Translation with Humility
In undergrad I was a Bible and Theology major with an emphasis in biblical languages. It meant that I translated a lot of Hebrew and Greek. I also spent a lot of reading about different theories of translation. The mantra of my classes was: the first step in interpretation is translation. When we translate, we inherently make decisions about the meaning of words in specific contexts. For example, in Colombia there is a phrase 'no dar papaya' it literally means 'don't give papaya'. However, often in Colombia the phrase means to not make yourself an easy target. Before I can translate that phrase, I have to know the context and then interpret what the phrase means in that particular context.
I have spent a lot of time translating in various languages: Hebrew, Greek, Spanish, Dutch, etc. The more I translate the more I am convinced that there is a certain amount of humility that is needed in the process. The humility comes in that every translation needs to be open to critique, correction, and reworking. The communicating from one language to another is never one for one.
As I translate Bavinck and other Dutch sources, I am struck by how much I humility I need in the process. I am not that great at it... yet, and I know I need the openness to be corrected and critiqued. I need people that have gone before me to note where I am missing some allusion Bavinck is making to other philosophers and theologians. There must be humility in the process of translating Bavinck's words in a way that communicates to people today.
Doing translating almost every day for a couple hours is teaching me much. I am learning that humility is needed not just in translation but in the communication of all ideas. As I read and write theology, I am, in one sense, translating ideas for a new and different context. That means that I have to understand the text from which they are coming (in the case of theology, the Bible). The job of the theologian, however, is not solely to parrot back the words of the Bible, but to translate them into language that communicates meaningfully today without losing the content of text. This process requires listening to those that have gone before and having them direct my speech. The process also means responding to questions and critiques that are unique to our day and age. Doing theology is translating age old truths into a new language.
Learning to communicate well is learning to translate and that requires humility. We are attempting to translate our thoughts and ideas to people. We sometimes do that well. We sometimes do that poorly. No matter what we need to humility to hear what others have to say and respond well to critique and correction.