Throughout this discussion it was made clear that these men reject the notion that the Scriptures can be presented to all Christians who are competent in their own languages, in a way that is clear and reliable, suggesting that they reject the Doctrine of the Perspicuity of the Scriptures in any but a purely theoretical sense.
Dr. Francis Pieper (LCMS), in his well-regarded three volume work, Christian Dogmatics, contains a very good section on the Perspicuity of the Holy Scriptures, a section which may be interesting for us to review in reference to this idea that the Bible cannot be sufficiently rendered in our, or any, language, that instead it requires further illumination in external documents written by men. It seems that in burying ourselves in the details of technical translation problems, we have forgotten how important it is for us to understand the Perspicuity of the Holy Scriptures and apply it in our attitude toward the Bible and its translations. Pieper begins:
- According to the Roman doctrine, Scripture becomes clear through the light emanating from the “Church,” that is, from the Pope. According to the doctrine of the “enthusiasts” of all ages, it is illumined by the “inner light,” which is communicated immediately. According to the view of modern theology, the Bible is “divine-human” in the sense that Scripture presents a mixture of truth and error, and it is the business of “the self-consciousness of the theologizing subject” to shed light upon this confusion – by means of his “experience” he separates the truth from the error and thus clarifies Scripture. All of these views regarding the “perspicuity” of Scripture have one common feature: It is man who must illumine Holy Scripture.
[Pieper, F. (1950). Christian Dogmatics (Vol 1) (T. Engelder, Trans.). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. (Original work published in German, 1924). pp. 319-320]
Second, if one is working with a sophisticated source language, then it is normal to expect that what is rendered in the target language will be roughly equivalent in sophistication – if the translator endeavors to render the full meaning contained in the source, that is. Granted, given the limitations of a given target language, this may not always be possible – but why is this such a prominent defense these days for accepting deficient translations? What gives the modern translator license to “pick and choose” what he is going to render into the target language, rather than placing on him the challenge and expectation that he take on the high ideal of rendering it as fully as possible in the target language? I submit that the reason is the notion that “the target language” is no longer considered “the target language in its capacity,” but “the target language in its most marketable reading level.” Newspapers have been doing this for decades in order to maximize the distribution of their rags: to maximize readership and profit, the newsprint needs to be rendered in the lowest common denominator of functional literacy. Mass-market book publishers have adopted the same philosophy.
In the realm of Bible translation, this publishing philosophy is enabled by the translation ideology of Dynamic Equivalency. The translator is not permitted the full capacity of the target language, he is limited to that subset of the target language which will maximize distribution and profit. Of course, if one falls back to a pastor to “illumine” the full meaning of the text, normalizing the practice of producing deficient translations can be justified, and from the publishers’ standpoint, Bible consumers are always welcome to fall back on the commentaries they publish, as well. In either case, the clarity and meaning of the Scriptures in the target language depends on man, or additional devices created by man, not on the Scriptures themselves – which forces Christians to draw back from their regard for the perspicuity of Scripture.
- According to the teaching of Scripture, however, exactly the opposite relation obtains. Not men illumine Scripture, but Scripture illumines men. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105).
According to Scripture, the perspicuity of the Scripture consists in this, that it presents, in language that can be understood by all, whatever men must know to be saved. By way of elaboration:
- This perspicuity is presupposed, as a matter of course, since not only those who are specially gifted, but all Christians are to read the Scriptures, are to believe on the basis of Scripture and to judge truth and error on the same basis. The Perspicuity is taken for granted in Luke 16:29: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” In like manner Christ tells the Jews who would not believe His Word: “Search the Scriptures” (John 5:39). [Pieper goes on to quote Acts 17:11, 2 Thess. 2:15, Col. 4:16, 1 Thess. 5:27 to further support the fact that Scripture presupposes its own perspicuity.]
- But the perspicuity of Scripture is not only presupposed as self-evident, but Scripture teaches it also very expressly; it most emphatically protests against ever regarding Scripture as an obscure book, as do not only the unbelievers, but also some within external Christendom; at times even devout Christians are disturbed. Scripture says of itself that it is a “light shining in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19) and that it “is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path” (Ps. 119:105). [Pieper goes on to quote Ps. 19:7, 2 Tim. 3:15, 1 John 2:12-13 showing that Scripture teaches of its perspicuity directly.]
[Pieper, F. (1950). Christian Dogmatics (Vol 1) (T. Engelder, Trans.). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. (Original work published in German, 1924). pg. 320]If a translator respects the perspicuity of the Scriptures, then for those translated Scriptures to “illumine” men in a language other than the original source language, one would think that his philosophy of translation would require him to to make a genuine attempt to render the full content of the source language into the target language. Yet the philosophy of Dynamic Equivalency (a) has the translator acting alongside Scripture as the “one who illumines men,” (b) limits the capacity of the target language to carry the full meaning of the source by requiring that the language used in the target be artificially reduced, and (c) in this way grants license to the translator to “pick and choose” which content to render, rather than burden him with the high-ideal of making a genuine attempt to translate all of the content and granting him the necessary tools (the full capacity of the target language) to do so.
Yet it is clear from Scripture that a Christian’s reading of it is to equip him to independently ”judge truth and error”. How does a deliberately deficient translation accomplish this? Recall, that in the case of the NIV 2011, it is so deficient that our WELS Translation Evaluation Committee agreed that for this translation to be sufficient for lay use, a second book should accompany it which exposes and remediates all of its errors and shortcomings. Not only is this full admission that the NIV 2011 is not a translation which rises to a threshold honoring the perspiscuity of the Scriptures, it raises serious questions in the mind of the reader of such a Bible whether the NIV 2011 on his nightstand is, in fact, God’s Word, or something less than God’s Word. Raising questions like this through advocacy of deficient translations of the Bible, is a doctrinal issue, impacting our Doctrine of the Perspicuity of the Scriptures.
But how can a translation possibly rise to the level of such clarity, equipping the reader who has competent skill in his own language to independently judge truth and error based on his own Bible? One thing is certain. It cannot even begin to rise to such a level if, before he even approaches the texts of the source language, restrictions are placed on the translator (or are adopted by him as his own ideology) which do not give him the full utility of the target language, which would force him to produce a translation that is not representative of the sophistication of the content and its presentation as contained in the texts of the source language, but is instead, artificially reduced to meet some perceived external need or the dictates of an ideology imposed on the texts.
But what if these restrictions are lifted? What if the full utility of the target language was embraced? Wouldn’t that produce a translation unintelligible to the “average reader” and wouldn’t this also militate against the perspicuity of the Scriptures? Pieper invokes Luther as he discusses this point, as well:
- For whom are the clear Scriptures an obscure book? For all those to whom the language of Scripture is altogether unknown or at least unfamiliar. On the first point Luther says: “A Turk’s speech must needs be obscure to me; a Turkish child of seven would easily understand him, whereas I do not know the language” (St. L. X:473). To him who does not understand German, the German Bible is dark. One who does not command the English tongue cannot understand the English Bible. But, in the second place, it is necessary that we become accustomed to the language of the Bible by diligent study... to use Luther’s phrase, we must familiarize ourselves (“gewohnen”) with it, or it will remain unintelligible to us... In short, Scripture will be clear to him who, as Luther reminds us, knows the languages and trains himself in the languages by the diligent reading of Scripture. And this diligent reading of Scripture is directly enjoined in the Old and New Testament (Ps. 1:2; Deut. 6:6-9; John 5:39; Col. 3:16; 1 Tim. 6:3).
[Pieper, F. (1950). Christian Dogmatics (Vol 1) (T. Engelder, Trans.). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. (Original work published in German, 1924). pg. 321]