I like to picture Bible translation a bit like that scene in Alice in Wonderland where Alice finds herself in a big room with a small door as a big person. A new world awaits her on the other side of the petite door that is unfortunately the wrong size for her. She thus seeks a magic potion by which she may enter the new world. Bible translation by comparison seeks to provide a door the size and shape of one’s language so that all may enter into the strange world of the Bible. And the world of the Bible really is a new world.
Partly what led me to this analogy is the lecture by Karl Barth in which he answers the question What is in the Bible? with the declaration that “there is a new world in the Bible, the world of God” (this and quotes hereafter are from “The New World of the Bible” in The Word of God and Theology, trans. Amy Marga, 2011).
“The Bible leads us out of the stale atmosphere of humanity and into the open doors of a new world, the world of God.”
Is God merely the God of the new world and not our own? No, “he is the heavenly Father on earth and on earth really the heavenly Father! The One who does not want to split life into ‘this side’ and ‘that side.’ The One who does not want to leave it up to death to set us free from sin and suffering…The One who let eternity break into time here and now and who truly let it break in to time — for what kind of eternity would it be if it first came ‘afterwards?’ He is the One who does not have just any old idea in his head but who constructs a new world” (emphasis mine).
Thus, “what happens in the Bible is already the glorious inception of the beginning of the new world!” Let us enter therein! Let us “risk it in faith to take what grace offers us!”
The Christian enters this new world by faith and journeys by faith. “We read the Bible properly not when we read it with a false humility, reserve, or other alleged sobriety but when we read it in faith, as those who travel along on the way which they are led.” Happily, the Bible brings the traveler along: ”There is a stream in the Bible that carries us away once we have entrusted ourselves to it; it carries us from ourselves to the seas!”
Attention must be given lest we believe that the traveler is the main character of the story. Barth is quick to point out that the Bible’s “chief interest is not our capability to function in our ordinary old world, hard-working, honest, and helpful, but in the establishment and growth of a new world, the world in which God rules, and in which his morality rules.” This is where and by whom the new world emerges.
As a result, the ministry of Bible translation seeks to participate in God’s in-breaking by bringing his word in the language people understand best.