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Translation and the Translators of the Bible

FOREIGN missionaries have moved mountains. Grain by grain, rock by rock, by steady work. year after year, toiling, delving, tunneling the giant mountain obstacles have been gradually melted away. After years of silent, unseen, prayerful, agonizing work, suddenly a new version of the sacred Scriptures is announced, and millions find the door of knowledge and salvation suddenly opened to them. It is easy to read in a Bible society report that the Bible has been translated into Mandingo for eight millions into Panjabi for fourteen millions, into Marathi for seventeen millions, into Cantonese for twenty millions, into Japanese for fifty millions, into Bengali for thirty-nine millions, into Arabic for fifty millions, into Hindi for eighty-two millions, and into Mandarin Chinese for two hundred millions. But who can comprehend what it all means? To those who claim that missionaries are, or should be, only men who are failures at home, who are unable to fill home pulpits, but are good enough for Asiatic or African mission work, such a statement must be an unsolved and unsolvable riddle.

Translation is an art, a science, one of the most difficult of all literary undertakings. To translate an ordinary newspaper editorial from English into French, German or Italian, would cost most scholars many hours of work. It is easier to compose in a foreign tongue than to translate into it, adhering conscientiously to the meaning, yet casting it so perfectly into the native idiom as to conceal the fact of its foreign origin. Few natives of Asia can translate from English into their own tongue without revealing the stiff foreign unoriental source from which the material was taken.

'Dr. Thomas Laurie in his able work "Missions and Science," P. 245, says, "If any wonder why so much pains should be taken to make a version not only accurate but idiomatic, let him read the following words of Luther in 1530: - 'In translating, I have striven to give pure and clear German, and it has verily happened that we have sought, a fortnight, three or four weeks, for a single word, and yet it was not always found. In job we so laboured, Philip Melanchthon, Aurogallus and I, that in four days we sometimes barely finished three lines.' Again he writes, 'We must not ask the Latinizers how to speak German, but we must ask the mother in the house, the children in the lanes, the common man in the market-place and read in their mouths how they speak, and translate accordingly."'

If it was thus difficult for the learned Luther to translate from the Hebrew and Greek into his own mother German, how much more to translate from them into an Oriental tongue like the Arabic! And few foreign missionaries can translate ordinary tracts and books into the vernacular of their adopted country. Men must have a peculiar mental bent and devote years to studying and practicing the vulgar talk of the populace, and the pure classical language of the local literature, if there be a literature, and if not, to identify himself with those who are to read what he writes, before he can translate with success. But when you add to all this the work of translating a book of 960 pages from the ancient Hebrew, the Old Testament and another Of 270 pages front the ancient Greek, the New Testament, so as to give your readers' the exact literal idea of the original, and this into a language utterly different -in spirit, ideals and idioms not only from the Hebrew and Greek, but also from your own tongue, and remember that this is the Word of God in which error is inadmissible and might be fatal; knowing that the eyes of scores of missionaries, and hundreds of native scholars in the future, as well as savants in philology and linguistic science in Europe and America will scan and criticize your work, and you might well exclaim, "Who is sufficient for these things?" The true translator, "nascitur, non fit." It is born in him, and without this native genius and preparation, he cannot succeed.

Translators, of the Scriptures, "are called of God, as was Aaron." Missionary boards send out young men to foreign lands, not knowing to what special work God may call them. It may be exploring, as Livingston; or healing, as Dr. Parker, "who opened China to the Gospel at the point of the lancet," or teaching, as Duff, Hamlin and Calhoun; or preaching, as Titus Coan of Hilo, Sandwich Islands; or it may be translating as Morrison, Hepburn, Riggs, Goodell, Eli Smith and Van Dyck.

Read more here: The Translation of the Bible to the Arabic Language - 1845-1865

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