My translation philosophy

disclaimer: I am not a professional translator or linguist nor do I pretend to be. I may have an MDiv from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary but that does not make me an expert or imply I know what I am talking about. But it does make me a theologian/scholar in some degree or another but then again so is every Christian who reads the Bible and thinks about God. The following is my own thoughts about translations.

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Is there even really such a thing as a literal word for word translation? Perhaps Youngs Literal Translation gets as close to it as one can get but I think with the more generally used translations there is going to be more of a mix of formal and dynamic translation practices.

Therefore I think the “best” translation is one that tends to ebb and flow in and out of literal and less literal or formal and dynamic translation styles. Incidentally I think this is what most translations tend to do anyways whether the translators and or editors know it or not.

Some verses in the NT or OT translate just fine in an almost word for word context without necessarily sounding too rough but still getting the point across. I mean how difficult is it to translate and understand “Jesus wept“? Perhaps we might argue if “wept” was a bitter bawling and heaving sobs or a quite crying of some sort or does it even matter? Maybe a more “updated” translation might be “Jesus cried.”

But then there are places where things get trickier and need some smoothing out to make it read well in English. So obviously there is going to be some degree of dynamic translation going on to get a verse smoothed out – though some translations do choose to leave a rough reading for the sake of literalness. For example John 1:1-2 “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Some translations smooth it out a bit “He was with God in the beginning.” While the Greek has the demonstrative pronoun “This one” using “He” can be validated when we skip down to verse 14. Even so I think the rendering “In the beginning the Word already existed” might be going to far and though it is getting the meaning across I am concerned it might be hurting the poetic nature of the Johannine Prologue. I think however the Message’s rendering is way to interpretive: “The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.” This is going too far in my opinion and I am concerned it might call into question what exactly “present to God/present to the Word/readiness for God” means.

Anyways all this to say that in my opinion a good translation is going to have a mix if literal and dynamic translation in it to read well and still be faithful to the biblical languages and the attempt to translate the biblical text from the original to the receptor language (in this case Greek and Hebrew into English).

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[Update] Dave Black offered some gentle correcting suggestions to my post Thursday July 17 in which he noted:

9:57 AM Here’s an interesting discussion of Bible versions — which is “best,” literal vs. dynamic, etc. The author mentions “Jesus wept” and “Jesus cried” as a case in point. I do agree that there are significant connotative differences between these renderings. Here’s my own suggestion, taking the verb dakruo and the inceptive aorist into account: “Jesus burst into tears.”

Thanks for sharing this and its gentle nature.  I admit I did not really do my Greek homework on this one, I just typed and shared my thoughts but am learning next time I should be sure to do my homework.  Here is another lesson to my fellow “pastors” or “teachers” if you are going to expound on the Greek, you better be right!  Else someone who is listening or watching or reading who knows better, will call you on it.  At least, they better.

btw: Amazon just listed his 3rd edition Learn to Read New Testament Greek.  You really should consider getting it – it is a really good and helpful grammar.  There is also a supplemental workbook that goes along with it that includes “1300 Greek to English/English to Greek sentences, [and] more than 700 drilling exercises to reinforce the foundational principles of Greek grammar.”