Many of you may know, but others may not, that the New Testament of our bible was originally largely written in Greek. While some of our English bibles rely on Latin translations or other English translations as the starting point for their versions, the truest meaning of Luke’s gospel, Paul’s letters, or even Jesus’ words is found in going to the original language, discovering what it originally said, and translating that as best we can into modern English.
The translation of a portion of Mark 2:4, I think, makes this point well. Mark 2 is the story of a paralyzed man who is healed and forgiven by Jesus after his four friends lower him through the roof of the house. In Greek, the phrase is “ἀπεστέγασαν τὴν στέγην”. The four friends literally “unroofed the roof” to lower their paralytic friend down into the house. “Unroofed the roof” is awkward and clumsy in modern English, so translators work to make it read smoother and sound better to our ears. The New International Version of the bible translates that as “they made an opening in the roof”, while the English Standard Version says simply “they removed the roof”. In either case, translators went to the original meaning of the word or phrase and then translated it into words that were understandable for the modern reader or listener.
A good portion of our task as Christians could be summed up in similar terms. We are Christian translators. We make a 2000 year old faith relevant and understandable to a modern audience through our words and actions. Sometimes this takes the form of adapting music, prayers, and sermons to modern musical instruments, the internet, websites, podcasts, and social media. And sometimes this takes the form of taking a word like gospel, good news, and asking “What modern word or concept relays the core of this word in perhaps a more meaningful way to modern hearers?” Perhaps joy or hope would work as the modern equivalent. “Jesus Christ comes to bring hope.”
Again, in either case, as we go out and are sent out into the world by Christ, our task is to translate the good news into a language people can understand. Like so many missionaries who were sent to the corners of the globe and then sat down to translate the bible into the native tongue, as Christians living in this modern world our task is to translate our faith into a language a broken and needy world can hear and understand.