A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Biblical Imagery Is Not What We Imagine

Originally, Jesus' most important commandment wasn't to love God with all one's heart or with all one's soul. God was a warrior, not a shepherd. Men and women were supposed to be equal. And as with many other people, Adam's lifespan was symbolic.

But flawed translations conceal these biblical messages from modern readers by failing to convey the significance of images and metaphors. Here's what goes wrong.

Sometimes a word, in modern English or in the Bible, simply refers to something. For example, "Washington, DC" is a city and "blue" is a color.

But more often, words convey specific concepts that are associated with a thing. When "Washington comes out in favor of a plan," the word "Washington" means governmental leaders. When people "feel blue," they are sad or depressed, not blue in any sense related to color, just as "blue laws" and "blue states" have almost nothing in common beyond the word "blue." (Blue laws restrict sales on Sunday. Blue states tend to vote democratic.)

A particularly clear example comes from a captain who shouts the common nautical phrase, "all hands on deck." Presumably the captain wants the sailors in their entirety, and not just their hands, on the deck.

A word is usually connected to different images in different languages. For example, "blue" in German has to do with absenteeism, so the correct English translation for the German "to do blue" is "to skip work."

Unfortunately, Bible translations mangle this common kind of language, masking the original sense of the text from readers.
You can read Joel Hoffman's entire article, "Five Bible Images You Probably Misunderstand," here.

No comments: