The weekend, March 8-9 at CIU, we are privileged to host the Southeast Regional meeting of the Evangelical Missiological Society. I will be giving a paper entitled "Bible translation in the early church: the Syriac, Latin, and Armenian Scriptures explored through missiological lenses," which is part of a chapter of a book I'm working on on early Christian mission. I've posted the abstract below:
With nearly 2000 of the world’s 6900 language groups still without Scripture, organizations like Wycliffe labor to bring the Word of God to every cultural group in the world. Though Wycliffe has been instrumental in accelerating the pace of Bible translation in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the value of translating Scripture was also evident in early Christian mission. In fact, because the Gospels and New Testament were composed and circulated in common (koine) Greek, as opposed to Aramaic or even classical Greek, it can be argued that the New Testament Scriptures are translations in a sense and they testify to the missional nature of the faith. Referring specifically to the four Gospels, Irvin and Sundquist have helpfully summarized, “Crucial for the transmission of this memory [of Jesus] was the composition of books we call Gospels.”
Lamin Sanneh, a leading scholar of global Christian history, has referred to this core value of the Christian faith—making Scripture available in the heart languages of the world’s cultures—as the vernacular principle. Identifying Christianity as a “vernacular translation movement,” Sanneh asserts that the “vintage mark” of the faith was that it has been a movement of “mission by translation.” Sanneh continues, “Mission as translation affirms the missio Dei [mission of God] as the hidden force for its work. It is the missio Dei that allowed translation to enlarge the boundaries of the proclamation.” With the Gospel moving across social and cultural boundaries, Sanneh further adds that translating into local languages served to clarify the gospel message within a given people group. He writes, “Scriptural translation rested on the assumption that the vernacular has a primary affinity with the gospel, the point being conceded by the adoption of indigenous terms and concepts for the central categories of the Bible.” In short, Christian mission in the early church and later periods has been facilitated by Bible translation.
In this paper, I will explore evidence for the vernacular principle at work in the early church by narrating briefly the key accounts of Bible translation. While mention has already been made of the significance of the koine Greek New Testament, we will focus on the translation of Scripture into Syriac, Latin, and Armenian with an eye toward their missional significance.
 Sanneh, Translating the Message, 1.
 Irvin and Sundquist, History of the World Christian Movement, 50.
 Sanneh, Translating the Message, 7, 29.
 Sanneh, Translating the Message, 31, 82.
 Sanneh, Translating the Message, 166.
(Pictured above: a facsimile of the Book of Kells (c. 800) on the Isle of Iona, Scotland taken during my trip there last Spring. This was an illustrated edition of the Latin Gospels completed by the Columban monks at Iona.)
3/19/2013 03:41:13 am
Dr. Smither, I would love to read this paper; do you have it in pdf or word, or is it available online? JETS?
3/19/2013 09:21:22 am
Sure, Matt, send me an email, and I'll send you a copy.
3/19/2013 09:37:59 am
That's great, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
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