The Church on the Mission Field Needs Pastor-Translators
I’ve been slowly working through Steven Runge’s book, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis. Runge makes an excellent point related to part of BTF’s mission: the translation cannot and is not meant to carry all the weight of meaning. It seems that translators, often motivated out of love for people and love for God’s Word, seem to forget the work of the local church and the pastorate in ministering the Word of God. Missionary-translators are often on the front-lines of the mission field, where there are no believers. Sometimes the model of translation work is itself flawed, seeking to put a written translation in a local language when there are not yet literates, or not yet Christians (of course, Bible translation for evangelism is a good thing). At other times, there are simply not enough workers and the translator fears that after he dies there will be no one to take up the Word to read it and preach it to the people he has long labored for in giving them a translation. Whatever the case, translators must connect their work back to the work that God has given to local church pastors. The translation cannot do all the work on its own, the church needs pastors; pastor-teachers are a gift from God to equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Eph 4:11-16).
Runge, writing on connecting propositions in the Koine Greek language (the original language of the New Testament), writes, “Exegesis and exposition are all about understanding the original and drawing out the meaning. Translation is often an ill-suited medium for this, even though it is one of the most commonly used. One may have a very clear understanding of something and still find it troublesome to capture all of the information in a translation. Do not worry: exposition gives you the opportunity to elaborate aspects of a passage that cannot be well-captured in translation” (Runge, 19, emphasis added). Later on, Runge again expresses the same sentiment on the complexities of translation: “This quandary illustrates the problem of needing to express all grammatical information in translation. There may not be an easy translation solution. This is where exegesis and exposition come in. Even if we cannot capture everything in a single English world, we can still understand the function of the Greek word. We can understand what is signals in the discourse and find other ways of capturing or communicating its function” (Runge, 31).
We agree with Runge, and those “other ways of communicating” involve the pastor’s equipping of the saints through the public reading, preaching, praying, and singing of the Word, along with even the seeing of the Word in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. So let’s train missionaries to be pastor-translators, encouraging them to train national believers on the mission field to also be pastor-translators (for more on the pastor-translator, see our FAQ page).
For more thinking about why we need generalists in theology, and not just specialists, see Carl Trueman’s great three-part blog, “In Praise of the Generalist” at Reformation21.org.