Author Topic: Is it unethical to question the translation of the Bible?  (Read 4270 times)

Offline Raptor

  • New Linguist
  • *
  • Posts: 3
Is it unethical to question the translation of the Bible?
« on: January 19, 2020, 09:14:31 AM »
Hello,

So a few days ago I was sat talking with two linguistics-professor buddies of mine, they started talking about the translation of the Bible.

Obviously, the Bible wasn't originally written in English, or even Latin for that matter, but likely Amharic or Hebrew (or so I'm told). This means that there have been at least 2 translations of the Bible (One from Amharic/Hebrew to Latin and then Latin to English) does this mean that we shouldn't trust what the Bible says 100%?

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

Offline panini

  • Linguist
  • ***
  • Posts: 195
Re: Is it unethical to question the translation of the Bible?
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2020, 12:17:24 PM »
The first question is, what do you mean by "the Bible"? There is a difference between the old and new testaments. The second question is, what do you mean by "ethical"? 99% of the question is about this non-linguisitic question. It's about like asking "is it ethical to question the Bible" (a third-rail question). The third question is, what do you mean by "question"? One meaning of that verb is "to ask questions about, seeking information", and the other is "to challenge". For example "Is there a Chinese translation of the Bible" is an information question. "Why do you accept the Bible over the Qur'an" is a challenge.

The only relevant question that I can think of that bears on translation is about accuracy. That raises the first question ("which Bible?"). This actually subdivides into sub-questions about manuscripts. There is a whole field and tradition of biblical scholarship about oldest "original" texts, let us say Hebrew manuscripts, or Greek manuscripts. There are plenty of debates over what the "original" text is.

If we had an "authoritative" Greek original, then there are reasonable questions that could be asked about the accuracy of a given translation. However, there are no speakers of Koine Greek, and we cannot trivially assert that we know with certainty the meaning of all of the words that appear in e.g. the Nestle-Aland Testament. Just as one has to argue about what the "original test" should be, one also has to argue about what the meaning of words and phrases is.

BTW Amharic did not exist as a language, at that time. You are thinking of Aramaic (Syriac).