Bible Translation: February 2007 Archives

Kenny Pearce has a thoughtful post on the continuum between what some might call more literal and what they would call less literal Bible translations. I wish I had time to comment on it myself, but I thought some readers of this blog might appreciate it.

Leland Ryken's Choosing a Bible: Understanding Bible Translation Differences is not really a guide to different Bible translations, as a the title might suggest, but a very short polemic against popular Bible translations that fall under the category commonly known as dynamic equivalence translations (e.g. the New Living Translation and to a lesser degree the New International Version) and in favor of what he calls essentially literal translations (e.g. the New American Standard Bible or Ryken's preferred translation, the English Standard Version). Dynamic equivalence translations are less concerned about matching every word with a word in English (or some smaller unit of meaning) and more interested in capturing the sense or basic meaning of each sentence (or some larger unit of meaning).

I'm generally in agreement with Ryken on some of the issues that drive his arguments in this book, but I think he way overstates his case far too often to give this book a good recommendation. Here is where I agree with Ryken. We ought to be more careful in translating the Bible than some of the more dynamic translations often are. When there is an ambiguity in the text that scholars do not tend to agree on, we should seek to preserve the ambiguity in the translation. When translators can avoid working too much interpretation into their text without sacrificing genuine English language grammar and semantics, they should do so.

However, Ryken does not stop at such moderated claims. He argues that it is always wrong to interpret the text when translating, which is impossible. English words are usually not exactly equivalent in meaning to Greek or Hebrew words, and any translation will be inexact. Sometimes inexactness in one way is better than inexactness in another, but Ryken seems to disallow any interpretation at all, which strikes me as ignoring the fact that translators must interpret before figuring out how to translate. How do you know which words to translate in which ways unless you know what they mean in the particular context? That takes interpretation.

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