible task?

How do translators preserve the spirit of Scripture while adapting the original text to modern languages? What is the greatest challenge in translating texts? Have we lost essential details by not reading Sacred Scripture in its original language? Why are there so many different versions of the Bible? Luis Sánchez Navarro, professor at the University of San Dámaso, answers these questions.

Luis Sánchez Navarro-January 9, 2023-Reading time: 2 minutes

The Holy Bible (Unsplash / Priscilla Du Preez)

The Bible was written to be translated. He who said "go and do disciples And I am with you to the end of the age" (Mt 28:19-20) was entrusting to the Twelve the task of bringing the Gospel to all people of all times. And that has required, requires and will require translation. Therefore, every generation is called to translate the Bible.

Translation and "betrayal

Linguistic theory explains that exact translation is impossible, since each language is different and prevents automatic equivalences between terms and expressions; therefore, the act of translation is already an interpretation. But this, inevitably, also allows the transmission of the message. The Italian motto has become famous traduttore traditoreThe expression could also be translated as "traitor translator"; an exact translation 100% is impossible. But the expression could also be translated as "transmitting translator" (traditore derived from traditio, "tradition"): the translator thus becomes a channel for perpetuating a text.

Translation is a delicate art, for it requires a double fidelity: to the author and to the reader; but this tension is not mutually exclusive, but fruitful. Moreover, Bible translation is even more complex because the human author is joined to the divine Author. Therefore, between fidelity to the reader and fidelity to the Author, the latter must prevail, as the unforgettable Fr. Manuel Iglesias, eminent translator of the New Testament into Spanish in the last fifty years, maintained. However, this new "actor" generates a singular fact: because it turns out that the Author, God, is alive, and therefore is capable of speaking. today through a word of yesterday.

Therefore, any attempt to strip the word of its mystery must be discarded. It is up to the believing reader to enter into that mystery to discover the light it unfolds. For this reason, the translation must always seek fidelity to the original, always, of course, with the utmost linguistic accuracy and care. It will be up to the editor to provide (in introductions or notes) those explanations he considers necessary to illuminate this translation, to indicate other possible translations and to show its timeliness.

Sacred Scripture and Liturgy

In view of the above, there are different types of translations; for example, a translation for study (which favors a maximum closeness to the original languages: Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek) is not the same as a translation for study (which favors a maximum closeness to the original languages: Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek) or a translation for study (which favors a maximum closeness to the original languages: Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek). liturgical (in which sober and dignified beauty prevails in order to proclaim). But all of them must express that double fidelity that, privileging the Author, seeks to enlighten the mind and heart of the reader.
Finally, it should be noted that the reading of Sacred Scripture is always an ecclesial act; therefore, its most proper setting is the liturgy. In this context, there is no fear of missing essential data: the Holy Spirit is concerned with introducing the listener or reader, by means of this word, to the Revelation of the living God. The Bible, given to the people of God, allows every Christian to enter into this relationship of love; therefore, the Church teaches us that the saints give us the genuine "translation" of the Gospel (see Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Verbum DominiNo. 48-49).

The authorLuis Sánchez Navarro

Professor of New Testament II Faculty of Theology San Dámaso University

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