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What Is the Difference between a Translation and a Paraphrase?

The difference between a translation and a paraphrase is pretty straightforward.  Any time you start with one language (the donor language) and end in another language (the receptor language) you are engaged in translation.  In the case of the New Testament, if you start with the Greek text and end with an English or Dutch or German text, you have just done a translation.  Now there are levels of formality or strictness that enter into the process, but that is another question altogether.  Julia Smith, a 19th century women’s activist, did her own translation of the Bible in the late 1800s because she felt the King James was too “foot loose and fancy free.”  What she ended with is a translation, but it is so strict it is hard to read.  Obviously, it never caught on because you’ve probably never heard of Julia Smith. translations

Paraphrase involves starting and staying with the same language.  To paraphrase means to restate the meaning of a text using using different words in the same language. If I were to paraphrase Thoreau’s famous line: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” I might say “Most people endure life’s frustrations calmly and peacefully.”  Now my version isn’t as artful as Thoreau’s, but it means roughly the same thing.  “Brevity is the soul of wit” as Shakespeare noted. In other words, “It’s always better to use fewer words if you can.”  You get the picture.

So if you were to take the King James Version, remove the “thees” and “thous” and replace them with more modern pronouns, and then put some of the harder theological language in more contemporary idiom, then you would be paraphrasing not translating.  The goal of a paraphrase generally is to make something clear or to explain it.  You could preface a paraphrase with “in other words” or “to put it another way.”  

Recently I’ve heard some people refer to Eugene’s Peterson’s, The Message, as a paraphrase.  They weren’t aware that Peterson worked from the original languages.  Because he did, The Message is a translation.  People often mistake an informal “sound” with paraphrase. If it “sounds” to them informal or different than what they are used to, it must be a paraphrase. Not exactly.  Translation and paraphrase are processes not a result. When you begin with one language and end in another, you’ve got a translation on your hands. The Voice Bible

The Voice Bible is also a translation even though it may “sound” different than what someone is used to hearing.  This is because we made a number of translation decisions which earlier translations did not make.  We approached dialogue, poetry, divine names and titles, differently than other versions.  We started with the original languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic), worked with them, came back to them, and wrestled with how to render these amazing texts for a new day. 

C. S. Lewis said in the preface to J. B. Phillips translation of Paul’s letters (and I paraphrase) that if we are to have translation at all, then we must have periodic re-translation.  You can’t translate something once and be done with it for language is a changing thing.  Our language, like our technology, is changing at a staggering pace.  Every generation has the obligation to retell these amazing stories for their own day.

Alan Segal . . . A Polite Bribe

Alan Segal was a friend.  He died in the spring of 2011 leaving behind a big hole in the world of many friends and his family.

Alan F. Segal (1945-2011)

Alan F. Segal (1945-2011)

Alan helped me get my first book published.  He read my manuscript on a flight from New York to San Francisco in the early 1990s.  Not long after he wrote to Professor Martin Hengel and recommended my book for publication in the series known to many New Testament scholars: Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament (2nd series).  Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology was published in 1992 by J. C. B Mohr.

As the years passed, I had the privilege of traveling with him to conferences and rooming with him during several of  the national meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature.  To know Alan was to be invited to dinner along with 20 other people he met on the way to the taxi.  Alan was able to order food in seventeen different languages. Alan always had a big table.   As the food came, he would entertain everyone with his stories and good humor.  To know Alan was to be made to feel welcome and important.  I wonder how many young scholars Alan helped along.

To walk with Alan across a hotel lobby meant being stopped fifteen times by his friends and admirers.  It took forever to go from Point A to Point B, but the time it took went quickly.

In the middle 2000s, Carey Newman of Baylor University  Press and I brought together a team of scholars to publish a Festschrift for Alan Segal and his good friend, Larry Hurtado.  We tried to keep the project a secret, asking Alan to write an article for Larry and Larry to write for Alan.  At the time they didn’t know it but they were contributing articles to a Festschrift dedicated to both of them.  Israel’s God and Rebecca’s Children was published in 2007 by Baylor University Press.

A Polite Bribe

A Polite Bribe

Today, I received an email from a film producer, Robert Orlando, about a movie dedicated to Alan Segal.  The movie is called “A Polite Bribe,” and I can’t wait to see it.  At the bottom of the email was a 2 1/2 minute video of Alan Segal talking about the Apostle Paul, a subject near and dear to both of us.  The video is on the blog post of a new friend, Dr. James McGrath of Butler University.  See the link below.

The last time I saw Alan was in December 2010.  Larry Hurtado, Carey Newman and I flew to New York to see him.  We knew he was very ill but we never thought we’d never see him again.  He died just a few weeks later.

Today when I saw the video of Alan, a rush of emotions came over me.  Here was Alan, looking well again, sounding strong again, talking once again about Paul.

Here is a link to James McGrath’s post about the movie.  At the bottom there is a brief video about Paul featuring my old friend, Alan Segal.  I can’t tell you how much I miss him.  If you knew Alan, then you will want to see this.  If you didn’t know him, then perhaps you will hear in his voice or see in his face a truly great soul.


Should We Give up on Private Bible Reading?

Recently I have talked with a number of Christian leaders from various denominations.  They have told me they are giving up on any private reading of the Bible.  They said it with a bit of uncertainty in their voices, wondering if they were doing the right thing, wondering if they were secret heretics.  You see it has been drilled into them that a good Christian has a quiet time every day and part of that includes personal Bible reading.

Now these leaders aren’t giving up on the Bible altogether, they have just concluded that Bible reading ought to be communal practice not individual.  They point out correctly that the books of the Bible were not addressed to private readers; the various authors expected these books to be read to gathered audiences of the faithful.  Even letters addressed to private persons like Philemon and Titus were supposed to be read publicly. Consider Paul’s admonition that “faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17); the apostle assumes one who speaks for God and one who listens to the good news.  Revelation 1:3 pronounces blessings upon those who read—that is, those who read aloud to the congregation—and those who hear the words of the prophecy.  The one who reads is one; those who hear are many.St Dominic with Scripture

These leaders also cite church history, particularly, the development of the daily office and other regular gatherings of the faithful to chant the psalms and read the Scriptures.  In particular, lectio divina—the  spiritual reading of Scripture—is  not intended as a solitary enterprise; it expects  that believers gather and listen to the Scripture. It assumes a community of people who are living life together and not just a haphazard collection of people with some common interests.

It’s clear to me these leaders are feeling a bit guilty and are unsure about their decision.  They want to be good Christians.  They see themselves as good Christians.  They want others to see them as good Christians too.   It’s not that they have found private Bible reading unproductive; it’s that they have found engaging the Bible publicly more productive.  It seems to me they have arrived at this point along their spiritual journey in good faith.  They aren’t trying to get out of anything or take any short-cuts.  They’ re serious in their Christian commitments.

For my part, I’m not ready to give up on private Bible reading.  While I understand and can appreciate the concerns expressed by these Christians leaders, I’m not convinced that private Bible reading is not already a communal event.  Let me explain.  When I sit down to read, say Mark’s Gospel, I am in a very real sense not alone.  Think for a moment where this text has come from and how it has come down to us.  Thousands of people have been involved in the process of bringing these books down to us.  Though the Gospel itself is anonymous, Christian tradition associates it with Mark, a missionary companion of Peter and Paul.  When Mark writes, he is writing to the church of his day.  They are the first consumers of this letter.  But because these Jesus-followers valued it for what it communicated about him, Mark’s Gospel was copied by hand for 1400 years along with all the other books that make up our Bibles.  Think about all the monks and scribes who took part in that process.  Along the way, it was translated into dozens of languages we know of and many more we don’t.  Beginning in  the 14th century–and indeed before–courageous Christian scholars began the difficult process of gathering these texts together and translating them into English, my mother tongue.  Protestant reformers took the churches of Europe back to the sources (ad fontes), collecting and sorting texts of the Greek and Hebrew Bibles.  That process of discovering manuscripts, transcribing them, relating them to other manuscripts, and translating them for the church today continues.  In a real sense when I sit down to read the Bible I meet the church.  When I work through Mark’s Gospel or Paul’s letter to the Galatians or a psalm, I think about all the saints painstakingly and carefully at work  to make sure later generations like ours have the Scriptures in our language.  Bible reading, even private Bible reading, involves “the communion of the saints.”

So, what do you think?  Have you given up on private Bible reading?  Or do you think it is time you did?   If so, why?  If not, how would you convince these leaders that private Bible reading is a practice worth pursuing?

Professor N. T. Wright to Lecture at HBU–March 19-20, 2014

Tom WrightProfessor N. T. Wright has agreed to give two lectures at Houston Baptist University March 19-20, 2014 as part of a conference entitled “Paul and Judaism.”  Professors Beverly Gaventa (Baylor University) and Ross Wagner (Duke University) will be presenting major addresses as well.  The university will issue a call for papers soon to allow scholars an opportunity to join us for this two day event.  For more information contact Dr. Ben Blackwell at 281.649.3000.

Professor Wright will also be on hand Friday, March 21, 2014,  to lecture for the Lanier Theological Library in Houston. 

Professor Wright has recently completed a new book entitled Paul and the Faithfulness of God.  All of his lectures during this series will deal with Paul.

Recently Professor Michael Bird sat down with Wright to discuss his new book (approximately 25 minutes).   This interview offers a good summary of Wright’s approach.


If You Like Weekends, Give Thanks for Jews and Christians

Many people live for the weekends.  They might love their jobs or simply tolerate them, but they look forward to the weekends like no other time.  Weekends give them the chance to sleep late, hang out with friends and family, pursue hobbies, and, for those religiously inclined, worship.  weekend

The terms “workweek” (in Britain “working week”) and “weekend” refer to the parts of the week associated with labor and rest respectively.  The five day workweek has come about primarily in the west under the influence of Christianity and Judaism.  In many countries—especially where Islam is the dominant faith–the workweek includes Saturday and/or Sunday (e.g., Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangaladesh, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Malaysia) because Friday is their day devoted to prayers and time off work.  The French Revolutionary calendar attempted to reform the way citizens lived in time by adopting a ten day week and giving them one day out of ten as a day for leisure.  Obviously, that never caught on.

The days of the workweek are popularly described in relation to the weekend.  “Rainy Days and Mondays” got Karen Carpenter down, probably because the weekend seemed so far away.  Wednesday is hump day (we’re halfway there). And of course, there is TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) Fridays. 

The term “weekend” is actually a misnomer because Sunday has traditionally been understood  in the west as the first day of the week.  Take a look at most (non-business) calendars and you will see Sunday the first day on the left.  Perhaps in an attempt to reconfigure time and our relationship to it, modern business calendars start with Monday on the left and end with Sunday on the right.  The idea of the week beginning on the day we call Sunday and ending on Saturday is derived from Jewish sensibilities.

You see the seven day week goes back to biblical story of creation (Genesis 1:1—2:3).  In the west we operate with four main categories of time: year, month, day, week.  A year represents the time it takes the earth to orbit around the sun.  A month represents (at least initially) the lunar orbit around the earth.  A day represents the time it takes the earth to rotate on its axis.  So where did the idea of a week come from?  Essentially, from Genesis.  While a year, month, and day relate to astronomical observance, the idea of a week is related completely to religious observance.  The Jewish Sabbath set the rhythm of the cycle of work and rest not only for them but for much of the world.

According to Genesis, God created for six days, rested the seventh, and required his covenant people to do the same (Genesis 1). Here is how the directive is stated in the first account of the Ten Commandments:  

You and your family are to remember the Sabbath day; set it apart, and keep it holy.  You have six days to do all your work, but the seventh day is to be different; it is the Sabbath to the Eternal your God.  Keep it holy by no doing any work—not you, your sons, your daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, or any outsiders living among you. For the Eternal made the heavens above, the earth below, the seas, and all the creatures in them in six days.  Then, on the seventh day, He rested.  That is why He blessed the Sabbath Day and made it sacred. (Exodus 20:8-11, The Voice)

So the Jews are to remember the Sabbath Day, keep it holy by doing no work on it, why?  Because it is an imitation of God’s creative and restful activity.   The Sabbath is the seventh day or what we call Saturday. 

The first Christians were Jews so they observed the Sabbath, but it wasn’t long before they added another day of religious observance to their week.  “The Lord’s Day,” as they called it initially, was a weekly celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and the times he appeared to the disciples.  Christians met in anticipation that Jesus would be with them as two or three gathered.  They met to sing hymns, pray and commemorate his life, death, and resurrection in a sacred meal known as the Eucharist (Greek for “giving thanks).  Later the reading of Scripture and what we call today the sermon were added to their gatherings. weekend 2

Through history the relationship of Saturday and Sunday has been complicated.  Entire books are dedicated to parsing carefully how Jews and Christians lived in connection with time and each other. I have written more about this in two articles if you’re interested: “The Eighth Day” and “The Lord’s Day.”

The bottom-line is this: if you like the weekends, give thanks for Jews and Christians.  They have done more to keep alive these traditions than any others.  The idea of the weekend is not created out of nothing.  This modern blessing owes its substance to the Jewish and Christian faiths.  It has a noteworthy history that goes back to a mountain in the Sinai desert and a tomb outside Jerusalem.

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