Misunderstanding translation?

In his brief introduction to Ephesians, Stephen Fowl says this:

Naturally, it is a mistake to think that there is pure translation, free of all commentary. This is always a matter of degree. Nevertheless, dynamic equivalence translations offer considerably more commentary than the formal correspondence and do so under the guise of providing a translation.


I’m not so sure. It would certainly be possible to attempt to produce a literal gloss, whereby the same English word is used every time the same Greek word is used. I’m not aware of any translation that actually does that. The problem is that the semantic range of English words is not the same as the semantic range of Greek words.

I’m not aware, for example, of any translation that tries to represent the meaning of Paul’s “ψυχικόν” (psychikon – e.g. 1 Cor 15:46) as either “lifeish” or “soulish”. And that’s before we consider how the word is used in sentences, or spoken in performance. A sarcastic comment of “Yeah, right!” does not mean “I agree”, but more something like “Are you insane?”

Literal – word-for-word – translations are likely as interpretative as dynamic – meaning-for-meaning – translations. Glossing the Greek (or Hebrew) text word by word is simply neither informative nor accurate. All translations are commentary, and arguing for a presumed superiority of the formal or literal is simply, I think, to misunderstand how language works.

A book that “needs” many introductions?

I would hazard a guess that the Bible has more “introductions” than any other book (or collection of books) in the world. Whether it needs quite so many is another question.

I’m not sure if I should feel guilty therefore in adding to that number. But I have now finished my guide pitched particularly at those who read it in church. It comes in three sections:

  • Hardware. How the need to know which books should be read in public worship helped shape the collection we call Bible.
  • Firmware. How we organise and practice the actual reading of Scripture in our corporate worship.
  • Software. An orientation to each book (or occasionally grouping of books) in the canon, paying particular attention to the passages used in the lectionary.

The series index is here. Please share it as you feel able.

In the other place

Things have been quiet on this blog, mainly because over at my other one, I’ve been working steadily at my series on the scriptures in public worship. I’ve now finished the first section, looking at how public reading helped shape the collection of the books into a defined canon. And I’ve begun the second section with posts on how the liturgical year works. It feels strange writing about Christmas and Easter in early October!

You can find the index page for the series here.

Language! taking care of our words in public

Cross posted from Liturgica.

One of the things good liturgy does is teach us something about the use of language. Most specifically, it gives us words to use to speak to God. These have usually been crafted with care, drawing on the depth of the tradition, however updated to be able to make sense in the present. People take care shaping the words of the liturgy, because what we say matters. In so far as we can speak truth about the God who is beyond our full understanding, we want to speak truthfully to, about, and for God.

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Launching Liturgica

On sabbatical earlier this year I was trying to write the first draft of what I hoped might be a simple introduction to the bible for those who have to read from it in public worship. As I worked, I came to realise that it would be too long to be the sort of book which might be attractive to the kind of audience I had in mind.

I put it away for a few months, but thought after I’d let the first draft setle a bit, perhaps the second draft might be a (long) series of blogs. This autumn it feels right to resurrect the idea, and so partly as the vehicle for this series, and partly for other posts on worship, prayer and liturgy, I am launching a new site.

This site will continue, and become the sporadically blogged repository for various random thoughts that don’t fit under the broad heading of things liturgical.

But my main blogging efforts will be happening over at Liturgica, especially as I work my way through revising the rough draft I wrote on sabbatical, one post at a time.

Problematic polls and collective worship

I’ve been having an interesting Twitter conversation over the last 24 hours with a secularist about a Humanists UK poll on collective worship. As with many polls of this kind, I felt the most appropriate response was to tweet a link to this classic clip, which is what got the conversation started.

The poll is being puffed by Humanists UK, currently seeking to change the law by generating favourable publicity for a case before the courts. For a discussion of the bigger issues, see this post by Jonathan Chaplin on the always informative Law and Religion UK.

There are a number of reasons to be wary of polls, and this one triggers most if not all of my five alerts.

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Theology: training writers in obscurity?

I’ve been writing a review of a book I’m not going to identify here. It has left me reflecting on traditional English theological education. When carried out to doctoral level, it seems to train people to write for an audience of three or four: the supervisors and examiners. 

The most notable feature of the book I’ve just finished is the way the author so clearly wants me to know what he’s read, and that he has read everything relevant to the topic. Trying to follow the main line of thought through the dense thickets of citation was sometimes quite an effort. Since this book is postdoctoral work, this is simply an acquired habit.

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After redundancy

I’ve been very quiet on social media over the last few months. That has largely been because of a significant restructuring at work which led to my post being made redundant. It is a strange and disorienting experience to go through, and I didn’t feel like blogging about it while it was happening. It’s especially uncomfortable when to be made potentially jobless is also (as clergy) to be made potentially homeless. 

Nor do I intend to write much about transitioning over the summer to a newly created post focussed on lay training and discipleship development, which I have been successful in applying for. Nor do I want at present to reflect on “survivor’s guilt” and my concern for those colleagues who are now having to look elsewhere for their future employment. 

Some people may find that kind of blogging therapeutic. I don’t think I’m one of them, but it would seem dishonest not to acknowledge here something of the context in which I have been silent, and from which I am seeking to refocus. If you’re the praying sort, you might remember those in my workplace who are still struggling, alongside all those in the wider economy who are in the same boat.

However, I do think the new role means I’ll be doing some fresh thinking, and I hope to do some of that thinking out loud on this blog in ways I haven’t for some time. I’ve therefore refreshed things slightly, in preparation for a return to more active blogging. 

Mainly I’ve moved the title down to being a subtitle, and stolen a new title from one of my favourite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins. It comes from his sonnet “As kingfishers catch fire”.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme; 
 as tumbled over rim in roundy wells 
 stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s 
bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; 
each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 
 deals out that being indoors each one dwells; 
 selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, 
crying Whát I do is me: for that I came. 

Í say móre: the just man justices; 
 kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces; 
acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
 Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places, 
lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
 to the Father through the features of men’s faces. 

Geracrd Manley Hopkins

The octave looks at how each creature reveals God’s glory by being itself; the sestet suggests a greater human vocation, made possible by God’s assumption of humanity in Christ. 

We share a call to contributing to the richness of creation by being ourselves as all creatures do (“Whát I do is me: for that I came”).  Beyond that we have a call to see and receive (and to be and offer) the richness of God’s grace and gift in the richness of human life and action. The sheer diversity of humanity when ordered towards justice and generosity participates in, reveals, and revels in, the beauty and love of God.

It’s not unrelated to the experience of redundancy and restructuring. I have been sustained by the care-full approach taken by diocesan management, in the shared experience of colleagues going through restructuring, and through the support and love of friends both Christian and non-Christian.

My Christian friends may be more comfortable with the thought that they have been God’s gifts to me more than my non-Christian ones, but I need to acknowledge the diversity of people through whom, and ways in which, I have been sustained through upheaval and fragility. God’s variegated grace in these wonderfully diverse relationships is one part of Hopkins’ meaning for me when he says “Christ plays in ten thousand places.” It is in humanity that God is to be freshly valued. It is in God that humanity is to be newly appreciated.

The C of E Brexit allegation

Cathy Newman’s rather unsatisfactory interview with Justin Welby on Friday early on repeated the not-entirely true “Pollsters say the majority of Anglican churchgoers voted to leave.”

The polling data from the British Election Study (BES) might more carefully be described as saying: those who identified in a poll as Church of England/Anglican/Episcopalian voted 60% to 40% to leave. Figures from British Religion in Numbers, whose graph I reproduce below.

I am not entirely sure these two statements are the same thing.

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A Tanzanian Gallery

I’ve been having a fairly ruthless sort and cull of the photos I brought back from my recent visit to Tanzania – to our partners and friends in the diocese of Morogoro. Here are some of my favourites. I hope you enjoy them too. (Click on any image to enlarge and enter the gallery at that point.)