You may have heard the news recently regarding the publication by the Philippine Bible Society (PBS) of a New Testament (NT) in heterogeneous language (mixture of Tagalog and English, or Taglish). Calling it the New Testament: Pinoy Version (Pinoy NT) the PBS launched this NT translation on 13 September 2018, along with a Catholic Edition, at the 39th Manila International Book Fair that was held at the SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay.
The PBS website said this about the Pinoy NT: it is “‘the first of its kind in the Philippines, this unique contemporary version uses the modern Filipino language variety that is commonly used by the younger generation.’ According to PBS’s Translation Consultant Dr. Anicia del Corro, ‘To capture the way the contemporary Filipino speaks, especially among the youth, this Pinoy Version is made available as an alternative version.’” The website added that its target audience are, “people in their teens to early thirties who are reading the Bible for the first time.”
Furthermore, the website claims that, “However modern in its form, even sounding informal to most readers, the Pinoy Version is a faithful translation employing the method of dynamic equivalence, also used in other meaning-based translations such as the Magandang Balita Biblia (MBB), Good News Translation (GNT), and Contemporary English Version (CEV).”
Since its launch, the NT Pinoy Version has caused quite a stir among theologians, preachers, and even among ordinary folks alike, many voicing out their own opinions over long threads on social media, particularly Facebook. As some have correctly observed, many people from hiding suddenly felt concerned for the Bible with the release of Pinoy NT. They thus came out of their spiritual closets, polished their pens, and freely expressed their appreciation, indifference or dismay with this new translation.
Many however, specially among teens, welcomed it describing it as a fresh translation that speaks to them in a personal way. Some were indifferent, preferring English versions or the KJV Bible over it. Many criticised it, pointing out how informal, disrespectful and irreverent it sounds, so uncharacteristic of the nature and language of the Holy Bible from which it was based, they said. Some, with knowledge of the Greek language of the NT, even challenged how some words were translated pointing our errors allegedly committed by the translators.
As someone who loves the Bible and the God it proclaims, I was thus engulfed in this whirlwind. I have no degree in theology nor have I formally studied biblical translation nor biblical languages. My tertiary education is in the field of accountancy, now specialising in information systems auditing. Nevertheless, with my desire to understand God’s Word better, and to correctly understand it and more confidently teach it to others, I taught myself basic theology and Biblical Greek and Hebrew. I claim no expertise in these biblical languages, far from it. On the contrary, I may well be a novice compared to many others who are learned and have degrees in these disciplines. Yet I grow in the knowledge of Greek and Hebrew grammar daily, and am able to make use of Bible software tools and apps at my disposal to get to the Greek and Hebrew texts, to rightly handle God’s true Word.
Being thus familiar with original languages, I am well aware of the difficulty of translating words from the source to the receptor language, why different Bible versions sometimes translate in English the same Greek or Hebrew word differently, or even why one Bible version translates the same Greek or Hebrew word differently in different passages. It is due to these that my interest was drawn with the news of the Pinoy NT’s launch. But I was more curious with all the squabbles surrounding it.
Desiring to make my own informed judgment regarding this issue then, I took on the task of researching biblical translation and matters related to this field. It led me to the time around the reformation era when biblical translation, specially into the English language, was at its infancy, and then to famous Bible translators like Wycliffe, Tyndale and Luther. Next, I ventured into understanding more about Koine Greek, the common language much like English is today, at the time of Jesus and the apostles. This is the same language in which the NT writers penned the New Testament, including the Gospels and letters. Finally, I was at the center of it all: Bible translation, its different philosophies, approaches and methods. The assessment criteria for determining the success of any Bible translation is enlightening as it is interesting.
With this, I felt the need to write about my discoveries in this quick but exciting journey. It’s been a long while since I blogged about anything, and I think it is all worth the time and effort getting back at writing. My desire, by presenting some informative articles that I came across in my readings as starting points for intelligently assessing this new translation that has come to us, is for each of us to grow up and mature, from being uninformed or misinformed critics mindlessly echoing the opinions of people we look up to, into educated critical thinkers, researching reliable sources, carefully weighing the issues and thus making our very own informed judgments.
In the coming days, I’ll be writing about biblical translation and translators around the reformation era of the 1500s, the Koine Greek of early Christian time, and then biblical translation as a science and an art. Be sure to come back here again soon to read more about these interesting topics. But for this first installment, I want to present Martin Luther’s defense of his German translation of the Bible against his critics during his time.
Martin Luther and His German Translation of the Bible
According to Timothy Larsen in his book Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, the translation of the Bible by Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, “influenced the German language in the same way as the King James Version influenced English.”
Writing about Luther’s legacy, church historian Philip Schaff said about Luther’s German Bible in his book the History of the Christian Church:
“The richest fruit of Luther’s leisure in the Wartburg, and the most important and useful work of his whole life, is the translation of the New Testament, by which he brought the teaching and example of Christ and the Apostles to the mind and heart of the Germans in life-like reproduction. It was a republication of the gospel. He made the Bible the people’s book in church, school, and house. If he had done nothing else, he would be one of the greatest benefactors of the German-speaking race.”
Luther’s Defense of His German Bible
Nevertheless, not everyone was happy with Luther’s German Bible. To these critics he wrote, in his defense, an open letter entitled in German: Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen (An Open Letter in Translating). What follows is a selection of texts from that letter.
Qualifications of a Translator
Oh, translation is not an art just anyone can do, as the mad holy ones believe; it requires a righteous, pious, faithful, diligent, fearful, Christian, educated, experienced, practised heart.
Luther’s Faithfulness to the Text
You can say that I have translated the New Testament into German to the best of my abilities and as conscientiously as possible; I can testify in good conscience that I have demonstrated my highest faithfulness and diligence in this, and never had any false thoughts—for I have neither taken nor sought a farthing for it, nor won any with it. Neither have I sought honour for myself in this, God knows, my lord; rather I did it as a service to Christianity and in honour of one who sits on high, who does me so much good in all hours that even if I had translated a thousand times as much and as diligently, I still would not have earned an hour to live or have a sound eye: all that I am and have comes from His grace and mercy, indeed, it is from His dear blood and bitter sweat, therefore it should all, God willing, serve to honour Him, with joy and from the heart. Should the bunglers and papal asses slander me, well then, the pious Christians praise me, together with their Lord Christ, and I am all too richly rewarded if just one Christian considers me a faithful worker.
Difficulties Encountered in Translating
I have taken pains in translating in order to render a pure and clear German. And it often happened that we sought and questioned a single word for fourteen days, three, four weeks, and at times still could not find it. In Job we worked this way, Master Philips, Aurogallus, and I, so that in four days sometimes we could hardly finish three lines. Rather— now that it is in German and ready, anyone can read and criticize it. Now a person can fly through three, four pages and never stumble once, but is not aware of the sort of stones and stumps that had been there, where he now walks along as on a smooth-planed board, where we had to sweat and fret before we were able to clear such stones and stumps out of the way so that one could walk along so finely.
It is a joy to plough a field that has already been cleared. But rooting out the brush and the stumps and preparing the field—no one wants that part. It is a thankless task. If God Himself can get no thanks for the sun, for heaven and earth, or even for His own son’s death: the world is and remains the world in the devil’s name, because it won’t have it any other way.
Luther Defends a Meaning-Based Translation
When the traitor Judas says in Matthew 26: 8: ‘Ut quid perdı ́tio haec?’ and Mark 14: 4: ‘Ut quid perdı ́tio ista ungue ́nti facta est?’ If I were to obey the asses and literalists, then I would have to translate it as: Warum ist diese Verlierung der Salben geschehen? [Why has this loss of ointment occurred?] What kind of German is that? What German would say something like that: Loss of ointment has occurred? And if he actually understands it then he will think that the ointment has been lost and someone should look for it, though even that still sounds vague and dubious. If that is good German, why don’t they come forward and make us a fine, lovely new German Testament and leave Luther’s Testament alone? I think they ought to show their skill the light of day.
Centrality of Readers in Meaning-Based Translations
They do not see that it nevertheless speaks to the sense of the text, (and if one wants to translate it into German clearly and powerfully it is needed), because my intention was to speak German, not Latin or Greek, when I undertook to speak German in the translation. That is how German is.
For one need not ask the letters of the Latin language how one ought to speak German, the way these asses do, rather one should ask the mother in her house, the children in the streets, the common man in the marketplace, about it and see by their mouths how they speak, and translate accordingly: then they understand it well and recognize that one is speaking German to them.
Luther Gets Back at His Critics
If I, Doctor Luther, had been aware that all the papists together were so skilful that they could translate one chapter of the Holy Writ into German correctly and well, then, truly, I would have been humble and asked them for help and advice in translating the New Testament. But since I knew then and still see now that they have no idea how one should translate or speak German, I spared both them and myself the trouble.
Luther’s Boastings in Paul’s Language Style
If they want to strut about and boast with their asses’ heads; and as Paul sang his own praises against his holy fools, I will sing my own against these asses. Are they Doctors? So am I! Are they educated? So am I! Are they preachers? So am I! Are they theologians? So am I! Are they debaters? So am I! Are they philosophers? So am I! Are they dialecticians? So am I! Are they lecturers? So am I! They write books? So do I!
And I will keep on praising: I can interpret Psalms and Prophets; they cannot. I can translate; they cannot.
Luther’s Scathing Words Against His Critics
I have not forced anyone to read it but simply left it available and only done so as a service to those who cannot do any better. No one has been forbidden to make a better one. Whoever does not want to read it can leave it alone; I am not begging or cajoling anyone to read it. It is my Testament and my translation and shall remain mine. If I have made any mistakes in doing so (which I would not consciously do, nor would I wilfully mistranslate a single letter)—on that I will not tolerate the papists as my judge, because their ears are too long for that and their ‘hee-haw, hee-haw’ is too weak for them to judge my translation.
I know well, and they know less than the miller’s beast, what sort of skill, diligence, judgement, and intelligence are needed for translation, because they have never tried it.
It is said: ‘He who works on the road has many masters.’ So it has been for me. Those who have never yet been able to speak, let alone translate, they are all my masters and I have to be their disciple.
But why should I care if they rage or storm? I do not want to hinder them from translating what they want; but I do want to translate not as they want, but as I want. Whoever does not want it can leave it to me and keep his mastery to himself, for I do not want to see nor hear it; and for my translating they need give neither answer nor account.
And why should I have to talk so much and for so long about translation? If I were to note the reasons and thoughts behind all of my words, it would take a year of writing. I have learned well what sort of art and work translation is; therefore I will tolerate no papal ass or mule who has not attempted anything as my judge or critic in this. Whoever does not want my translation can leave it be. The devil thank him who doesn’t like it or alters it without my will or knowledge. If it needs to be altered, then I will do it myself. If I do not do it myself, then one should leave me my translation in peace and make himself whatever sort of translation he wants and fare well!