Craig S. Keener
Excerpts from one of the introductions to the New Testament Cultural Background book I’m reading:
Translating can be difficult, as anybdy who has studied a foreign language can testify. Some words do not translate directly in a single term; sometimes a word or phrase can have several different meanings, and the translator has to decide which meaning is best for particular context. There is also more than one way to express an idea in English once one decides what it means. Those of us who have read the whole New Testament in Greek can testify that the same problems obtain there as in any other text we might try to translate. A random check of any passage in two or three Bible translations will verify the difficulty: no two translations will match exactly (otherwise, of course, they wouldn’t be separate translations).
When Bible translatos go into other cultures they face difficult questions regarding the meanings of words and phrases. For instance, some translators had to explain “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:29) for a culture that had no sheep and thus no words for lambs. The culture did, however, have pigs, and used them for sacrifices. But if they translated it “Behold, the Pig of God!” (which does not ring nicely to our American ears, and certainly would have offended ancient Jewish sensibilities even more), what would happen when they had to translate passages in the Old Testament where pigs were unclean but sheep were not? Perhaps they could best solve the issue by putting a footnote in the text and by translating with some combination of words that communicated the concepts best as possible in their language, like “hairy pig.” Old Testament translators have had to resort to similar methods when rendering the Hebrew words for different kinds of locusts into English (Joel 1:4; 2:25). English does not have enough different words for locusts to match all the Hebrew terms, perhaps because the many varieties of locusts were nomre of an issue for the Israelites than they are for most of us.