Wednesday, January 16, 2008

On Editing The Bible

Pastor Dan has a nice summary on the whole issue of how the Bible came in to existence. What's best about it is it clears away much of what is considered "learned opinion" on the subject. While I might quibble with the idea that textual variants among various manuscripts comes down to the question of whether an article is definite or indefinite (they didn't exist in Koine Greek, so it is kind of hard to tell), in general the variants are minor enough to be inconsequential. There are books, especially in the New Testament (particularly Paul's letters) that seem to be compilations (and bad ones at that) of various writings (check out the end of Romans, or 2 Corinthians), which raises the question not so much of authorship as editorship. The form critics of the mid-20th century, I think, had a good idea, but they went too far in attempting to divine (no pun intended) not only attribution, but motive in editions.

Having said that, I think it is also important to say that, in a very real sense, translation is "rewriting" in a very real sense. Especially when reconstituting the dead languages in which the Bible was originally composed into the living languages of today, it is necessary to wrestle not just with grammar, but intelligibility. The poetry of the Old Testament stands up well (the Psalms still do well, I think, as do some passages in the prophets, especially Isaiah 40), but the declarative nature of much of the New Testament can render even the most dedicated translator bananas, especially as the structure of subordinate clauses in the Greek used by Paul leaves most people scratching their heads.

Having said all that, Dan is essentially correct to say that the Bible has been, for all intents and purposes, unchanged for close to two millennia. Since questions of editorial intention and possible lost content, to name two subjects discussed ad nauseum, are impossible to answer, it seems to me far better not to pursue them. They usually reveal the biases of the person doing the asking rather than anything substantive about the construction of the canon or individual books.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More