This is a big metaphor, almost a parable, if I could write better. I want to tell how not to build a house.
I know we will want some light in our new house so I go buy some windows. I space them around me. Since Home Depot sells them with frames I’m able to balance them on the flat bottoms of the frames, sort of. But it would be nice if we had something underneath them so we could see out of the windows at eye level. Sigh!
Well, if I am going to keep this blog going and check on world news, I am going to have to get wired for the Internet (priorities, right?!). So I call the phone company and ask them for Internet service. No problem. They are able to flip a switch at a city junction box not too far away.
But I still don’t have anything to plug my computer into to pick up an Internet signal. Oh, I also need a phone line? OK, I’ll call the phone company back and ask to have a phone line installed. I wait a couple of days and a phone technician arrives. He looks at me a little funny when he sees me sitting on my Easyboy chair with my laptop in my lap, and some windows propped up around me, but doesn’t say anything. He strings a cable from the nearest electric pole and brings it close to one of the windows. He tells me that should be the right amount of cable. He attaches a box and says that the interior phone wiring has to be done by my contractor or paid for separately if he is supposed to do it. He hesitates, but then says, “Of course, you’re going to need some walls for me to run the phone wires through if I am going to do the job.” Hmm!
Walls, of course! Why didn’t I think of them in the first place?! OK, back I go to Home Depot and ask a nice service person where I can buy some walls. “Walls?” she asked. “Yes, walls,” I answered. “Well,” she replied. We don’t sell walls. You have to build the wall yourself, but we do stock all the parts for walls.” “OK, I said, then I want to buy those parts.”
She took me to the lumber department and pointed to some 2×4’s. She said, “Those would make good studs.” My mind had wondered a little. I was thinking about my next blog post. When she said “good studs”, I thought maybe she was referring to men like me. Oops!
I didn’t wait for her to tell me if I needed anything besides stud. I bought the 2×4’s and headed home. I tried to balance the studs, 16 inches on center, but most of them fell over. They were even more difficult to balance upright than the windows. I realized I would need something to connect to each stud.
Connections, connections! Each time I turned around it seemed like something needed to be connected to something else. I just wanted my house in good shape so I good get all my great ideas into blog posts.
I decided I should have taken my brother-in-law’s advice and hired a contractor to build the house. And he also said I would need a floor plan so the contractor would know how to put everything together. I had missed the big picture.
I had been so focused on each small thing that I wanted in the house that I had forgotten about all the connections that would be needed from one part to another. I had forgotten the most important thing, the big picture, how it all would fit together at the end, how it would look, whether it would be pleasing to my family, not to mention our neighbors who I had caught glances of watching me a few times, shaking their heads as they watched me trying to stand up the windows frames and the studs.
I guess a house can be something like how we communicate with language. There are small parts like words, bigger parts such as phrases and clauses and sentences. But even these parts all have to fit together well according to an overall plan that helps determine how the smaller parts fit together. Following a (meaningful!) master plan can result in a house that looks nice and works well.
It’s not enough just to make good phrases and hope I can get them to connect well together. The language parts all have to relate to each other according to principles (rules) unique to each language, something like a building code, not just words or phrases strung along as I had been doing with the smaller parts of my house. And everything had to fit within the master plan for our particular house, er, paragraph or concept, that I’m trying to communicate.
Translation should replicate an original building (text), but do it following the code of whatever language is being translated into. And the code tells us which parts can be used and how they are supposed to connect together. There is still plenty of room for creativity working within the framework of the code.
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear 🙂
I invite you to give examples of English Bible translation wordings which focus on the smaller units of language but miss how they are connected to the larger pieces. They miss the the expression of ideas according to the building code of English, examples which linguistically stumble along rather than flow.