Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: A Brief Explanation of Translations

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Brief Explanation of Translations

I am asked almost every Sunday which translation of the Bible I read from the pulpit. With the holidays here, I have been getting quite a few questions about what kind of bible to purchase. I thought it might be helpful to describe in very brief detail the basic translation philosophies that go behind the current popular versions available today. Keep in mind this only scratches the surface. The translation process is extremely complicated.

Traduttore, traditore – Italian proverb, “translators, traitors”

The very first thing to mention when discussing the translation process is that it is impossible to translate without losing something, without betraying the original. Translating from one language into another is not as easy as simply plugging the words into a magic translation machine and out pops the equivalent. So, in some way or another, every English translation we have is a commentary of sorts. There is no such thing as a “pure” translation. But don’t lose heart! We can still confidently say that we read the inspired, inerrant Word of God. But, that is a post for a different time.

Essentially Literal – sometimes called “word-for-word” or “formal equivalence”. The philosophy behind this translation model is to as accurately as possible translate into English word for word what was written in the original manuscripts. This method seeks to represent each word of the translated text with an exact equivalent word in English so that the reader can see exactly what the original author had written. The benefits of such a translation is that it is consistent with the idea that the Holy Spirit inspired every word in the original manuscripts. Also, this method keeps some the form and structure of the language. Downsides to this method are that it can become “choppy” and not easy to read. Plus, at times ancient idioms are all but impossible to understand with a direct English equivalent. The New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version are good examples of essentially literal.

Dynamic Equivalence – sometimes called “thought-fort-thought”. This philosophy sets out to determine the meaning of the original texts from their form and then translate in such a way that the same impact is made on the contemporary reader that was made on the ancient reader. The emphasis here is not on word for word translation as it is getting the meaning across. Strength of this method include an easier, smoother reading bible and idioms that are placed into our 21st century mindset. Some even boast of having a “5th grade reading level.” Weaknesses include the possibility of the translators including too much commentary, that is, too much of their own theology into the translation. The New Living Translation and New Century Version are examples of Dynamic Equivalence.

Optimal Equivalence. This model has really developed with the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I have not seen this used with any other version. Basically, the Southern Baptist Convention got ticked off at the NIV, a dynamic equivalent translation, and decided to issue their own translation that Lifeway would sponsor. The translating team came up with “optimal equivalence” as a way to blend the best parts of both essentially literal and dynamic equivalence. I do not really recommend this translation and have not found it to “catch on” in SBC churches as of yet. Time will tell.

So what is best for you? If you are interested in word studies or are a student of the Bible, then an essentially literal translation is best. If you are looking for a readable translation that “makes sense”, then a dynamic equivalence version is best. Stay away from paraphrases as your “go to” bible. They are fine for follow up and reference, but should not be your normal read. The Message is the most popular paraphrase.

So, I hope that helps a little. Blessings in your search!


Anonymous Rexwilder said...

Since I grew up on the KJV, where would that fit in these different concepts?

December 18, 2006 12:52 PM  
Blogger The Beast said...

The King James Version (KJV) is an essentially literal version. However, it is interesting to note that this version, which to this day is still considered by some to be the "only" bible, held very closely to the Bishops Bible of the day in the translation process. We really do not understand how much of an influence the KJV language had and still has on our language today. I will post a new entry on that sometime.

December 18, 2006 2:02 PM  
Anonymous Agog said...

I actually read the NKJV and it still has the same feel of the original but does not have all the Thee and Thous

December 19, 2006 8:34 PM  

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