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Considering Bible Translation, Two Recent Essays

The method or theory of bible translation is an important and, at times, a complicated issue. It is something pastors need to consider. I have made clear elsewhere that I favor a more literal translation, rather than a dynamic equivalence approach. I don’t think dynamic equivalence translations are evil, but I think there is much to be gained in as literal a translation as possible.

Two recent essays have discussed this issue in significant detail, saying better than I could things I have wanted to say. So, I will point you to them.

The first essay is from Alan Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton (I have previously commended his book on C. S. Lewis). This is a fairly lengthy post but a very valuable one. The issue in translation often hinges on what English today does or should sound/look like, so this analysis from a prominent English professor is significant. After referring to “an assertively egalitarian, democratizing, and anti-elitist culture like our own today,” Jacobs begins to describe how such a culture shapes approaches to translation.

Only in such a culture would something like “dynamic equivalence” models of translation be developed, because dynamic equivalence – which encourages translators to ask how we in our time and place might say whatever the Bible is taken to say – allows one to deal with difficult passages in the original text not by translating them but by interpreting their obscurities out of existence. Such passages must be cleared away, whenever possible, in order to make the crooked places straight and the rough places plain. The simple and problem-free translation then offers itself as evidence of the simplicity and problem-freeness of the biblical text itself. The translators thus stand to their readers in loco parentis: The “little children” never have to know what struggles their scholarly fathers undertook in order to protect them from the agonies of interpretive confusion.

I encourage you to read the whole of Jacobs’ essay.

Second, Jim Hamilton, professor at Southern Seminary, has written an important critique titled, “Dynamic Equivalence: The Method is the Problem.” Jim gives several good examples of the difference between dynamic equivalence translation and a more literal translation. Contrasting the way the NET Bible translates John 9:24, Hamilton writes:

People may have to give some thought to the phrase “give glory to God.” Human beings are made in the image of God. They have enormous capacity. Give them a literal, wooden translation, and they might be forced to slow down and think as they read. They might ponder. They might begin to recognize certain Johannine styles of phrasing things – if translators would give them John’s actual words.

“Promise before God to tell the truth” sounds like something we would say. It doesn’t sound like John. That is the problem.

Hamilton’s essay is balanced and well argued.

I encourage you to take time to read both essays and consider this important issue.

3 Comments

  1. Ray says:

    Hey Ken,
    Sorry I failed to follow up. That piece from Blomberg is really quite poor. We would agree on the translation he calls for in 1 Tim 3:11, but the principle he trumpets there is not on display elsewhere in the NIV. His comments at the end about the NIV being owned by Christians instead of a publisher are really odd and poorly argued. Those publishing houses are led by Christians just like his committee is.

  2. Ken Litscher says:

    Thanks for sharing, Ray. I’m curious as to your thoughts on Craig Blomberg’s recent posts (http://www.denverseminary.edu/craig-blombergs-blog-new-testament-musings/), especially the most recent one concerning 1 Tim 3:11. He scratches the surface on a dynamic equivalent vs literal translation approach.

  3. Denny Burk says:

    Good stuff! Thanks, Ray!

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