on translations

this is my quick response to Mark as he wonders if formal equivalence translations are less faithful translations:

Mark, you are on the right track – the whole question comes back to Fee and Stuart in their book How to Read the Bible for All its Worth – in their chapter on translations they talk in simple terms about translation – do we translate what Paul said, or do we translate what Paul meant? (but in our case we can say do we translate the meaning of the text or just the basic wording of the text and let others figure the meaning?) Some prefer to translate the meaning thus the more dynamic translations – others prefer just to translate what is said and leave the meaning up to being discerned by the reader hence the more formal equivalence or literal translations – still yet others prefer a mix thus the translations like the NIV – so you can see a whole host of issues coming up with these approaches – and the example of the Greek sarx is a good example – do we go with “flesh” or “sinful nature” and why? for obvious reasons one is less interpretive than the other, but could there be instances where it is fair to translate sarx as sinful nature and have it reflect what is trying to be said?

In my personal view as I have tried to share in other comments and maybe even on my blog, I see more dynamic translations as reflecting a more mature understanding of the languages and how they work and it reflects the concern to get the meaning across to the reader of the receptor language. Reading more literal translations makes some feel like they are reading their Greek or Hebrew Bibles but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is accurately translating the meaning of the text in question.

That’s my $0.02!


11 responses to “on translations

  1. I agree with you here. I have a wide selection of versions that I read. Sometimes I go through stages of favouring one over the other. Sometimes I will compare versions.

    This morning for instance my reading through Acts in the Message Bible really struck a point home; which I hadn’t had through reading the other versions.

    I think however one of our biggest problems is that in general we are not taught to read our Bibles properly. Therefore no matter what version we read we can get it wrong; and our cultural experiences get in the way of our interpretation.

    I fully trust any translation team that has a wide variety of scholars imputing into it; more then I will one that was translated by a narrow theological bent.

  2. What I still enjoy from my Bible college days are more “formal” translations. I was never a fan of the NIV prior to TNIV. I loved the NASB and found out in ministry no one had that same passion!

    However, the NIV has grown more to the “formal” side, in my opinion, while still maintaining a high level of readability. It is enjoyable to see.


  3. I think we often forget the NT was written in the common street language that most could understand. Now we think we need seminary graduates to detail out the word meaning, up for us and hand feed us so we can understand the Bible.

    My good friend ran track with Gene Peterson in college, so, of course, he carries the Message. It is fun and sometimes very insightful. I read how he came to write this out – he was realizing how ignorant his own parishioners were of the Bible.

    Although I majored in Greek in college and still work at it (some), I find the more dynamic NLT fun to read. I often have people who grew up on the KJV remark in our small group Bible study that they never understood what some of the passages meant until they read the NLT — almost like some tribesperson saying, “Now God speaks in my language.”

  4. Great post Brian. I just had this conversation with another pastor this last week. We were actually in a Homiletics course together and he was shocked that I used the NIV(1984) for my translation in preaching because he knew I have a pretty significant grasp of the Hebrew and Greek and take the time to translate every text that I preach. So he was in shock that I wouldn’t be using a more “literal” translation like he does (the NASB). So I explained to him that I preferred the NIV for my normal Sunday AM and Wednesday Bible Study primarily for these reasons: 1) it is far more readable than a more “literal” rendering which is far more helpful to a wider readership in my congregation; 2) it actually (attempts) more often to convey the ideas of the text which is the point in my mind of a faithful translation; 3) it is a better congregational text as most people will have an NIV text with them (unless you choose to provide a single translation of some other variety for everyone). I shocked him even more when I said how much I enjoy using the NLT(2nd edition) for youth and personal devotional readings as well. 🙂 I actually do primarily use the NIV, NASB (and NJB, NRSV, NET, ESV, NLT) in preparation for messages after I’ve translated the text/s.

    • Rick I am so glad you get it! It shows you know what is going on. and that is a smart pastoral leadership move too – presenting a Bible to the congregation that is readable and understandable to them. You friend exemplifies what I mean when I say some like reading the NAS, it makes them feel like they are reading their Greek NT, which makes one wonder, are they really? 🙂

  5. “I see more dynamic translations as reflecting a more mature understanding of the languages and how they work and it reflects the concern to get the meaning across to the reader of the receptor language.”

    I’d like to see this too. The NLT is still overly interpretive in places but it’s improving.

  6. There tends to be a danger to exclusive use of both translation theories. I think the intended audience needs to be taken into consideration. Furthermore, translations shouldn’t be a replacement for exegetical steps.

    I like the NLT too.

  7. Luke, you make a good point, but the issue for me is the claim that one approach over another is more accurate when as I see it, there is no most accurate translation since all have their hits and misses – and I agree all have their purposes. does that make sense?

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