There was a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Authorized Version in Westminster Abbey this past week. Queen Elizabeth was in attendance. Rowan Williams preached a sermon that is worth reading.
He alludes to the problems inherent in translation and the importance of interpretation but he is much more interested in the role of the text in the life of the community:
But what the 1611 translators grasped was that hearing the Word of God was a lifelong calling that had to be undertaken in the company of other readers and was never something that left us where we started.
it was meant to be read aloud. And that means that it was meant to be part of an event, a shared experience. Gathered as a Christian community, the parish would listen, in the context of praise, reflection and instruction, to scripture being read: it provided the picture of a whole renewed universe within which all the other activities made sense. It would not be immediately intelligible by any means, but it marked out the territory of God’s work of grace.
The Guardian’s report on the celebration is here.
Williams reminds us of the open and unfinished nature of translation, to use other language, that translation always involves interpretation. That means scripture always eludes our efforts to capture and contain it, to define and fix its meaning. More importantly, he also urges us to take seriously our obligation to devote our lives to engaging the text, wrestling with its meanings. As Williams puts it, scripture invites us “to a pilgrimage further and further into the mysteries of [God’s] mind and love.”