No Longer a Stranger

December 05, 2011

With the growing attention to immigration issues in American politics, faith leaders are increasingly being pressed to speak out. The controversial comments by Republican presidential hopefuls on the topic and the passage of harsh laws in Arizona and Alabama and have brought the issue to the forefront of political, religious, and social discussions. Entering this scene comes a new biblical translation that includes an important translating decision. As Robert Parham of Ethics Daily noted, the Common English Bible translators decided to use "immigrant" instead of "alien" or "stranger." Parham praised this translation decision:

This is a concretizing and humanizing improvement of the biblical witness, removing the moral abstraction of "stranger" and depersonalization of "alien."
He is correct that the term "immigrant" provides a richer and more obvious meaning for today's society, which is one of the goals of translating a text. Paul Franklyn, an associate publisher of the Bible, explained they used the word "immigrant" since it "is the most up-to-date meaning" of the Hebrew word ("ger") being translated. He added:
Even when we shift to the word immigrant, as you can see in the sample book of Genesis that is posted at this site online, we have not eliminated the fear that permeates our society when new waves of immigrants compete for resources with old waves of immigrants. Most of us are by nature xenophobic. We have a fear of strangers, provided that we got here first. This phobia is not eliminated by switching from alien to immigrant in our common language. But it does help the participants in the modern political debate to think about what the Bible has to say about the ger
Although he is correct that it will not automatically stop the attitudes of fear and hate, it can help. Using one word over another will impact how people read those biblical passages, how they think about God's teachings, and how they view their responsibilities as believers. Changing the language can be the first step toward changing the attitudes and behaviors.