The Dynamic NASB and ESV

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Doug at announces his preference for the ESV over other Bible translations. I'm not going to comment on most of what he says, but I found one thing very interesting. He gives a number of different translations of Psalm 119:11. You can check the post for the different versions, but here's what fascinated me. Aside from The Message, the most dynamic translation out there (done by a real scholar or scholars, anyway), the two most dynamic translations of that verse were the NASB and the ESV, which are normally much more formal translations. All the others retain some word for hiding when they record the psalmist's statement that he's hidden God's word in his heart. The NASB and the ESV use other words. The NASB psalmist has treasured God's word in his heart, and the ESV psalmist has stored it up in his heart. I just found that interesting, but it underlies an important point.

The NASB tends to be the most formally equivalent of English translations, to the point of not sounding like English. The ESV does much better at sounding like English but isn't quite as formally equivalent. Yet on individual verses, other translations will turn out to be more formally equivalent, because every translation will make decisions about when to be more dynamic in how to translate particular expressions. In this case, the translators decided it would be misleading to talk about hiding God's word, as if that means they're keeping it so others can't find it. That's why dynamic translations do not alter the word of God. They make clearer what the word of God says.

Update: I found Rodney Decker's review of the ESV, which points out a number of places where the ESV is probably accurate to reflect the meaning but has supplied words where the original does not have them, and it does limit the exegetical options. This sort of illustrates the same point. Even the more so-called literal translations will do this, so it's best to have multiple translations for careful study. Yet this also shows that the functional equivalence or dynamic translations are just doing a little more of what the formal equivalence translations do all the time in ways that people who call for a literal translation will not like.

Decker has some very effective arguments against the kinds of claims you'll find in such literalists as Leland Ryken, whom Decker claims just doesn't understand Greek well enough to know that the best way to translate a subjective genitive into English will require what Ryken would call supplying words not in the original. Of course, every word in the English is not in the original. The question is how many words are necessary to translate a subjective genitive, which is only one word in the original. The truth is that it will be more than one, usually a few.

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Just in case, it was Doug who posted that article over at Challies' place. They have something like what you and wink have going here.

Your observation is well taken. Most translations of the Bible are a mixture of formal and dynamic equivalence, including versions which are, overall, more formally dynamic than others, such as the NASB and ESV. It is worth examining the translation of each version, and even each sentence or clause of each verse, in discussions such as these. BTW, I like parables, too!

What?! There is no Psalm 199:11! Was this a typo, or a trick to catch the un-astute?


I think your overall point is valid, but the example you give (I'm assuming you mean Psalm 119:11?) doesn't support it because store up, treasure, etc are legitimate definitions of the word along with hid. The KJV, for instance, translates that same word "laid up" in Psalm 31:19 and many other places as well.

Hmm. The commentaries I looked at spoke as if treasuring was more the sense of it and not the literal meaning and that it was more about location.

It's misleading to say "compared to the originals", as no one living has ever seen the originals. I know it's common practice to do so, but you lend an air of authority where none exists. It's better to say "compared to the Codex Siniaticus" or whetever base Greek Hebrew text you mean.

When you translate, there's an original language and a language you're translating into. If I'm talking about translation, the referent of 'the original' is the original language and what the thing I'm translating says. That says nothing about whether I'm translating something that someone just wrote or whether it was the process of a long line of manuscript copying. The original is the thing I'm translating. There's nothing inaccurate about that. If I were talking about text criticism, you'd be right. We should make guarded judgments about what reading might be original. That's not what 'the original' refers to in a translation discussion, though. It simply refers to whatever it is that you're translating.

Does anybody have BDB or KB to look up the semantic range of the word for "hid" in Psalm 119:11? That would give us the answer. I skimped too much in buying books for my Hebrew classes so I can't say.

I don't know a lick of real Hebrew, just the words I see transliterated in English sentences in commentaries and other works. Wink?

KB is better, but I looked it up in BDB (these refer to lexicons, I use the abbrev. since anybody who owns them would know the abbrev.). It has listed "hide, treasure up." It seems like it is so often used as "treasure" that it should be considered as part of its semantic range and thus still a literal translation. Also, interestingly, it looks like the noun form means "treasure." Commentaries may mean that the root or something literally refers to "hide" but it seems that the meaning of "treasure up" is so common that it should just be considered part of the normal semantic range. But my Greek is a billion times better than my Hebrew (I was preparing for doctoral work in NT before changing directions) and one should check KB.

"Decker has some very effective arguments against the kinds of claims you'll find in such literalists as Leland Ryken, whom Decker claims just doesn't understand Greek well enough to know that the best way to translate a subjective genitive into English will require what Ryken would call supplying words not in the original. Of course, every word in the English is not in the original. The question is how many words are necessary to translate a subjective genitive, which is only one word in the original. The truth is that it will be more than one, usually a few."

I am not totally familiar with what Decker/Ryken are saying, but I can comment based on what you are saying here.

For me the issue is not so much that the subjective genitive requires more words in English. For me the problem is that it is an interpretive decision and those who are calling for a more formal translation are saying that translation should make as few translation decisions as possible. I say "few" because everybody knows that translation involves at least some interpretation. If there was no doubt among major scholars and it is obviously a subjective genitive, then I say translate it using "extra" words. But if not, then I say it is better to leave it as formal as possible.

What most literalists have a problem with, from my understanding, is that many syntax decisions are debatable even among scholars and a formal English translation in many cases has roughly the same syntactical choices and so by leaving it formal, it leaves it for the English reader to think through the syntax. While by opting for a particular syntactical choice could give an English reader the wrong impression.

Overall, I think all types of translations are useful for different purposes and that people just need to have a couple different translations; one more formal and one more dynamic.

I think the case he was talking about was one where the scholars pretty much agreed that it's a subjective genitive (except Wallace, who would have a different name for each genitive in the NT if he could get away with it).

My problem is this. What happens if the formal translation in English excludes the subjective genitive? Then you have a choice, and you have to choose whichever you think is more likely. That sometimes happens, and I've heard formalists accuse functional translations of watering down the Bible over things like that, which is just nuts.

If the case he was talking about was one where scholars pretty much agreed that it was a subjective genitive and "literalists" were still holding out on a formal translation, then I would agree with you that it is foolish and they should just opt for adding "extra" words.

I would also agree with your comment about Wallace! That made me laugh since it is a very apt description of Wallace. Is there any end to the number of categories he can think of or hairs he can split?

Yes, with translations where a formal English translation would exclude the most probable Greek syntactical choice, then I think translators need to just go ahead and take their best shot. In some cases it is not possible to give a "neutral" or "ambiguous" translation. But my point was that lots of times one can come up with a formal English translation that is open to being seen according to either of the major Greek syntactical options and when even scholars are divided on the syntax, the "literalists" would argue that it should be kept formal. Here I would probably agree with them. Where "literalists" are arguing for a formal translation purely on the basis of not adding "extra" words or on the basis that somehow a person can do a totally "neutral" non interpretive translation, I think they are nuts. But I do think they have some rational for keeping the "interpration" to a minimal "where possible."

I am curious on this specific case of the subjective genitive. I would imagine that a subjective genitive, could be left formal in English and still be understood. The classic case is the "faith of Christ" example where Hays and company argues for a subjective genitive. Even in English I can see that as a subjective genitive in a formal English translation. It is the objective genitive that I would see as difficult to get from a formal translation in English since I am not sure that English ever uses an objective genitive and even if they do it is rare. So an English reader would never get "faith in Christ" from "faith of Christ."

A couple of places where I favor a more formal translation where dynamic translations might not, is with participles and examples like "crown of life" in James. I think it is best to leave participles without making a choice of "causal" or whatever for a few reasons:
1. In most cases there are a couple of major choices among scholars.
2. The formal structure never fully determines what kind of syntax to see. Although Wallace does give a number of indicators, but still not certain.
3. An English reader themselves can still think through the relatonship between the main verb and participle when it is left in a formal translation. When the translators make a choice on the syntax of the participle and make the translation, then the English reader is totally unaware that there are even other options and they will think the causal idea is certain or whatever the case may be.

With the "crown of life" in James, I personaly favor an apposition, but I think that apposition can still be seen as a possibility in the English text and that there are other legitimate possibilities on the syntax so I would prefer a formal translation rather than adding words to make the apposition more clearly.

Similar issues occur with word order and trying to determine which words attach to one another such as adverbs/adjectives. Often in the Greek there is some dispute as to what attaches to what and where the same ambiguity can be left in a formal English translation, I would favor that.

But overall, I am totally against the false idea that one can get a totally "neutral" translation and that one should not add "extra" words for the sake of it. But I would tend to draw back on interpretive decisions when a formal English translation can be given that allows for the major synactical options.

Overall, I still believe that having a variety of translations on the dynamic/formal scale is helpful and that a person should at least have one of each. Some literalists seem to make it sound like one should only use a formal translation, but I think that is foolish. But from those people I sometimes get the feeling that everybody out there just needs to go and learn Greek and Hebrew.

Decker's example is I Thess 1:3, the work of faith, which some dynamic translations translate as the work produced by faith. I can't even think of what a work of faith might be other than that, but the way the formal translations put it doesn't sound like English to people who haven't been steeped in reading the Bible in formal translations.

Interesting that Decker reads "work of faith" in 1 Thes. 1:3 as a subjective genitive. I would have thought maybe a genitive of source/origin. I believe Bruce takes that route, but it has been awhile since I have looked. But subjective genitive could make good sense becaue of the verse in Gal. about "faith working through love." With the verse in Gal. it is the faith that is doing the working. Plus, source/origin and subjective genitive end up with roughly the same meaning. Personally, I might consider a "work which consists of faith" since I see "obedience of faith" in Romans epexegetically. But the "faith working through love" in Gal. might point me to the subjective genitive here in Thes. The other issue of course is that there are two other sort of parallel type of genitives in the verse.

Your comment about the difficulty of formal translations for many English readers is a point well taken. This is why I do think there is a real place for more dynamic translations that do make more interpretive decisions explicit. For many reaers a more dynamic translation may be better. But if people can handle a formal English translation and what to do some of the more detailed study I think they should work with both. I would say that if people are going to use dynamic translations that I think they should switch from time to time since it may open up seeing passages in a different light.

I agree with the main point here, but just have my few additions. Your writings raise a lot of good and interesting points and make for good discussions.

In case I was not clear in what I had to say (thanks for the link, by the way), I would like to point out that the only thing I had to say about the Message was this:

"It is pretty clear to me that these different translations have the same general meaning. I'm no fan of "the Message" and would not study it for any reason other than to note the changes in word and in tone."

I went so far as to say that the general interpretation of what that verse said is the same for me, no matter which version one reads and that it is the Holy Spirit, speaking to the heart as we read these words that matters, not just the words.

The topic of this dynamic paraphrase took over in the forums, and my point was this:

"If the Message was advertised as a verse for verse commentary and not as a Bible, I would have no problem with it."

I see one person's reflections on the Bible useful for a commentary. In that regard, the Message is a wonderful book. I prefer to read a version that is more true to the original, though, and trust the Holy Spirit to help me understand it.

This is all a matter of preference, when you break it down. My preference is ESV for the time (hopefully long term), and I was lamenting and also celebrating the re-memorization and re-familiaration that goes with a translation change. Since I'm quoting myself here, I will include how I ended my post over at the Challies Community Blog:

"Translations come and go but the will of the Lord is eternal. Hiding the word of God in my heart means more than memorization, for when the heart of man truly meets the word of God, the heart cannot remain unchanged. The heart is what God is seeking, not the words that are spoken. The word of God is powerful, but to an unchanged heart it remains just words."

This really wasn't intended to be a dig on anybody else's preferred translation. I trust that you realized that as soon as you read what I had to say.

Doug, I wasn't commenting on what you had to say. Those were issues that I didn't have time to get into as I was constructing this post, and I just wanted to point out the interesting differences in translating that one verse. I was citing you as the one who had the list of translations of that one verse and then saying what I had to say about it. My preferred translation is the ESV as well.

We're good. I used that verse, by the way, to promote the symmetry of interpretation to show that no one translation is infallable. I have seen times, though, when disputes can be generated in the discussion following the post. I'm glad that we agree in this.

I have visited the Parableman blog before but somehow missed this page. I like it. You guys are able to talk to each other without accusing each other of heresy! :-)

Maybe I can check in here every once in awhile, although I keep pretty busy with other Bible translation discussion groups and my own Bible translation work. (Hurray, today we finished recording the voice of Jesus in the tribal language in which we work. After the work, Jesus wept--well, the wonderful man speaking the part of Jesus wept--it was a special time.)

BTW, Jeremy, thank for posting on my new blog. You're welcome back there any time, even to razz me some. :-)

Thanks for clarifying above - I had not considered that.

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