We have discussed the two “streams” of New Testament manuscripts, and we have taken a look at the two primary texts used for modern English translations: the Critical Text and the Majority Text. (For a review, see “New Testament Manuscripts”, posted in this forum on 11/08/2016). But there is another important consideration, and that is the specific approach taken by the translators of the various versions.
The two methods are (1) literal translation, and (2) dynamic equivalence. Literal translation means essentially what it sounds like. The translators translated the words as found in the Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) into their English equivalents, what is sometimes called a “word for word” translation. That is a bit misleading, because an exact word for word translation from one language into another language isn’t, strictly speaking, possible. Consider:
“Veni, vidi, vici.” Those were the words of Julius Caesar after his successful return to Rome. Translated from Latin into English, we read, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” It takes six English words to translate the three Latin words. That is because Latin is what is known as an inflected language, in which word endings change rather than adding words like we do in English. Another example is the Latin word “ducam.” A single Latin word is translated into English as “I will lead.” Like Latin, Greek is an inflected language.
Bible translations such as the King James, the New King James, and Jay Green’s Literal Translation of the Bible, are all literal translations. The New International Version, one of the most popular English versions, was translated using a form of translation known as dynamic equivalence.
So what is dynamic equivalence? It is a method of translation which does not translate word for word from one language into another. It has been referred to as an educated paraphrase. In other words, the translators would look at a sentence written in Greek and try to word it in English in such a way that they think would be more understandable to the reader. Let’s compare 1 Corinthians 4:9 as it is translated in the New King James Version and the same verse from the New International Version:
“For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” (NKJV)
“For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.” (NIV)
As you can see, there are a number of differences. Keep in mind that the NKJV translates the verse essentially as it appears in the Greek. The word order is changed because it would be confusing if the translators had followed the Greek word order. (That is yet another issue, one that I’m not going to address in this article.) The NKJV doesn’t even mention a procession, an arena, the word “world” is replaced with “whole universe”, and “men” becomes “human beings.” (That last is a bow to political correctness.)
It is evident from the two renderings of the same verse that dynamic equivalence causes the translators to add words that aren’t in the original manuscripts, or in many cases to completely re-word what was written in the Greek texts. They attempt to transmit God’s thoughts rather than His actual words. Is that important? Consider the following statements from scripture and then you can decide for yourself:
“Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord…” – Exodus 24:3
“And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord.” – Exodus 24:4
“You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious.” -
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” – Matthew 4:4
“For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God…” – John 3:34
The following has been taken from the website of the Living New Translation:
"The goal of any Bible translation is to convey the meaning of the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts as accurately as possible to the modern reader. The New Living Translation is based on the most recent scholarship in the theory of translation. The challenge for the translators was to create a text that would make the same impact in the life of modern readers that the original text had for the original readers. In the New Living Translation, this is accomplished by translating entire thoughts (rather than just words) into natural, everyday English. The end result is a translation that is easy to read and understand and that accurately communicates the meaning of the original text."
It seems to me the translators have taken quite a bit on themselves. Some pretty important questions come to mind. The first question I have involves the opening statement. How can someone claim that "the goal of any Bible translation is to convey the meaning of...the original texts?" That is a question not of translation, but interpretation. That is a very big difference. Secondly, any "impact" made in the life of any reader of the Bible is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, not by men, no matter how learned they may be. Finally, how can someone presume to better state God's thoughts than He Himself has already done? In my opinion, to hold such a position puts a person on pretty thin ice.
Regarding the idea of thought transmission rather than word transmission, Isaac Errett, a leader in the Christian Church in the latter part of the 19th century, wrote that, “God did not purpose, in inspiration, anything beyond a transmission of His thoughts in the words of men.” (Lectures. 148). Read in context, it can be seen that Errett was denying verbal inspiration, the idea that the Holy Spirit led the writers of scriptures to write exactly what He wanted them to say. As we can see from the verses quoted above, God didn’t merely express His thoughts to Moses so that Moses could put those thoughts into words the Israelites could understand; He instructed Moses to tell the people His exact words and then to record those words, and not what he thought God meant.
For a translator to add or remove anything from God’s Word puts that individual in what I would consider to be a precarious position. Consider Jesus’ warning as recorded by the apostle John:
“If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life…” – Revelation 22:18-19.
To be continued