When we speak of Bible translation into English, we find there are at least a couple different translation philosophies. Generally they go by such names as literal, word-for-word, and formal equivalence. On the other side there is the thought-for-thought, or dynamic equivalence philosophy.
The literal, word-for-word philosophy basically says that each individual word of the original language manuscripts should be translated literally into English. As I wrote in my previous post, this method is fraught with problems because of the differences in idioms and other things which are different between the languages, times, and cultures. Because of these problems, there are really no actual literal translations in English. All translations, no matter how literal they claim to be, are necessarily different from the originals in word order, tenses, and idioms, simply so they can be understood by those of us who speak English. So all translations depart from that literal translation to some degree or another.
At the other end of the spectrum, the dynamic equivalence translation is marked by a thought-for-thought philosophy. Rather than trying to translate the exact words of the originals, these translators endeavor to translate the original writers’ thoughts themselves into English. The main problems with this method are seen when the thoughts of the original writers are unknown, or misinterpreted. This results in either a poor translation rife with errors, or what is actually more of a paraphrase than an actual translation. While there are positives associated with the dynamic equivalence philosophy, it also opens the Bible translation up to a much greater probability that the translators may, either intentionally or not, miss nuances in the text, or inject their own interpretation or even political agenda into the text. So while it seems like it would make a lot of sense, it is not necessarily the best philosophy of translation out there.
My own preferences lean towards the idea of word-for-word translation, because I believe that it’s critically important that we get as much of the original message of the Scriptures as is possible. It’s also important that the translators strive to make the translation as easy to read in English as they possibly can, yet remaining as accurate to the originals as they practically can as well. I also like it when the translators are able to make the translation very transparent to the original languages, because that can also give us nuances that we would otherwise miss. In other words, I like it when I can tell by reading the English that Mark was written in a simpler form of Greek than Matthew. I also like it when I can see certain understandable idioms within the text that I wouldn’t be able to see if the translation is in fine, classical English. I am willing to sacrifice a little smoothness in the translation in order to get this, even though it may make the English seem a little stilted or wooden at times, possibly even a little more difficult to understand at times. It is good for the Bible student to be able to see this, but it also doesn’t hurt a young reader with limited experience in reading to have this available to them. It has to do with growing in the Faith, using your God-given intelligence, and mining the real treasure of the Holy Scriptures.
In the next post, we will take a look at the translations themselves.