Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bible Translation

What Bible translations do you use for bible study? Yesterday I bought the new NLT study bible. I am loving it. The study notes cover a lot of material... it is impressive. I cannot wait till the ESV study bible comes out. Now there are 4 basic translational philosophies.
First, there is the paraphrase. The paraphrase is not really a translation in the strictest sense of the word. Basically the author of the paraphrase attempts to retell not translate what the original text says. Examples of a paraphrases are the Living Bible of the 1970 and the Message. I will bypass discussion over these paraphrase because I question how useful they really are for serious bible study.
Second, there is the dynamic equivalence ( I will call this DE). DE translations are probably the most popular. The NLT, NIV, TNIV are examples. The DE translation seek to translate thought for thought rather than word for word. The advantage of this kind of translation is that it helps modern readers understand the orignal text when phrases do not translates well literally. The disadvantage is that there is not always a consistency in word usage. Another problem is that sometime they do not use important theological words.
Third, there is the literal or essentially literal. Essentially literal and literal are actually two different categories but we will throw both of these into one category for our discussion. The advantage of this kind of translation is that it sticks, as best as possible to the original words of the biblical text. Also there is a consistency of translated words. There is also less interpretation over the meaning of the text, although there is obviously still some. The disadvantage is that the translation does not always fit within normal English word usage. Another problem is that idiomatic expressions are sometimes not given in English with an equivalent expression. That can actually be good and bad. The term literal translation can be kind of misleading. It is kinda like the term decalf coffee. No translation is strictly literal. If it was it would be unintelligible to read at times. Examples of a literal translation are the New American Standard Bible, the New Revised Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the English Standard Version, The New English Bible, the King James Version and the New King James Version.
Fourth, there is a new translational philosophy called the optimal equivalence. The Holman Christian Standard Bible is an optimal equivalence translation. The optimal equivalence translation seeks the best of the literal translation and the best of the dynamic equivalence. However, because it seeks to do what both the literal and the DE does it also has the weakness of both to more or less degree. I also think that the ESV is more or less an optimal equivalence translation. It leans more toward the literal translation while the HCSB may move more toward the DE.
Now which translation philosophy is the best? This has often the cause of controversy. Some say that DE is the way to go others say that literal translation is the best way to go. I think that they are both good. I think everybody needs a copy of at least one from either translation philosophy. The ESV is my main translation. This is because the word for word translation allows you to pay attention to word consistency. Also I think that the word for word translation correspond to expository preaching better than a thought for thought translation. Also, It allows you to see the translation with less interpretation into the text. Second translation that I go to is the HCSB. Third is the NLT and fourth is the TNIV (todays new international version). So as you can see when I study a passage I look at all types of translations. It is good to use at least two translations that you know will differ in how they are translated. This allows more objectivity as you approach the text.
When trying to find a translation to use remember this: all translation are just that, translations. If you want to be exact and precise you will have to learn the original languages. There are all kinds of online classes that are available. We live in a pretty awesome day in time.
One of the most important considerations when picking a translation to use is: what is the textual basis for the translation. When translations are made it is important to use the most accurate manuscript. For instance the NIV uses the USB3 while the TNIV uses the USB4. The USB4 is a more accurate text so if you use a translation you probably would rather go with the TNIV rather than the NIV. That does not mean the TNIV is perfect it just means it is translated with better manuscripts.
Anyhow, what translations do you use and in what order? What are your thoughts on translational philosophy?
My greek professor quotes an Italian proverb "traditorre traditore" (which I am not quite sure I spelled it right) but basically it means translators are traitors. The words sound exactly alike. The point is that no translation is perfect.

written by Stephen Stanford


Anonymous said...

We really do live in an ideal time for individual bible study. There are so many good bible helps available. In addition to these online sermons can be very helpful. Pastors as spiritual teachers provide us with teaching and explanations of the original languages if we don't know them. The importance of their teaching is great and they should be utilized, along with the teaching of our local pastors.
I agree that the use of many translations is wise. It is beneficial to see how scholars differ in translation. The real difference in the views is, I think, a difference in degree. Where one group tends to leave the text behind more readily than the other. DE are in danger of over interpreting a text. As a result the true or alternate meanings are obscured. In addition DE incorporates more commentary into the text, making it indistinguishable from it. For those that compare translations regularly this isn't much of a problem I suppose, but the real purpose is that they make the text more accessible. The reader need not do as much work. Other sources aren't as necessary for the average reader in this case. When the commentary is indistinguishable from the text the translation represents less than the original text does. EL translations encourage accurate historical familiarity (as opposed to the NCV) and the use of outside sources (pastors, commentaries, dictionaries,etc.) In addition EL cause less confusion by separating more commentary from the text. Idioms and alternate meanings can be understood by the use of outside materials. The shortcoming here is that not everyone will use their resources, settling for confusion.
Many translations are used almost exclusively by their owners. When this is the case important concepts could be lost on believers. This would happen more with DE than EL versions. I think that many of the problems that can arise have more to do with the readers and their study practices. When we discuss the difference in translations it is important to keep in mind that these things are controversial because of the readers of the translations. How will it effect their understanding of the bible and Truth? DE are more readily accessible on their own, while EL encourage the use of outside helps. Still, it is best to use more than one translation. The really problem is that with the reader. Does the reader have good study habits. What is the real usefulness of DE when their are commentaries and pastors that make the necessary information available? Are the translators of DE afraid that Readers will be turned away from the bible because it is too difficult to understand? Even though EL are more literal are they really that hard to understand? I would say that DE are unnecessary, but not always unhelpful. These are serious questions though, and the debate is a worthy one.
Here are a few more things to consider. Perhaps, the discussion should address the usefulness of these kinds of translation in the culture. Is the culture literate, Bible literate? How can we help people to become more familiar with Christian thought, and terminology?

Sam Gantt

Anonymous said...

great points Sam. I read today that those who have been trained in theology typically prefer a formal equivalence(EL) translation while those trained in linguistics typically prefer a DE translation. I thought that was interesting. Your right about the importance of study habits. I think I agree with your point that they are not needed. However I think that a supporter of the DE translation might argue that it is needed because the grammar in a EL version is not good english. One of the guys over at the better bibles blog argued that the EL versions necessary corrupt meaning because meaning does not translate in a formal equivalent fashion. I, like you, would question that point. So what translation do you readers use when you study a bible text? In what order?

Anonymous said...

my sixth line is mistaken. The antecedent of "they" is not study habits but rather DE. Perhaps I need a DE translator to translate my sentences!