Time for a Great Quote (C.S. Lewis on the power to translate)

12 Jan

C.S. Lewis wrote:
“In both [England and America] an essential part of the ordination exam ought to be a passage from some recognized theological work set for translation into vulgar English—just like doing Latin prose. Failure on this exam should mean failure on the whole exam. It is absolutely disgraceful that we expect missionaries to the Bantus to learn Bantu but never ask whether our missionaries to the Americans or English can speak American or English. Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can’t turn your faith into it, then either you don’t understand it or you don’t believe it.”  (Published in The Christian Century, 31 December 1958, pp. 1006-1007.)

 “To conclude — you must translate Screenshot 2016-01-09 06.42.33every bit of your Theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential. It is also of the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning.” (C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock)



Posted by on January 12, 2016 in theology


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2 responses to “Time for a Great Quote (C.S. Lewis on the power to translate)

  1. Jimmy Weiss

    July 20, 2020 at 5:37 pm

    Dr. Larry Dixon, have you considered the connection between Lewis’s “translation” and the scriptural gifts of interpretation of tongues, and the speaking of tongues? I am contending for an understanding of “tongues” as “glossaries,” or collections of hard words that need to be explained. The Greek used to refer to the gift we call “tongues” is “glossais,” and this same Greek word comes into English as the word “glossary.” It seemed C.S. Lewis’s “translation” was precisely a translation from esoteric glossary to comprehensible vernacular.

    • Dr. Larry Dixon

      July 21, 2020 at 6:58 am

      Interesting research topic, Mr. Weiss. Would you agree that tongues (at least in Acts 2) were known languages? Blessings. Dr. D.


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