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Translating the Aesthetic Forms of Scripture

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series

"Biblical Authority and the Aesthetics of Scripture"

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In By the Waters of Babylon, I make a brief statement about how the aesthetic forms of Scripture should guide and regulate worship forms today. In this series, I am attempting to flesh out that argument a bit more. Up to this point, I have argued that truth expressed in Scripture is not merely scientific fact statements, but verbal plenary inspiration demands that the aesthetic forms in Scripture are inspired by God and are essential to the truth he wishes to communicate to us through his Word.

This perspective affects translation of Scripture as well. Unlike Islam, which teaches that the Koran must not be translated into other languages, Christianity has always encouraged the translation of the entire Bible from its original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into new languages as Christianity spreads to new civilizations. But, as Rod Decker argued in his 2006 DBSJ article, “If we accept the Bible as inspired and inerrant in the original autographs, then we will be very concerned to represent it accurately in translation.”1 “The goal of Bible translation,” Decker argues, is “accurate communication of an objective, historically-rooted, written divine revelation.”2

However, if verbal-plenary inspiration requires attention to the very words, grammatical structures, and historical context of the original texts, then it follows that it also requires equal attention to the aesthetic forms and devices biblical authors used in their writing as well. Leland Ryken expresses it this way:

We can rest assured that the Bible as it was written is in the form that God wants us to have. . . . If the writers of the Bible were at some level guided and even ‘carried along’ by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), it is a logical conclusion that the Holy Spirit moved some biblical authors to write poetry, others to imagine prophetic visions, and so forth. The very forms of biblical writing are inspired.3

Therefore, just as determining the meaning of texts of Scripture requires knowledge of the language, grammar, and history of the original text, so it requires knowledge of the aesthetic forms of the text as well. And, just as the original grammar and context provides regulation for translating the text into a new language, so the original aesthetic forms and devices likewise regulate how the Bible’s texts are translated into new aesthetic forms.

The important factor is that the meaning of the original text is accurately rendered in the new translation, and meaning is found in words, grammar, syntax, history, culture, and aesthetics.

Next week I’ll begin to talk about how I understand this way of thinking to affect contemporary worship forms.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Rodney J. Decker, “Verbal-Plenary Inspiration and Translation,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 11 (2006): 41. []
  2. Ibid., 33. []
  3. Leland Ryken, The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002), 129–30. Emphasis original. []