Translating the Word

February 27, 2010

Translating the Word

It has been said that many years ago there lived a young and gifted woman called Sophia who received a vision in which God spoke to her as a dear friend. In this conversation God asked that Sophia dedicated her life to the task of translating and distributing the Word of God throughout her country. Now, at the time the printing press had only recently been invented, and the only Bibles to be found were written in Latin and kept under lock and key within churches. Sophia was from a poor farming village on the outskirts of the city, so the task seemed impossible. She would have to raise a vast sum of money to purchase the necessary printing equipment, rent a building to house it, and hire scholars with the ability to translate the Latin verses into the country’s common tongue.

However, the impossibility of her task did not sway her in the least. Having received her vision, Sophia sold the few items she possessed and left the village to live on the streets of the city, begging for the money that was required and dedicating herself to any work that was available in order to help with the funds.

Raising the money proved to be a long and difficult task, for while there were a few who gave generously, most gave little, if anything at all. In addition to this, living on the streets involved great personal suffering. But gradually, over the next fifteen years, the money began to accumulate.

Shortly before the plans for the printing press could be set in motion, a dreadful flood devastated a nearby town, destroying man people’s homes and livelihood. When the news reached Sophia she gathered up what she had raised and spent it on food for the hungry, material to help rebuild lost homes, and basic provisions for the dispossessed.

Eventually the town began to recover from the natural disaster that had befallen it and so Sophia left and returned to the city in order to start over again, all the while remember the vision that God had planted deep in her heart.

Many more years passed slowly, extracting their heavy toll on the beautiful Sophia. But there were now many who had been touched by her love and dedication, so although people were poor, the money began to accumulate once again. However, after nine more years, disaster struck again. This time a plague descended upon the city, stealing the lives of thousands and leaving many children without family of support.

By now Sophia was tired and very ill, yet without hesitation she used the money that has been collected to buy medicines for the sick, homes for the orphaned, and land where the dead could be buried safely.

Never once did she forget the vision that God had imparted to her, but the severity of the plague required that she set this sacred call to one side in order to help with the emergency. Only when the shadow of the plague had lifted did she once again take to the streets, driven by her desire to translate the Word of God and distribute it among the people.

Finally, shortly before her death, Sophia was able to gather together the money requires for the printing press, the building, and the translators. Although she was, by this time, close to death, Sophia lived long enough to see the first Bibles printed and distributed.

It is said to this day that Sophia had actually accomplished her task of translating and distributing the Word of God three times during her life rather than simply one– the first two being more beautiful and radiant than the last.

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I have a couple of thoughts on this; hold on, it may get a bit wonky.

Any time human beings try to articulate anything, something is lost in putting it to words. For example, we know that stealing is bad, so we make theft illegal. What happens to a person who steals because they are starving? In this case the writing of a law has made that law blind and ineffective. Writing about a piece of music, while sometimes beautiful in itself, cannot compare to the actual experience of listening to the piece and experiencing it. Human hands and language have their limits, and they fail reliably to describe things that are beyond us. I do not think I impugn the Bible if I suggest that this is also the case with the Word of God.

For what else is Jesus if not the Word become flesh?

If even God thinks that the Word handed down through generations needs to be incarnated and lived, where does this leave the Body of Christ on earth, the church? Don’t miss the forest for the trees here; I’m not suggesting translating the Bible isn’t good. The Bible is also not God, and as God’s body on earth the church has a responsibility to put a face to the Word. Rigid, doctrinaire adherence does the Word an injustice, for it fails to acknowledge the tension and contradictions inherent within that even the text itself acknowledges. If all the laws in the Torah were easy to follow on their own and not messy stumblings toward holiness, why would Jesus and the Prophets have to clarify them for the faithful? In our desire to remain faithful to the Word of God, let us not forget the exhortation(s) within, instructing us to flesh out the Word: Do Justice; Love Mercy; Walk Humbly with God.

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