I TRANSLATE BIBLE EXPERTS into English. That’s how I make my living.
These scholar guys and gals are extraordinary thinkers.
But they have one flaw, which I find useful.
They can’t write.
If God told them they had to write a simple sentence to save their soles, he’d send them away barefooted.
Of course there are exceptions. I suppose. Anybody know of any?
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.
I’ve been reading Gregg R. Allison’s Sojourners and Strangers, The Doctrine of the Church. Dr. Allison is a theology prof at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He has a section in his book that I find especially engaging. It’s about the debate over women preachers.
I’m really interested in his take on that because if I read him correctly, he is opposed to women preachers. Yet he goes into great detail to explain the many different reasons people on the other side of that argument are in favor of women preachers. And then he gives his responses to those reasons.
I want to know how he responds.
I love the way he goes about reporting the arguments people on the other side of the debate offer. He goes out of his way to present all their key points. Some of them are strong points. I admire him for doing that. Some scholars would report just the weakest arguments from the other side. But Dr. Allison takes the full blow to the face, even acknowledging that “women may have exercised the office of apostleship….as being ‘outstanding among the apostles,’” (Romans 16:7).
I’m still reading through his responses to those arguments that the other side makes. But I wanted to pause long enough to give you one example of how difficult it can be to understand the scholarly style of writing.
He’s about to react to one interpretation of a hard-to-swallow verse Paul wrote. It’s a verse that chokes people in favor of women preachers:
“I do not let women teach men or have authority over them,” (1 Timothy 2:12).
Dr. Allison then reports that Dr. Linda Belleville, a prof of biblical studies and a translator who helped with The New Living Translation of the Bible, translates that verse this way: “I do not permit a woman to teach a man in a dominating way but to have a quiet demeanor.”
Dr. Allison breaks down the grammar of her translation this way:
- A negated finite verb (I do not permit)
- governing an infinitive (to teach)
- [nothing is done with the coordinating conjunction (or)]
- which is modified by a second infinitive taken as an adverbial clause (in a domineering way).
Are you still with me? Hang in there. But buckle up.
I’m going to give you one key sentence in Dr. Allison’s response to that interpretation of the verse.
The syntactical problem of viewing the second infinitive as an adverbial phrase modifying the first infinitive renders this interpretation highly implausible.
And all the people said…. “What the…?”
Bible experts talk and write like Dr. Allison does.
And they understand each other, far as I can tell.
I’m not sure why scholars talk and write this way. I don’t think they’re trying to be snooty or aloof. More likely, they’re trying to be precise – and cover their six.
Maybe, too, human beings have to use a different part of their brain to come up with the kind of insights that biblical scholars discover. And perhaps writers have to use still some other part of the brain to translate Ph.D English into School of Hard Knocks English. Though some accuse writers of using no brains at all, which, from time to time, seems fair.
I’ll get back to reading now.
I hope Dr. Allison doesn’t take offense. I’m enjoying what I’m reading, and finding it helpful.
I know that his target audience is much different than mine. And that’s another reason for the different style of writing.
Still, I wish biblical scholars could chew gum and walk at the same time – uncover pearls of biblical wisdom and then present them in a way that would hook the attention of my Uncle Henry, a West Virginia coal miner…or my son, a marketing guru for a company that tests pharmaceutical products before we put them in our mouth or anywhere else that matters.
But if scholars can’t do both, I’ll settle for the pearls. I’ll take another big breath, dive deep into the sea of words, and come up with something worth the swim.