Reflections at the Intersection of American History, Religion, Politics, and Academic Life
Friday, June 26, 2015
Microwaving the Bible
Today I ran across Sarah Eekhof Zylstra's piece at Christianity Today about a group of Bible translators who translated half of the New Testament into the language of an "ethnic minority" group in Asia and did it in two weeks!
Here is a taste:
In February, Wycliffe Associates (WA), a smaller sister organization to Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT), announced that a team in Asia was able to translate almost half of the New Testament in two weeks.
The announcement prompted a flurry of responses from experienced translators who questioned the quality of the work. How could something produced so quickly be any good?
“That part is the most difficult for people to believe,” said WA president Bruce Smith.
The project was prompted by an ethnic minority group from Asia that’s too small to be “on anybody’s priority list,” he said. They asked WA to help them translate the Bible on their own.
Organizers made two changes from traditional translation methods to speed up the project. They worked simultaneously on the text instead of sequentially, and they skipped the weeks of training on translation principles (including proper names, idioms, and key terms).
WA made the changes after comparing translations done by trained teams and untrained teams last summer. Their accuracy rates were the same, said WA’s Dan Kramer, who led the project.
Frankly, I have no idea if it is possible to produce a translation of the Bible in such a short period time. I am not a Bible scholar or a translator. The reason this piece caught my attention was because I have spent a little time over the past year trying to learn something about the history of Bible translation for my book on the American Bible Society.
As I think about this article historically, I am struck by three things:
1. In the past Bible translation projects took years to accomplish. When the American Bible Society released the New Testament of its Contemporary English Version in the early 1990s it was the product of a decade of work. One of the translators actually complained that the ABS was rushing the committee to produce the translation in such a short period of time!
2. The American Bible Society always prided itself on translations that had scholarly integrity. Everything was vetted by a committee of scholars. This took time. This required training in what Zylstra's article describes as "translation principles." Under the leadership of Eugene Nida, the American Bible Society was always interested in producing the best translation possible. I wonder how Nida would have felt about Wycliffe's decision to "skip weeks of training on translation principles...."
3. I may be mistaken, but this attempt to translate the Bible with such speed is probably connected with the American Bible Society's effort to provide a Bible in the 1800 languages that still don't have one. And they want to accomplish this goal by 2025. That is a lot of work and it will need to be done quickly if ABS is going to meet its goal. I do know that Wycliffe is working with the ABS to help get this translation completed.