Robert Wilken on the language of scripture

How, it is asked, are we to speak of God in an age of light bulbs and computers? The assumed answer is that we need to translate the idiom of the Scriptures into the idiom of our own time, to discuss the biblical faith in terms intelligible in the nonbiblical categories of today.

The difficulty with this program of translation is that the language of the Bible is irreplaceable, and more often than not the consequence of ‘translation’ is that the language of the Scriptures is supplanted by another language or relegated to the footnotes. It ceases to be the vehicle of thought. As necessary as it is to ‘translate’ the Bible into the though patterns of our age, it is also the case that Christians in every generation must learn afresh how to think and imagine in the language and idiom of the Scriptures.

from Remembering the Christian Past (Eerdmans, 1995), 175-6.

Note too that Augustine holds fast to the biblical language. A less gifted preacher—and especially a contemporary one—might be inclined to translate the biblical language into the current cultural idiom. Augustine, however, translates one set of biblical terms into terms from elsewhere in the Bible. He knew that the language of the Bible is more resonant, more affective, more enduring (because it will be heard again), richer in spiritual and moral content, and more edifying than any local idiom.

from The Sermon on the Mount through the Centuries (2007), 49.

Also don’t miss: “The Church’s Way of Speaking,” First Things, 2005