The Study Of Bible Translation
By Timothy Binion
The Original languages Hebrew ( small portions written in Aramaic) and Greek were chosen by God to reveal His Divine will. Thousands of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts were preserved by God to insure accuracy of the words that are Divinely inspired of God. Translators bring these words from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts to our own language (Receptor Language). One of three primary methods (also called theories or philosophies) of translation is adopted to bridge the historical distance or gap between the original and receptor languages. Every receptor language whether French, German, Spanish, English etc . . . must first discover which method the translators have used in order to chose the best translation. One must question how these translators dealt with the differences in our understanding of words, grammar, idioms, culture and history. The degree to which one is willing to go in order to bridge the gap between two languages have flooded the market with different translations and challenge us in choosing the best English version. For example, should the word "torch" be translated "flashlight" or "lamp," should "holy kiss" be translated the "handshake of Christian love?" Some translations may use modern day expressions rather than the words, phrases and languages that reflect what is found in the original text.
There are three main theories of translation used or adopted in bridging the original and receptor languages; Literal, Dynamic Equivalent, and Free or Paraphrase.
1) Literal: The attempt to translate by keeping as close as possible to the exact words and phrasing in the original language, yet still make sense in the receptor language. A literal translation will keep the historical distance intact at all points.
2) Dynamic Equivalent: The attempt to translate words, idioms, and grammatical constructions of the original language into precise equivalents in the receptor language. Most keep historical distance but update matters of language, grammar and style.
3) Free or Paraphrase: The attempt to translate the ideas from one language to another, with less concern about using the exact words of the original text. This type of translation tries to eliminate as much of the historical distance as possible.
The problem with a Free translation should be quite apparent. The translator updates the original author too much and becomes a private interpretation or commentary. Though some interpretations may be necessary in translating to the receptor language, the least amount of personal interpretation the better the translation.
A Free translation is always done by a single translator. The Living Bible is a Free translation and uses words like "flashlights" in Ps. 119:105; "handshakes" in 1 Peter 5:14; "pancakes" in Gen. 18:6; "special abilities" (spiritual gifts Greek word charismata) in 1 Corinthians 12 - 14; and Rome (in the place of Babylon) in 1 Peter 5:13 (the translator thinks Babylon was a code word for Rome conforming scripture to Roman Catholic tradition).
Most of us do exchange Bible day words for more current day understanding in issues of Weight, Measurement and Currency. We change bathes, ephahs, homers, shekels, talents, subit, span, denarius or penny into pounds, inches and dollars to understand how big, heavy or how much something costs. Any group of translators that change these original weight, measurement and currency words within the text generally feel the liberty to change more significant words and thereby interpret for you what God has said. I personally want a English Bible that is as true to the original text as possible so I can form my own opinions of cultural and historical relevance.
New Translations tend to add euphemisms or words that are less expressive or direct but considered less distasteful or less offensive. Matters of sex and private circumstances fall into this category. For examples compare Gen 31:35 in the (NIV, NASB, KJV, RSV) and 2 Sam. 13:14 (KJV, NIV).
Perhaps the most critical part of translation is finding the right English word that means the same as the Hebrew or Greek word. For example in 2 Timothy 3:16 we read "All scripture [is given by inspiration of God, and is] (one Greek word "theopheoustos") profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:" The NIV translates "theopheoustos" "is God-breathed". Some new translations may in places better reflect the original meaning of a Hebrew or Greek word but the overall method used by the translators determine our translation choice.
A translator must also work with Grammar and Syntax. The Word order and genitive constructions are at times altered to meet modern day English grammar. For example thousands of times in the Old Testament the KJV translators woodenly followed the Hebrew word order and all verses that begin with the word "and" in the Hebrew begin with "and" in the KJV. However, If you read from a NIV you will find in Genesis chapter 1 the word "and" removed. Do you want one single word that God has given us, left out? NO! On the surface this may be a better form of English but the thing we must keep mind is that we are not dealing with poetry or a bibliography this is the Word of God. Since we are building life and death matters on the translation we need every word given in English, even if it does not make sense to its translators. The Holy Spirit within the believer ultimately provides the understanding and not the translator.
It was this type of liberty in making the text make sense that led to the R.S.V 1946 N.T. (1952 whole Bible Revised Standard Version a bunch of Liberal Bias Scholars) changing Isaiah 7:14 to read "Young Woman" rather then a virgin shall conceive. This is why we don't need scholars interpreting the text but translating it as it is found in the original text. However, since translation is in itself a (necessary) form of interpretation, we want to chose the translation that has the least amount of changes from the original text. The grammar, history and culture should be bridged by the Holy Spirit filled reader rather than its translator. We must use the most literal version available. This is why the King James Version 1611 remains the best choice for believers today. Not because the translation was divine or poetic but because it is over all the best literal translation of the original languages. The New American Standard runs a close second and claims "to adhere as closely as possible to the original languages". In my opinion if you must read another translation the New American Standard is by far better than the others. The NIV on the other hand is too dynamic and leaves out important words like "propitiation" (1John 2:2). The Free or paraphrase versions are totally unacceptable for preaching or study.
This site was last updated 04/21/11