#RMC22: Steve Meister on Classical Hermeneutics and Bible Translation

Right now, two controversies are brewing. In the world of theology, conservative evangelicals are torn over classical theism and pre-modern hermeneutics. And in the missions world, Bible translation methodologies remain a lightning-rod issue. In this meaty conversation from the Radius Missiology Conference, Steve Meister, pastor and board member for Bible Translation Fellowship, explains why these two theological controversies are two sides of the same coin—and how classical hermeneutics can cut through the fog currently enveloping missiology.

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One thought on “#RMC22: Steve Meister on Classical Hermeneutics and Bible Translation

  1. On the Theology of translation; if traditionalism maintains the essence of God’s word via the adopted creedal/confessional writings, then why even bother with the endeavor of translating the scriptures to deliver to a language group? Why not, rather, translate the simplified essence of scripture in the creeds/confessions and drive home the heretical free—dare I say, inerrant—creeds and confessions, making new adopters creedal confessionlists rather than bible believers? “Here I stand…I can do no other.” Bold words for one wholly given to the force of The Word, and to see it so tritely stepped over here, placed as second fiddle to heritage, tradition, and pastoral delivery of the confessions and creeds, as being on par with and/or alongside scripture (confessio et sanus cum in par scripturea), warrants chastening no doubt; veritas, veritas!

    Friends should help friends–and everyone for that matter–do Textual Criticism of the biblical text. Please help me. Do you know of any scholars studying the textual voracity of ancient texts in the original languages…willing to be my friend, or not, but willing to help anyway?

    I Just now spent an hour or more on the text of II Cor. 8:5 and found something new, an anomaly in translation which leads to a different understanding of the meaning of the text? According to you two that couldn’t be true. But I make the case that for this very discrepancy, though likely found by another already, that what you say is untrue as you lead people to follow the pastor, taught in the creeds and confessions, not able to be given to translation, and even further removed from the ability and/or capacity to conduct thorough textual criticism. Sounds like history repeating.

    How on earth can the average Joe even begin to interact with this important topic without knowing the original languages?

    How can said Joe be expected to engage this topic without the assistance of honest aids, books, teachers, etc.?

    How can he even begin to consider the aids—turning to the “experts”—if his knowledge is limited to begin with; how does he asses the voracity of the sources he chooses? Can he prove out the pastor, the creeds or confessions presented before him? Where shall he turn to ask an honest man, “is what he says true”?

    These, I believe, are legitimate questions. As I mentioned, I just spent a fair amount of time on the referenced text and not only are there elements related to textual criticism but there are ones related to transmission, and translation, and to some degree hermeneutics. There’s a whole package if there ever was one.

    Mind you, I am asking in all seriousness though my demeanor may be somewhat an acquired taste. How is it that someone such as me might genuinely study the topic with any effectiveness, having no background in the languages, only a basic understanding of textual criticism, a decent comprehension of hermeneutics, and limited resources? Well…as a result of my little study, here is what I found and I hope you might provide clarity and/or correction to my findings. Mind you, I am counting on you to have my best interest at heart.

    As to the textual note in the margin of my “copy” of the “translation” of scripture, I have no materials with which to study this particular element, nor the resources to obtain them unless free and accessible. The issue here must be a bit more complicated than the podcast would make it out to be. Erasmus (1466 – 1536) was perhaps right when he pointed out to his friend that textual criticism is a valuable pursuit and one that necessarily, I would argue, must be done by anyone truly interested in arriving at the truth of the text; however monumental the task, some endeavor must be done to satisfy the claims set before the textual investigator. At the very least the only option before the investigator—besides abandoning the effort altogether—is to accept or deny the claims of the experts on the matter of the text. But how, if they know nearly nothing of even where to begin? Another option is to cast themselves into the daunting task of learning the languages, analyzing the textual records, documenting the variant readings, and etc. Perhaps a spectrum of options is available to the investigator but in any case the work must be done, save taking it on blind faith in the findings of this or that particular scholar or those prattling on about it, like me perhaps. Perhaps, the Mass having escaped into the vulgar tongue, a new method must arise to suppress the real text containing the truth within…tradition, heritage, creeds, and confessions? I digress…but history repeating?

    For now we work with the text as inserted, however it came to be there, correctly so or not. In thinking on it for some time now, and having a bit of technological know-how—enough to be dangerous—it occurred to me that computing might aid much in the area of textual criticism if, and I suppose that’s a big if, the text might undergo a transformation into a digitized format at the stroke, jot, and tittle level. To think of the oversight required of the process to ensure every text comports into an accurate digitized rendering without any error makes one’s head start to throb. How did those scribes do it!? Perhaps it’s being done or has been done; if so I can’t wait for the results and/or would like to know where to find them. However, in any case, the processing of all the texts could easily derive a text with all variant readings and further undergo thorough analysis. This, I think, is the point here. If Erasmus encouraged his friend to engage in textual criticism, with all the disparately distributed material to parse through and analyze, just for him in his time, how do we seriously consider he did this? Additionally, do we have a timeline of the texts, including their names, their quantity, and those who were or could have been “doing textual criticism” of the sort Erasmus encouraged of his friend? Was one person at the University of Paris “doing textual criticism” with a group of New Testament texts only and others, elsewhere, with a set of entirely different texts on a single book, chapter, or verse in either testament? Perhaps there is a resource that sorts out many of these questions, and that would be great; their voracity, however, remains another question as does their accessibility given location and lack of financial means.

    Now, the textual criticism questions aside for a moment, let us turn to the translation of the particular passage in question. It has been noted by scholars in this field that no textual variant changes the meaning of the text—paraphrased. I have heard it said it changes no cardinal doctrine as well, which is a bit different, being less inclusive of the text and limited to cardinal doctrines. None the less, when we come to translation, things get a bit murkier. As I looked at the text I came across the following: Both the NIV and the KJV translate the phrase “and not as we hoped,” while the YLT (Young’s Literal Translation) and CLV (Concordant Literal Version) has it as, “and not according as we expected.” Now, from the face of it there seems to be no real issue. We see that “as” is given as “accord” and “hope” is given as “expected.” Now when we take the immediate context into account, the NIV and KJV, with the translation of the Greek ηλπισαμεν – Elpisamen into the English term “hope,” it makes little sense as compared to the YLT and CLV which translates the Greek ηλπισαμεν – Elpisamen into the English word “expected.” The context is a message to the church(s) in Corinth and at this juncture Paul is relating to them the faith of those in Macedonia, how they, of themselves, gave both to the Lord and to the further service of the saints abroad.

    “and not according as we expected, but themselves they did give first to the Lord, and to us, through the will of God,” (2Co 8:5 YLT).

    “And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God” (2Co 8:5 KJV).

    Paul further relates that this was not what they were expecting but it is what they experienced. As the text follows the dialogue again shifts to Paul speaking directly to the Corinthians by stating that because of the encounter with the Macedonians they further encouraged Titus to finish the work entrusted to him and that the Corinthians should consider these works as a means of coming to understand the aspects of giving on a number of levels. Paul in no way would say that the Macedonians did not do what he hoped they would. It just doesn’t make sense in the context, for they actually did more than he expected them to do and therefore, translationally, the NIV and KJV make it sound as if Paul was let down, when in actuality he was beyond pleased at the way the Macedonians over-delivered on his expectations prior to his meeting with them. He was unexpectant-ly surprised.

    ηλπισαμεν – Elpisamen – WE-EXPECT; G1679: II Cor. 1:7, 8:5, 3:12

    Προσδοκων – prosdokOn – TOWARD-SEEMING; G4328: Mat. 11:3; Lu. 1:21, 7:19-20; 2Pe. 3:13-14

    Translation is different than textual criticism but it could be argued that translation is textual criticism of from a familial ontology. The text must come first but then a translation must follow (unless you know the original languages), and, at that, it must stay in keeping with the most accurate text (original autograph—though nonexistent—or copy) throughout the translational transmission. If translation is not technically textual criticism it certainly remains inextricably tied to it. Without an accurate text, accurately transmitted through accurate translation, we would find ourselves precariously in the position of the Ethiopian eunuch and, I argue that, with the diffuse light of textual criticism barely penetrating to the outer courts of academia, much less onto the consciousness of wandering weary souls wondering, we cannot even begin to ask, “of whom does the prophet speak.” Therefore, let us endeavor to derive the truest text possible, conveying it with utmost care and exuberance, until such a time as any additional, or better yet, original autographs may dawn, shedding greater light across the horizon of humanity who may call out to any of us, as the eunuch enquired of Philip, “how am I able, if someone may not guide me.”

    “’These things I have spoken to you, remaining with you, and the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and remind you of all things that I said to you’” (Joh 14:25-26 YLT).

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