Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bible Translations: Dynamic or Literal?

Taken from
In a previous post, The Bible Is Relevant, but not Relative, I proposed 4 reasons why we are so tempted to read the Bible with a careless, relativistic attitude. Here, I add a fifth one. I think one factor contributing to Evangelical's cavalier or irreverent attitude towards correct Bible interpretation is the existence of so many English translations. You could probably name a few off the top of your head, but do you know that there are about 20 in circulation today?! Why so many?

"Dynamic Equivalence" and the Explosion of English Translations

The Bible was first translated into English by the great John Wycliffe in 1380, and for the first time in many centuries, the word of God was once again accessible to the common people. This made possible the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, which in turn produced the legendary King James Version of 1611. For centuries, the KJV was the English Bible. But about 60 years ago, there was a sudden explosion of new translations. Hence, the baffling number of options we are faced with today.

To keep things simple, I'll just say that the reason for the paradigm shift was a new theory of translation, that is, the "dynamic equivalence" theory. According to DET, it is not enough that the Bible be understandable to the common person, but that it should be easy to understand. Therefore, it is more important to capture the meaning of each verse, than to translate the actual words used in the original Hebrew and Greek (H&G, the languages in which the Bible was written). DET also prefers colloquial language over "high" or reverent language. Examples of DET translations are the NIV-TNIV-NIVI, Living Bible, MESSAGE, CEV, and TEV.

Standing in opposition to DET is the "essentially literal" tradition. ELT continues the tradition of the KJV, producing translations that are much closer to the original H&G, and tend to use formal/reverent English. Some modern ELT Bibles are the ESV, NASB, NKJV, and NET.

"Thus Says the LORD"?
I think the DET-ELT debate can be boiled down to this: Should God's word be paraphrased, if it will make reading the Bible easier? That's a tricky question, but my simple answer is, "Only in special cases, and not as a norm." When I read a book labeled "The Bible," I want to be sure that I'm actually reading God's very words. I want the real deal. I need the real deal. I don't want someone else's paraphrase of God's word, because when the prophets and apostles said, "Thus says the Lord," they meant it.

The problem with non-literal translations is that you're never really sure whether you're reading something "God-breathed" (2Tm.3:16), or someone's clever and possibly incorrect interpretation of God's word.

The Temptation to Use the Convenient Translation

With so many translations available to us, guess what we tend to do when we're too lazy to think long and hard over a difficult passage of Scripture? We choose whichever translation tends to suit our preferences best, right? Never mind whether the translation we use is actually faithful to God's inspired word. As long as we get to make our point, right? God forgive us!

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