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German Bible Translator Introduces Readers to ‘God’s New Actuality’

Roland Werner wears many hats, and most of them have one thing to do with the Bible.

Whether or not he’s preaching on the interdenominational congregation that he cofounded 4 a long time in the past in Marburg, writing devotionals and books about church historical past, lecturing on intercultural theology, or chairing a gathering of the German department of the Lausanne Motion, the theologian and linguist’s life revolves round God’s Phrase.

He is perhaps greatest identified amongst Germany’s evangelicals for Das Buch (“The Guide”), his well-liked Bible translation in fashionable German. The New Testomony was first launched in 2009, and a brand new model together with the Psalms was printed in 2014. Earlier this 12 months got here the third version, this time with the addition of Proverbs.

Werner, age 65, found an affinity for languages at an early age. As an adolescent, he was already learning Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Arabic and several other African languages adopted later. A 12 months as an alternate pupil in america helped excellent his English. His familiarity with these and different languages mixed together with his love of Scripture made the function of Bible translator a pure match. He’s presently working with a staff to translate the Bible right into a North African language.

This new model of Das Buch comes virtually precisely 500 years after Martin Luther printed his first Bible translation, generally known as the Septembertestament. Whereas there was a lot fanfare just a few years in the past to mark the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Werner laments that this milestone has gone largely unnoticed.

“You heard virtually nothing concerning the [Septembertestament anniversary], neither within the church buildings nor within the information,” he stated.

The Christus-Treff congregation cofounder hopes that his translation offers readers a contemporary probability to interact with the Bible, even when extra conventional translations are typically neglected. He spoke with CT concerning the newest Das Buch version, his different translation tasks, and the way rendering a verse in a brand new method can assist readers perceive the Bible extra deeply.

This interview has been edited for size and readability.

Earlier than we discuss translating Scripture, I’d wish to ask you about studying Scripture. What was the primary model of the Bible that you simply actually engaged with?

Picture: Illustration by Christianity As we speak

Roland Werner

After I was in first grade, my mom would have me learn to her from a German youngsters’s Bible whereas she ironed garments. Later, there was one other Bible for older youngsters that I additionally learn. After I was 13, I attempted to learn the entire Luther translation, however I gave up in some unspecified time in the future.

The primary Bible that I learn all over was known as The Approach: The Residing Bible. I spent a 12 months in Seattle after I was 16 as an alternate pupil, and through that point I learn each The Approach and the King James Model. So, earlier than I learn the complete Bible in German, I had learn each a contemporary translation and the approved model in English.

Talking of English translations, I perceive that Eugene Peterson’s The Message helped encourage you to begin engaged on Das Buch.

Not directly, sure. I had heard about The Message and had acquired a duplicate in some unspecified time in the future, though I need to admit that I didn’t learn the entire thing. In 2007, a good friend from Australia came visiting. Throughout our time collectively, he introduced up The Message and requested if it may very well be translated into German. I instructed him that it wasn’t doable. It’s a very good translation, however Peterson is so idiomatic and steeped in American tradition {that a} direct translation into German simply wouldn’t work. I defined that somebody must do one thing comparable, simply in German. Then he stated, “Nicely, why don’t you do this?” I stated, “Okay, why not?” and began that very evening.

A couple of days later was the Frankfurt guide honest. By then, I had a preliminary translation of the primary 4 chapters of Matthew. I confirmed it to a writer good friend of mine who was at the moment main the Stiftung Christliche Medien [a German Christian media foundation]. He and a few of his colleagues checked out it and determined that it was totally different sufficient from different fashionable German translations to have its personal taste and sound. So he stated, “Yeah, let’s do it.”

Das Buch is, like The Message , a dynamic-equivalence translation, proper?

Sure, however my translation is definitely extra literal than Peterson’s. Far more literal. I didn’t be happy to go too far-off from the textual content. Folks inform me that Das Buch could be very readable and that unchurched folks can perceive it simply. I attempted to switch or at the least alternate a few of the closely spiritual terminology that could be susceptible to misunderstanding with a dynamic equal. However there are some components the place I used to be much more literal than Martin Luther. So it’s kind of in between [dynamic-equivalence and a more literal translation].

When you began working, how shortly did you make progress? What had been the largest challenges?

Nicely, we had a Christian youth competition in Bremen the place I used to be the chairman, and we wished to offer the Gospel of John to each participant. One way or the other the board agreed to make use of my model of John, which wasn’t prepared but, so I used to be beneath a bit little bit of strain. I mainly prepublished John for that competition in 2008. I did the remainder of the New Testomony in a few 12 months. At any time when I had a while—for instance, whereas touring or even when I used to be sitting with my spouse watching tv—I might work on it.

I translated straight from the Greek. I’m very quaint, so I didn’t use any of the flowery Bible translation gear that’s round at this time. I simply put the Greek textual content right into a Phrase doc and labored from that. Throughout that point, I didn’t learn any German variations. That method I wouldn’t pre-impregnate my thoughts with a doable German rendering. As an alternative, I might sometimes take a look at translations in cognate languages. Variations in Dutch, Norwegian, English, and even non-Germanic languages like French, Spanish, or Italian would usually give me concepts for a brand new technique to render a verse in German. I wished to be sure that it might have its personal distinctive sound.

Why was it necessary to you to current biblical ideas in new, typically shocking, methods? For instance, in some verses “kingdom of God” (Gottes Reich) is as a substitute rendered “God’s new actuality” (neue Wirklichkeit Gottes).

The phrase shocking is definitely the reply. I wished to shock folks and make them assume. Possibly I’ve gone too far right here or there; I don’t know. Actually, I’ve backtracked in new editions on a few of these expressions. [However,] I’m conscious that my Bible translation is just not the one one in German. Anybody who is basically enthusiastic about learning in depth will most likely have one other model at their disposal in order that they’ll examine. My purpose is for a brand new phrasing to have a shocking impact that helps folks higher perceive the thrilling content material of this life-changing guide.

Whenever you take a look at the Greek phrase basileia, which is normally translated as “kingdom” in English or “Reich” in German, it’s truly a extra dynamic idea than both of these phrases convey. Whenever you hear “Gottes Reich,” it feels like a rustic. However that’s not what is supposed. It’s the increasing actuality of God’s authority over this world and over our lives. That’s what I’m attempting to speak.

This newest version consists of Proverbs, along with the New Testomony and the Psalms. You’ve stated that Proverbs was particularly difficult to translate into German. Why is that?

I discovered translating the Psalms difficult, however Proverbs much more so. Proverbs employs a condensed and finely honed poetic language, and Hebrew itself is a really [concise] language. It’s difficult to translate in a method that’s each clear in at this time’s context and true to the poetic great thing about the unique.

One other problem is that the ideas in Proverbs come from a rural setting in historical Israel. I needed to determine whether or not I might take them as they’re or switch the underlying picture into one thing that’s extra recognizable at this time. In the end, I felt that altering the illustrations would stray too removed from the unique textual content. Even so, you typically have so as to add a bit further info or at the least make it right into a full German sentence for it to make sense. [Translating directly word for word] doesn’t work. I attempted to be concise, poetic, and to observe the circulation of the Hebrew language whereas nonetheless making it comprehensible. That was a giant problem.

Das Buch has readers within the Landeskirchen (regional mainline church buildings supported by church taxes) in addition to within the Freikirchen (unbiased church buildings supported by donations). These two teams of German Christians can have very totally different cultures. Why do you assume your translation bridges that hole?

I’m a member of the Landeskirche. There’s a robust evangelical wing inside that church, and people could be the Bible-reading folks. Folks know me in that a part of the physique of Christ as a result of that’s the place I belong. Within the free church buildings, they largely know me as a result of I used to be concerned in some nationwide [evangelism] features over a number of a long time. Those that would take into account themselves broadly evangelical, that means Bible-interested, Bible-reading Christians, is perhaps enthusiastic about my translation simply to see the way it can encourage them of their private Bible studying.

You used the phrase evangelical, which in German could be evangelikal. American Christians typically get confused concerning the distinction between that phrase and the same time period evangelisch. What’s the distinction?

Evangelisch truly simply means “Protestant,” whereas evangelikal has kind of the identical that means that evangelical has in america or Nice Britain. That time period solely got here to Germany within the Sixties. Persons are nonetheless debating whether or not that may be a useful time period, particularly due to its connection to a sure sort of evangelicalism that a part of the church in America appears to stick to that’s overseas to us. It conjures up photos of a political stance, which isn’t what the phrase evangelical was initially speculated to imply.

German Christians used the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017 as a chance to advertise Bible studying and engagement. 5 years later, how do you consider these efforts?

There have been many encouraging examples of individuals changing into extra within the Bible. As an entire, nevertheless, I might virtually say that the Landeskirche in Germany missed an opportunity. There was a story saying that the principle level of reformation was the invention of particular person freedom. And, after all, that’s true; Luther stated that the person stands together with his or her conscience earlier than God. However the place do they stand? On the authority of the Bible. That’s what Luther meant. He didn’t simply imply summary freedom in an Enlightenment sense, however that’s what it was made out to be in lots of the official shows.

Language examine and translation work has taken you to Africa many instances over the previous a number of a long time. What can Christians within the West be taught from their fellow believers in Africa and different Majority World contexts about participating with the Bible?

Our post-Enlightenment worldview within the West tends to chop out the miraculous. In Africa and different non-Western contexts, the truth of the spirit world is way more of a given, and it’s a lot nearer to on a regular basis life. In some missiological considering, one speaks of “the [excluded] center.” The Western thoughts acknowledges the pure realm that may be defined by science, after which there could or will not be some kind of summary increased being. In between there’s nothing. For somebody from the Majority World, the truth of goals, visions, spirit beings, curses, possessions, and so forth is a lot extra actual and brought with no consideration. As a result of the Bible comes from a state of affairs the place there was a really comparable worldview, it speaks a lot extra straight [to people outside the West].

In 1998, you wrote an essay for Christianity Todayconcerning the non secular local weather in publish–Chilly Struggle Europe. You expressed a hope that regardless of the challenges that church buildings and ministries had been dealing with, “the fruit they’re producing is actual and can final.” Do you continue to have the identical perspective over twenty years later?

I believe I might nonetheless adhere to that. I’ve simply come from a gathering in Bavaria that was run by a coalition of evangelists from the UK. They invited younger folks from throughout Europe who’re enthusiastic about evangelism. There have been folks from Iceland, Albania, Georgia, Spain, Italy … I used to be very inspired. Sure, we’re not so robust, however we’re there.

Moreover, the brand new actuality is the numerous migrants that reside in Europe. There’s a robust non secular motion amongst them. For instance, at a Berlin Landeskirche [regional mainline church] on any given Sunday morning, you might need 10 or 20 largely aged Germans sitting within the church service at 10 o’clock, after which the identical church constructing will probably be filled with Africans for a service within the afternoon.

James Thompson is a world campus minister and author from the state of Georgia.

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