Background on the Theme

1. Why was the theme ‘Bible translation and embodiment’ chosen?

The theme ties together some very important issues related to the theory and practice of Bible translation:

a. In 1999, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson published their book Philosophy in the Flesh. The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. In this book, they make the following claims based on recent findings in cognitive science: 1. The mind is inherently embodied; 2. Thought is mostly unconscious; and 3. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. If these claims are true, they may have far reaching implications for our views on language, thought, and communication. It is therefore important to critically examine these claims and think specifically about what the implications might be for the theory and practice of Bible translation. What would ‘embodied’ translation practices look like? And in what respects would they be different from current translation practices?

b. Performance-based approaches (storying, ethnoarts performances, film, sign language) have recently become more and more important in the domain of Bible translation and Scripture engagement. These ‘embodied’ forms of communication are sometimes contrasted with ‘disembodied’ forms of communication (print communication). More research is needed to examine this divide, to compare these different modes of communication and to evaluate their relative strengths and weaknesses.

c. In recent years, it has become more obvious that Bible translation is not just a technical profession. It also has theological (hermeneutical / philosophical) and social dimensions. The concepts ‘embodiment’ and ‘incarnation’ can help to explore the relation between translation, theology, and social and religious context in a focused and systematic manner.

2. What does the term 'embodiment' mean in the context of Bible translation?

The term ‘embodiment’ can be used in a variety of senses:

a. TO REFER TO THOUGHT AND LANGUAGE FUNDAMENTALLY SHAPED BY BODILY EXPERIENCE: In cognitive science, the term ‘embodiment’ expresses the idea that the human brain is part of the human body and that language, meaning, knowledge and communication are inherently shaped by our body and our bodily experiences. Body and mind are not polar opposites, but rather work closely together. All language and communication is anchored in and shaped by the way we experience our bodies in the world. This philosophical orientation differs from Platonic and Cartesian dualism in which mind and body, like meaning and form, are viewed as polar opposites.

b. TO REFER TO PERFORMANCE BASED MODES OF COMMUNICATION: In this sense, the term refers to direct, animated, engaging, here-and-now forms of communication: oral communication, dramatic performances, films, readings, and so on. These flow-inspiring forms of communication are often contrasted with the indirect, disembodied (inanimate), static, unchanging containers in which information can be stored: books, audio recordings, video files, etc.

c. TO REFER TO PHYSICAL CONTAINERS OR PRODUCTS OF RECORDED COMMUNICATION: In some cases, the term can also be used to refer to the physical object that results from our process of recording information, such as a book, a scroll, a digital file, a recording, a film, a blog, a painting, etc. Note the conflict between these last two uses of the term.

3. What is the relevance of 'embodiment' with regard to Bible translation?

a. EMBODIMENT AND METAPHOR: The term ‘embodiment’ in relation to Bible translation calls our attention to the largely metaphorical structure of human language and thinking. Metaphors are not just stylistic embellishments of literal language; they structure our languages and cultures and evoke meanings that go far beyond plain, literal expressions of meaning. This raises questions about the degree to which metaphors as culturally embodied language forms are truly translatable from one language to another. What are the practical and theoretical implications of these insights for Bible translation in general and for the translation of metaphors in particular?

b. EMBODIMENT AND MEDIA: One of the latest developments in Bible translation is the emergence and proliferation of non-print media in addition to print media: oral and other performance-based approaches to Bible translation (drama, film, ethnoarts, etc.) have emerged as alternative or complementary media forms in which Bible translations can be presented. What added value do these ‘embodied’ forms of communication offer? And, conversely, what continued (added) value is offered by print as compared to non-print forms of communication? The answers to these questions are highly relevant for strategic planning related to Bible translation and Scripture engagement.

c. EMBODIMENT, INCARNATION, AND SCRIPTURE ENGAGEMENT: Jesus’ incarnational ministry is a model for all Christian ministry, including Bible translation work. Jesus did not just deliver a message, but he embodied God’s love and gave himself for his people. In a similar way Bible translation is not just a matter of delivering a faithful translation: it is a ministry in which local and cross-cultural workers truly serve the communities they encounter in a spirit of love, respect, and humility. Communities and individuals will feel attracted to the translated Word of God if they see our love and commitment to them reflecting God’s love in Christ for sinful people.

4. What does the term 'incarnation' mean and how is it connected to Bible translation?

In Christian theological discourse, the term ‘incarnation’ refers to the unique Biblical truth that the eternal Son of God became a true human person (Jesus) in order to reconcile sinful people with God and to redeem them from the power of sin, guilt, and death. In missiological discourse, the terms ‘incarnation’ and ‘incarnational ministry’ refer to ministries that focus on compassion, presence, solidarity, participation, servant leadership, and vulnerability, in accordance with Jesus’ exemplary ministry on earth.

Bible translation is an incarnational ministry in the sense that it is not just a technical skill that is provided for the benefit of others. Those who are involved in Bible translation ministry care deeply about the recipients of the translation and engage personally with them in the context of their physical, social, and spiritual needs.True incarnational ministry is found when the words and actions of Christian workers reflect the work and character of Jesus Christ. Bible translation ministry is incarnational to the degree it engages with people and reflects the character of Jesus Christ.

5. Some of the topics mentioned seem to be rather abstract and theoretical. What is the practical value of including these topics?

The organizers of BT Conference believe that in order for Bible translation practices to prosper and flourish, there needs to be a healthy, critical interaction between theory and practice. Theory needs to improve the quality of translation practices, and translation practices in turn need to inform the theory.

Reflection on the theory and practice of Bible translation and on the relation between language, thought, and the world can help translators, exegetes, and others interested in cross-cultural communication to become more aware of their own implicit assumptions in this regard and to critically examine these.

Translation studies in general and Bible translation in particular are not isolated from other fields of study (linguistics, anthropology, literary studies, cognitive studies, orality, missiology, postcolonial studies, etc.), but rather build on and are shaped by insights from these fields. Translation theory also contributes in a unique way to interdisciplinary scholarly discussions, as well as to the promotion of excellence in translation.

6. Does referencing Lakoff and Johnson’s book Philosophy in the Flesh (1999) imply that the organizers of BT Conference necessarily endorse their views on language, thought, and communication, either wholly or in part?

This is definitely not the case. Lakoff and Johnson have many important things to say about the embodied nature of language, thought, and communication, and they give ample evidence showing that meaning emerges from embodied experience and contexts. But they also make claims that not everybody would agree with. Their rejection of the correspondence theory of truth (i.e. that human thought and language are a direct, literal reflection of the inherent structures of the world) is a point in case. This perspective may lead to a relativist perspective on truth, even though Lakoff and Johnson do criticize the relativism advocated in postmodernism.

Lakoff and Johnson raise many important questions in their landmark study on Philosophy in the Flesh (1999), just as they did in their earlier work Metaphors We Live By (1980). But their interpretation of the embodied and metaphorical nature of human thought and communication is open to debate and critical examination.

7. What are some good research questions related to the theme of BT 2019?

The theme of the conference, Bible Translation and Embodiment: Incarnate Word and Incarnational Mission, is very rich and can be explored in different directions. The theme has theological, cultural, linguistic, technical, and social dimensions. Below are some suggestions of relevant research questions:

A. What are the implications of the insight that language, thought, and communication are to a large degree metaphorical? What are the actual or potential implications for the theory and practice of Bible translation?

B. What does ‘embodied’ translation theory and practice look like? In what respects would it be different from current approaches to Bible translation and theory?

C. What are some possible implications of ‘embodied’ translation in regard to (1) the role and meaning of the source text; (2) the concept of ‘equivalence’; (3) the style of translation (‘foreignizing’ or ‘domesticating’); (4) the ‘invisibility’ of the translators (Venuti 1995); and (5) the role of the clients / recipients / host community?

D. What root metaphors do we use for the process of translation and for the relationship between the source text and the translation in the receptor language? How do these metaphors shape our understanding of translation and the way we translate?

E. What are the most fruitful ways of translating Biblical metaphors across linguistic, cultural, historical, and cognitive/experiential boundaries? What are the main challenges? And what are some good strategies to overcome these challenges?

F. What are the implications of the idea that much of our language, thought, and communication is ‘unconscious’ (Lakoff & Johnson 1999)? How does this concept of ‘unconscious knowledge’ relate to communication categories like ‘implicit information’, ‘implicature’, and to Polanyi’s (1958) concept of ‘tacit knowledge’? What are some possible implications for the theory and practice of Bible translation and for the training of translators and consultants?

G. What are the pros and cons of using religious idiomatic vocabulary from the host culture in vernacular Bible translations? What are the missiological paradigms that would advocate for and oppose religious idiomatic vocabulary?

H. What is the added value of performance-based communication in Bible translation) compared to print-based communication and other forms of recorded information?

I. What is the remaining (added) value of print-based communication and other forms of recorded information?

J. Where do we draw the line between ‘Bible translation’ (as a genre / product) and ‘Scripture-based products’? What are the theological and hermeneutical implications if this distinction is lost?

K. How do we define quality in translation? What technical, theological (hermeneutical / philosophical) and social factors need to be considered? And how can these be kept in balance?

L. What is the role of the local Church as the representation of the body of Christ in defining and monitoring the quality of Bible translation and in taking responsibility for Scripture engagement in urban and rural settings?

8. Can other topics be addressed in abstracts and presentations at BT conference?

The answer to this question is a definite yes. The theme is intended to bring some focus and unity to the topics that will be presented. It does not intend to limit the scope of topics to be discussed in papers and presentations. But hopefully most presentations will have some implicit or explicit connection to the overall theme.