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Thread: Use of Original Language and Live Translation in Church Services

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  1. #1

    Default Use of Original Language and Live Translation in Church Services

    A couple of years ago, I remember someone here expressing idea that the scriptures should always be read in their original languages in church services and then the lector should make his or her own translation (prepared or spontaneously) for the given congregation at the given time in order to allow the word of God to speak to the congregation as directly and as spontaneously as possible. I really like this view! It combines the importance of the literal original text with the high value, however fleeting and transitory, of dynamic equivalence translations.

    This would also require, and encourage, our lectors (and other members of the congregation) to be well trained in the original languages and sensitive to the activity of the Spirit in local communities. Most would consider this highly unrealistic, of course, but I really like this idea.

    As I understand it, this is presumed to have been the common synagogue practice around the time of Jesus when the scriptures were read initially in Hebrew and then translated spontaneously into Aramaic. Eventually, some of these Aramaic translations were standardized into targumim, ie, textual translations of the Hebrew which were still rather free in character, reflecting an oral, dynamic equivalent practice. I guess if this was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us as well.

    Have others come across this idea or practice? Origin? Thoughts?

    Pax et bonum, robrecht

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2009
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    Although this may sound nice, I have several reasons why it is neither necessary nor practical.

    1. We already have excellent translations that we use to put the Scriptures into that of the people. A pastor's "off the cuff" translation would be different enough to the translations that people read in their Bibles as to cause confusion - especially if he/she gets it wrong, for there will be no "editorial committee" on hand to help.
    2. Does the average pastor have the skills to do an "off the cuff" translation? Some are very good, most of us "get by". Especially when it comes to the hapax words which number at least 1,000 in the Hebrew Bible. And translating Hebrew poetry is an art in itself.
    3. As pastors, preachers, we sometimes/often/always (take your pick) use the original in our preparation, and as a result our own translations are already present (as needed and required) within our messages.
    4. Hebrew and Aramaic were similar enough so that people could follow - if not the full meaning - then at least the sounds. And, as I understand it, the men at least already had some training in the reading and understanding of Hebrew. This is quite unlike people in our congregations who normally have no training in Greek or Hebrew. As a result, for most people, hearing a lengthy, or even a short, passage read out in the original tongue would be "dead time".
    5. Without training in the original language, who is going to read it in order to get the best approximation to what it would have sounded like? Only the pastor/minister/priest. This would prevent others from participating in the worship through the reading of Scripture.



  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by jimofbentley View Post
    Although this may sound nice, I have several reasons why it is neither necessary nor practical.

    1. We already have excellent translations that we use to put the Scriptures into that of the people. A pastor's "off the cuff" translation would be different enough to the translations that people read in their Bibles as to cause confusion - especially if he/she gets it wrong, for there will be no "editorial committee" on hand to help.
    2. Does the average pastor have the skills to do an "off the cuff" translation? Some are very good, most of us "get by". Especially when it comes to the hapax words which number at least 1,000 in the Hebrew Bible. And translating Hebrew poetry is an art in itself.
    3. As pastors, preachers, we sometimes/often/always (take your pick) use the original in our preparation, and as a result our own translations are already present (as needed and required) within our messages.
    4. Hebrew and Aramaic were similar enough so that people could follow - if not the full meaning - then at least the sounds. And, as I understand it, the men at least already had some training in the reading and understanding of Hebrew. This is quite unlike people in our congregations who normally have no training in Greek or Hebrew. As a result, for most people, hearing a lengthy, or even a short, passage read out in the original tongue would be "dead time".
    5. Without training in the original language, who is going to read it in order to get the best approximation to what it would have sounded like? Only the pastor/minister/priest. This would prevent others from participating in the worship through the reading of Scripture.


    Thanks, Jim.

    I don't want to carry the burden of defending someone else's idea. All of your points are good ones, which obviously need to be addressed. I just want to say briefly that, for me, this is a vision of the ideal. Not only pastors, but all lectors, not to mention motivated members of the congreation should be trained in the original languages. No one should ever attempt to do this without proper training, years of training, of course. With respect to 'off the cuff', I would expect lectors to prepare before hand, compare published translations, discuss the readings with friends, other lectors, pastors, etc. And the subsequent homily should be interactive with questions, sometimes opposing ideas, differing translations. The congregation (including the pastor and other lectors) is the editorial committee. For those concerned about 'dead time', the dynamic equivalence translation is the more important part for the community, and the reading in the original languages could be omitted. But I still find it important sometimes to read from the original to help people realize that our scriptrues were written in a different language, with differing perspectives and spiritualities, that they can be translated and understood differently and are sometimes ambiguous. This is essentially the process I have used in my 6th grade Sunday school classes and, if done well, in a way that sparks the interest of the kids and encourages questions, especially those that cannot be answered, the kids love it! Everyone learns the Hebrew alphabet (6th grade is all about the Jewish scriptures), some learn a verse or two in Hebrew and get to recite it in the presence of the whole congregation when that is the reading of the day. The most important point is to learn a questioning process for translating the Word of God into our everyday life.

    Realistic? No. I believe we should take the Word of God seriously enough to do this to the best of our abilities.

  4. #4
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    Apr 2004
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    Hi robrecht,

    The previous pastor at the church I pastored did this. He read the Greek or Hebrew text, wrote it on a overhead, and translated the text. This practice gave the congregation a false sense of knowing the Greek or Hebrew text and a false sense that they were recieving "deep teaching." Some people in the congregation merely tolerated this practice.

    There are a number of problems with this practice:

    --It gives a false sense of the congregation knowing Greek and Hebrew. They congregation does not learn Greek and Hebrew, even if they pick up a few vocabulary words. Language is much more than vocabulary learning.

    --The focus upon word meaning and translation is only a single part of benefiting from using Greek and Hebrew. Most importantly, context was overlooked because of the emphasis upon single verses and single words.

    --This type of teaching takes time. This means that time that could have been better spent in teaching the meaning of the text in a way that the congregation could have benefitted was lost.

    I did not continue this practice once I became the pastor.

    Blessings,
    Glenn
    Glenn Weaver

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  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Glenn Weaver View Post
    Hi robrecht,

    The previous pastor at the church I pastored did this. He read the Greek or Hebrew text, wrote it on a overhead, and translated the text. This practice gave the congregation a false sense of knowing the Greek or Hebrew text and a false sense that they were recieving "deep teaching." Some people in the congregation merely tolerated this practice.

    There are a number of problems with this practice:

    --It gives a false sense of the congregation knowing Greek and Hebrew. They congregation does not learn Greek and Hebrew, even if they pick up a few vocabulary words. Language is much more than vocabulary learning.

    --The focus upon word meaning and translation is only a single part of benefiting from using Greek and Hebrew. Most importantly, context was overlooked because of the emphasis upon single verses and single words.

    --This type of teaching takes time. This means that time that could have been better spent in teaching the meaning of the text in a way that the congregation could have benefitted was lost.

    I did not continue this practice once I became the pastor.

    Blessings,
    Glenn
    I agree that a church service should not be a classroom experience. I hate the idea of an overhead projector! Bottom line, the actual reading of the original text is not the central idea, let alone lecturing on it. I think the dynamic equivalence translation for the local congregation is the more important idea. I do think we should offer training in the original languages to our lectors and other interested members of the community. But not during worship.

  6. #6

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    I also am opposed to reading Greek/Hebrew... unless the congregation members are native Greek/Hebrew speakers! Glenn made some helpful observations from his experience. I'll add some more.

    In Judaism and Islam, there is a sense that the text--ie, the very words--are sacred. That's why Hebrew is still read in the synagogue. That's why there is no such thing as a translation of the Koran.

    Christianity, on the other hand, confesses a living Word. The early Christians chose to use the Koine Greek since it was the common language. It was not a 'holy' language then, and it should not be revived as somehow more holy than English now. We don't want to 'idolize' the Greek/Hebrew. The goal is to communicate.

    The church is best served by using the best English translation possible. Of course it is impossible to choose one translation as "best," but there are better translations and ones that are more appropriate for different contexts.
    Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman
    Professor of Biblical Studies
    Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg
    ltsg.edu - CrossMarks.com
    Biblical Studies and Technological Tools

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