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Across the Whole

Over the weekend I took in the latest episode of the OnScript podcast, a podcast dedicated to presenting “conversations on current biblical scholarship.” Featured in this episode is British Eastern Orthodox priest and theologian John Behr who has translated several works by Early Church Fathers such as Origen and Irenaeus. I appreciated his comments on translation around the 30:00 minute mark:

I’ve come to love ever more the work of translation. When you read a text, you read it, you kind of follow the argument, you might make notes, you write down quotations…but when you translate a text, you’ve got to pay attention to how every word is used across the whole of text in a way that you would never think about it when you’re just reading a text in translation… You’ve got to know how each word is used across the whole of the work to know how to be able to translate it, so your knowledge of the work becomes incredibly deeper in doing that. You really get in to thinking the way the author thinks.

I’ve found something similar to be true in my work as a translation consultant. It’s one thing to read the Bible, it’s quite another to translate the Bible. The process of translation takes the translator deeper into the thought of the author than the process of reading takes the reader. Translation forces you to wrestle with a text whereas reading let’s you keep moving forward at your own pace. Additionally, with translation you have to hold the whole of the text in your mind, remembering how a word or phrase was translated paragraphs or chapters ago, or in the case of Bible translation, books ago.