Bible Translation: January 2009 Archives

John Hobbins divides Bible translations into the following two categories:

Which do you prefer: (1) a translation that makes sense on its own, without off-site explanation, or (2) a translation that is a head-scratcher until an explanation is given which clears things up, and even then leaves you wondering if you have it right?

Most people who speak this way intend the former category to be what is called dynamic equivalence and the latter what is called formal equivalence. Usually the English Standard Version is held up as the most recent and best example of the second category, although some put the New Revised Standard in that place. The New Living Translation is my favored candidate for the first category. A number of others exist that I don't like at all. The New International Version and its revision Today's New International Version occupy the middle ground between the two (but the NIV seems to me to be closer to the first category than to the second, and the TNIV is closer to the second than the first, except in gender language which is closer to the first than even the NIV).

John seems to be saying that pretty much everyone really wants (1), even if they actually use one of the translations in (2), but that many examples in translations in category (1) really don't achieve the purpose very well. Henry Neufeld responds with several reasons someone might actually prefer category (2) translations while insisting on a balanced perspective of using and recommending both kinds of translations as the circumstance warrants. I agree with Henry in general, but I think he's actually ignored some of the reasons why someone might want to use the kinds of translations usually put into the second category. The rest of this post is adapted from a comment I left on Henry's post.

Here are several reasons to prefer certain translations that are often classified in category 2 that don't require sitting at a desk with all your study tools present. One complaint against the NIV and TNIV that I believe also applies to the NLT has to do with consistency of translation. You always know when the KJV, NASB, and ESV are translating 'hesed', because it's translated as the same expression every time. All you need to know is that the KJV uses 'lovingkindness' for that term and for no other term and that the ESV uses 'steadfast love' or whatever it uses. When I read the TNIV, I often wonder which term is being used. It's actually the TNIV that I need my study tools to understand, not the ESV.

The same goes for terms often translated in the ESV as "flesh". While the ESV isn't as consistent on this as some of the other Tyndale-tradition translations, it's far more consistent than the TNIV or NLT. When I read the TNIV and see a term in that general ballpark, I often wonder if it's the same term usually translated "flesh" in the category 2 translations, but I usually know if it is by simply reading it in the ESV. So the category 2 translations are again in practice working out to fit the category 1 description and vice versa.

On the gender-inclusive issue, the same thing happens with 'adelphoi'. The ESV always translates it as "brothers". When I see "brothers and sisters" in the TNIV, I usually wonder if it says something explicit about sisters or if it's the translation philosophy supplying that.

Now you have to know something about Bible translation to be in a position to benefit from these translations the way I do, although you can get some of it just from reading the introduction to the translation, which doesn't require sitting at a desk with lots of study tools. Also, if you can think globally about what you read and have a good memory for exact words you can benefit somewhat in these ways without such prior knowledge, because you can observe much of it on your own. I'm not saying that this is a reason everyone should use these translations. But it's one of my primary reasons for liking the ESV, and it has nothing to do with the reasons Henry gives or the context he suggests for when someone would want to have a translation like this at hand.

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