For those who believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, the issue of a loose or tight translation method is academic. Somehow, by the power of God, Joseph was able to translate the Book of Mormon plates. For those who reject the Book of Mormon as the word of God, the issue of the translation method is also academic — unbelievers are convinced that Joseph (or a cohort) wrote a fictional narrative and that there never were any Nephites or Lamanites.In the end, it's really a matter of faith. There are \"evidences\" that Joseph Smith translated an ancient text (some of those evidences were listed in previous issues and more evidences will follow in later issues), but secular \"proof\" is something that we ultimately won't find for any spiritual truth (more on this in a future issue).In this article, I'd like to tackle an important point related to the topic of Book of Mormon translation. As alluded to in the last article, some critics claim that if God gave Joseph the power to translate the Book of Mormon, then every single word in the English translation should be 100 percent accurate and precise.It's hard to understand how anyone who really thinks this through could make such a claim. Even if God would provide a perfect, unambiguous translation or text, that text would only be perfect and unambiguous to an audience of one — in the case of the Book of Mormon, that audience would be Joseph Smith. As soon as those words went from Joseph to anyone else, however, ambiguity would be unavoidable.As noted several times in this series, words only have meaning in a context, and documents are written not only from within a context but they are written to a specific audience as well. Translations are also written (or in the case of the Book of Mormon, dictated) to a specific audience within a specific context. As non-LDS Bible scholar Dr. Bruce Malina explains: \"...meaning does not come from the words. Meaning inevitably derives from the general social system of the speakers of a language\" (\"New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology,\" 1).It's disingenuous to claim that God could give a perfect translation if that translation is to be recorded in a human language and read by human readers. All human languages are, at times, ambiguous. All authors write from their own perspective, with their own understanding about the world, culture, etc. All readers interpret what they read according to their own understanding of what words mean, as well as how such words are depicted in their understanding of the world, culture, etc. As two prominent non-LDS Bible scholars explain, all readers \"must interact with the writing and 'complete' it if it is to make sense.... Every written document invites immediate participation on the part of the reader. Thus writings provide what is necessary, but cannot provide everything\" (Malina and Rohrbaugh, \"Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels,\" 8-14).Dr. William Hamblin, an expert on the ancient Near East, notes that there are two primary rules to follow when trying to understand any text that has been translated from a foreign language. The first is to accurately understand what the text has to say. This is typically done by reading the text in its original language. While we can't read the Book of Mormon in its original language, we can put forth the effort in trying to understand what the text has to say rather than simply assuming that the meaning of the text is obvious to 21st century readers.Second, Hamblin says that the reader \"must contextualize the text in its original setting — that is to say, read it in the context of the culture, history, values, science, and social norms from which the text derives\" (Hamblin, FARMS Review, 21:2, 50). While there are several theories as to the precise location of Book of Mormon events (and I, along with most LDS scholars, prefer the Mesoamerican geographic model (more on this in a future issue)), Latter-day Saints agree that the Nephites lived in the ancient Americas from about 600 B.C. until about 400 A.D. If we want to really understand what the Book of Mormon says, we need to \"contextualize\" the book with this time frame and general geography in mind.Knowing the ambiguity of language and the context of author and reader becomes important when we look at the reasons why Book of Mormon authors expressed or described some things in the Nephite text.