This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Trust the translator and not the translation

The obvious implication of what has been said above is that, when reading a translation, you are either implicitly or explicitly placing yourself under the tutelage of the translator of the work. The idea that a person who speaks only English can pick up a ‘literal translation’ of the Bible and then proceed, by means of a concordance and a Greek or Hebrew dictionary, to ‘draw out’ the original meaning of a passage on his own, is childish nonsense. A little boy with a chemistry set may be ‘doing chemistry,’ in some sense, but he is not a chemist, and in the end he is only playing, imitating the more serious work for which he is in no way equipped. Likewise, contemporary Christians, with their self-defeating preference for private interpretation and endless Bible studies, are children playing at the interpretation of sacred texts. Yet unlike the child with the chemistry set, the materials they deal with are far more powerful, and there is no one around to stop them from poisoning themselves.

In the end, if one wishes to truly learn from a spiritual text written in another language, there are two options: learn the language, or else to accept as a mentor someone who speaks the language who can translate it properly for you. In nearly all cases, the latter is the superior course of action, provided that the person in question has truly assimilated the ideas of the text and has a deep understanding of the ‘ways of thinking’ on both sides of the translation. Only he can tell you what the words of the passage say and what they actually mean. But let it not be misunderstood: when this is done, you are the student who is learning from a teacher, and as offensive as this may sound to Christians who have, since the reformation, flattered themselves that it could be otherwise, it can be no other way without giving rise to the most ridiculous notions.

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