Seasoned linguist and Bible translator David Frank recently blogged about various Bible translation metaphors over on the Better Bibles Blog. He concludes by saying,
When it comes to Bible translation, my guiding metaphor is that of the incarnation: The Word became flesh. I see the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us in a lot of different shades of flesh and a lot of different sounding languages, to speak to, and act on behalf of, a lot of different people.
There is, however, a critique to be offered concerning incarnation as a metaphor for Bible translation and ministry in general. While incarnation is the pattern adopted by God the Son in redemption, is it necessarily a pattern to emulate in translation or ministry? Is the Son’s incarnation descriptive or prescriptive?
J. Todd Billings in a lecture entitled “Ministry in Union with Christ: A Constructive Critique of Incarnational Ministry” has proposed that “the language of incarnation might be helpfully replaced with ‘the more biblically faithful and theologically dynamic language of ministry as participation in Christ.’” Billings’ concern is that incarnational ministry “tends to conflate the unique incarnation with our process of learning a culture.”
“Ultimately, our own lives are not the good news,” concluded Billings. “In the participation ministry model, we bear witness to Jesus Christ, who is the good news.”
Is “participation in Christ” as useful as a “guiding metaphor” as incarnation? What would it mean for Bible translation to participate in Christ rather than seek to incarnate him anew in “a lot of different sounding languages”? What is the best metaphor for Bible translation?