Nazir-Ali on Bible Translation

Not being an Anglican, I don’t want to say too much about the various goings on at GAFCON. However, I can’t avoid quoting Ruth Geldhill’s comment on Michael Nazir Ali’s speech at the conference yesterday:

Secondly, he said, communication and culture. He referred to the world’s greatest expert on culture and the gospel, Professor Lamin Sanneh, professor of mission and world Christianith at Yale and a Muslim convert, who is at Gafcon. He praised his work in Bible translation, and discussed how translation related to the nature of Christianity. ‘The good news of Jesus Christ is intrinsically translatable from one culture to another.’ Even the fact that the NT was first written in Greek and not in Aramaic or Hebrew is itself a fact of translation. ‘It was not for another hundred years or so that the NT was translated back into Syriac or Aramaic.’

He continued: ‘This is on contrast therefore compared with another worldwide religion like Islam. Now Islam is also universal of course.You find it in many different parts of the world. But wherever you go and whatever the local manifestations there is a certain Arabicness about the Koran, about the prayer, about the call to prayer, which cannot be translated. But the Gospel can be and has been throughout the ages…

… ‘When we consider the Anglican situation, the translation of the Bible by William Tyndale into English is a landmark not only in the story of the English church but of the English nation and of the English language. It is impossible to think of a Shakespeare or a Donne without a Tyndale. And the translation the rendering into the vernacular of the liturgy of the BCP of worship in a language understood by the people is all part of this process of translation. This is wealth that we cannot easily give up. Translatability belongs to the very nature of Anglicanism. In the preface of the BCP and the Articles of Religion, every church has a responsibility to render the good news in terms of its culture. Read More

Translatibility belongs to the very nature of Anglicanism, because it belongs to the very nature of the Gospel. The Bishop has lot to say about culture and the Gospel in this speech which is of general interest and applicable across denominational boundaries and which I commend to you. There is also a good deal about the current historic context of Anglicanism which I will leave to others to write about and discuss.

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5 replies on “Nazir-Ali on Bible Translation”

Hi Eddie,
Have you read Henry Orombi (Archbishop of Uganda)’s article on the GAFCON website? “What is Anglicanism?” Great stuff there about the impact of the Bible on culture.
“Certainly we engage in biblical scholarship and criticism, but what is important to us is the power of the Word of God precisely as the Word of God—written to bring transformation in our lives, our families, our communities, and our culture. For us, the Bible is “living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword, it penetrates to dividing soul and spirits, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The transforming effect of the Bible on Ugandans has generated so much conviction and confidence that believers were martyred in the defense of the message of salvation through Jesus Christ that it brought.” And much more
Blessings, Julia

But if you read the Bishop of Southwark writing in today’s Guardian, it is this very process of translating which GAFCON Bishops are objecting too – translating the gospel to fit 21st century Western culture!

I must admit to being somewhat dismayed that a group of evangelical Anglicans should at least appear to be calling for a return to the Book of Common Prayer.

Hi Peter, thanks for the comment. There is so much that is interesting being said of general worth in this whole debate that I can’t resist posting on it. But I really don’t want to get into the issues that are specific to the Anglican church, not being an Anglican myself. However, the comment by the Bishop of Southwark is interesting. I posted a fair bit on what means to translate the gospel into a culture. The last post in the series is here: it may be of interest.

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