Going Too Far . . .

Sometimes, the quest to simplify the Bible in translation can go too far. Here is a bit from D.A. Carson on the limits of functional equivilence in Bible translation:

Functional equivilence must not be permitted to mask the development of and internal relationship within salvation history. Suppose, for instance, that a tribe has a long tradition of sacrificing pigs but has never so much as heard of a sheep. Is it in that justifiable to render John 1:29, “Look, the swine of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” I would argue stronly for the negative, not only because of the importance of historical particularity . . . but because of the plethora of such alusions preserved in Scripture across the sweep of salvation history.

In what sense could it be said that Jesus ‘fulfills’ the Old Testament sacrificial system if that system typically sacrificed lambs at Passover, all the while proclaiming that pigs are ceremonially unclean, whereas Jesus is portrayed in John 1:29 as a swine? How then will John 1:29 relate to Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the fourth servant song, or to images of the warrier lamb in the Apocolypse (e.g. Rev 5:6)? Shall we change all such references to pigs (“We all, like swine, have gone astray . . .”)?

Now that is a funny example.

  • D.A. Carson, “The Limits of Functional Equivilence in Bible Translation,” in The Challenge of Bible Translation, ed. Glen Scorgie, Mark Strauss and Steven Voth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 101.

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