Lost in Translation
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
John Tyndale (although he built on other’s work) is widely credited with giving us the world’s first English Bible, having given more than six years - and eventually his life—in the endeavor. Upside? Big One? His translation put the priceless words of God in the hands and hearts of every English speaker. Because it was a translation in their own language . Downside?
We English speakers lose meaning here and there. Sometimes. Because it is a translation to our own language.
Don’t get me wrong. Comparing the upside here to the downside is really a ridiculous thing to even consider. Nearly all the world’s people now have God’s word in their own language, and are able to experience the Bible’s living and active and powerful effects for themselves.
My daughter, when we studied Tynsdale in homeschool, was so impressed with his life that she chose him for her art project and made a "Wanted” poster of him which still hangs on my laundry room wall. His contribution to the spread of Christianity is really almost infathomable, as not that much later England had transformed themselves into an empire.
An Empire on which “the sun never set.”
And that empire sent armies of missionaries out into nearly every corner on of the globe in search of those who had not heard of the God of Israel. (And England). With great success.
So much in fact, that the fount of Christianity really moved from the Biblical lands to the Western Hemisphere.
Tynsdales Translation of The Latin Scriptures into English Scriptures in 1725, then would have to be right up there with the top ten moments of Christian history.
The inescapable truth, however, is that something is always lost in translation. There are whole websites devoted to translation fails. If you travel, you have probably seen some of them yourself.
Like the sign in a cocktail lounge in Norway that says: “Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar”.
Like a zoo in Hungary that says, “Don’t feed the animals. If you have suitable food, give it the guard on duty.”
Like a Delaware sign that says in English that “children need parental supervision”, while the Spanish translation says that children need a permit or they will be “susceptible to police action.”
And then there’s the Asian food showcase with Chinese dishes under glass labeled “Fries pulled the rotten child” and “Roasted Husband".
The best laid pens of mice and men oftimes go astray.
That’s why the phrase “lost in translation" exists. Translations are tricky and extremely culture dependent.
Cognates turn out to mean something else, prepositions aren’t used the same way in all languages, and idioms become meaningless when stripped of their historical cultural origin.
Just how it is.
But that doesn’t mean we have to throw our English Bibles out, or sign up to major in the ancient languages of the Levant. It just means we have to dig a little harder with whatever English Translation we use.
Particularly in the first couple chapters of Genesis.
The first chapter of Genesis consisting of a grand total of 829 words.
That’s a standard industry word count for an eight-year old’s book.
Not much to go on. Especially when you consider that the MIT library alone houses thousands and thousands of volumes on the same subject. Fortunately, one deep dive into divine Scripture is better than all of men’s delusions combined. So let’s dig in.
And start, like Mary Poppins at the very beginning.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.”
That’s a topic sentence, BTW, which confuses some people. God starts to give us methodology only in verse 2. The detail, what little God gave us, starts in verse 2 and continues for 29 more verses, bringing us to the end of the sixth day.
And, as we all know, on the seventh day God rested.
But do we really think He was tired?
Interestingly, the Hebrew word translated as "rested” is used other places (e.g Zech 5:11 and 2 Samuel 21:10 in ways that make it clear that it is not resting in the context of tiredness at all. In fact the word used. “nuwach”, is the same in all three places, and specifically, means to stop activity. To let alone. To depart from, to abandon. To establish. To be finished!
What this means is that when those six days were done, the entire universe was contained within them. All the natural laws of creation had been and were in force. They were in force because they were created by Jehovah, the Creator God, who was finished creating! From that point on, the way our world works was established, therefore the seventh day – on which God rests—marks a clear delineation between the first six in which God created—and those that followed after, in which the universe ran by the rules God created in the first six days. So the from that first sabbath on, all laws of nature, including the flow of time, functioned according to the laws God set. And that is our normal.
The key is to remember that God created the universe to be inhabited.
And by not just anybody.
“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27,28 NKJV
It was to be inhabited by men made in God’s own image. Starting with Adam.
And when you take a good look at Genesis, that’s what we see. That the presence of Adam changes things.
Before Adam, the six days are described as consisting of (in Hebrew) Erev (meaning disorder), and bocher (meaning order). God creating the substance of the universe and the rules that it will operate by.
Six days went by, literal 24 hour days, days, but only the Eternal one was there to mark the time. And time is relative, so this six days were from His reference point, a point that included the entire universe. Until Adam, there was no body to mark time on earth. And from the first sabbath on, geological time matches Biblical time perfectly. As we saw 2 weeks ago, archaeological finds related to the the beginning of metallurgy begins at the exact same time that Tubal-Cane lived. Archaeological finds related to Biblical events date to the times the Bible describes. From Adam on, time flows according to the natural laws God sets.
What is really pretty interesting is that Rabbis a thousand years ago observed that the apparent disconnect between time during the first six days and time as we know it on the earth we inhabit would be a stumbling block to our faith and understanding. That it would seem “illogical and contrary to science". Maimonides, who lived in Egypt in 1100, predicted it
That’s a prediction that has certainly come true, as the battles between science and scripture, particularly related to the time scales of creation rage on. (As do battles between Christians related to the chronology of creation). The relativity of time—the fact that time is not a safe and dependable variable of our lives, ticking predictably on through our lifespans, is discomforting. But time isn’t predictable. It varies. It varies depending on location, more specifically, on exisiting gravity.
I am fully aware that It is hard to wrap your mind around. I have read the same fve books like five times. But we need to get there. The question to ask isn’t what time or how much time. It’s whose time frame?
Maimonides understood that a thousand years ago, an insight gleaned solely from the pages of Genesis.
It would save a whole lot of arguments. Till we all meet together in the air …
(wouldn’t that be Sonflight Savings time? )
About Wendy Wippel
Last week: Got Milk?
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