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Should I Use Multiple Translations or Stick with One? E. Ray Clendenen

Posted in Translation Philosophy by E. Ray Clendenen on November 4th, 2010

Question: Should I consider using multiple translations or stick with one?

Unless you are equipped to study the Bible in the original languages, I recommend using more than one translation, though I would encourage finding one that you are most comfortable with as your “default” translation. I have my views on which one that should be, of course.

One reason to use several translations in study is that a significant (to you) difference in two or more translations of a verse should suggest that you investigate this verse more deeply through the use of commentaries. Of course, most translations also have notes to alert the reader to the most difficult translation problems (whether caused by variant texts, variant interpretations, or to the presence of an idiom) and to offer one or more alternatives to the rendering found in the Bible text. Some versions have more notes than others. But consulting other versions will alert the student to additional verses that need deeper study.

E. Ray Clendenen is Bible commentary editor for B&H Publishing and associate editor of the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

Should I Use Multiple Translations or Stick with One? Craig Blomberg

Posted in Translation Philosophy by Craig Blomberg on November 4th, 2010

Question: Should I use multiple translations or stick with one?

I agree with you, Bob. It’s interesting, though, to watch times change. When I first became a Christian, at age 15, in 1971, the options were pretty much limited to the KJV, NASB, RSV, and the delightful and controversial new Living Bible Paraphrased. It was the last of these that got me interested in regular Bible reading, with the help of Campus Life’s “Reach Out” edition, for the first time in my life, though by the time I got to college I was using the Campus Crusade-recommended NASB for serious study. The NT of the NIV added another great option into the mix and whenever we had student Bible studies you could count on four or five translations being represented in what we “kids” brought with us. When it was my turn to facilitate a discussion I knew I had better at least read through the text in all the above versions, because if there were any significant differences in one of them, someone would notice, mention them, and/or ask about them.

Today, it feels so different. Almost every church or parachurch organization has their “authorized” version. It’s not uncommon for me to address a fairly large gathering of believers and discover that everyone has an NIV, an NRSV, or an ESV. They don’t actually know the strengths and weaknesses of each; they just know that’s what someone in leadership over them told them to get, or bought for the church, and everyone is supposed to follow it. On the other hand, I tell those who can’t read Greek or Hebrew, if you’re going to bother to consult one English translation, you really ought to read at least three, just in case the one you consult is idiosyncratic at some point. And all of them are somewhere, no matter who tells you otherwise. I kind of think we’ve lost something during these Bible wars for the “one, best” version! Having said that, I can unashamedly recommend the updated NIV as the best for the broadest cross-section of public ministry contexts. But not without exception.

Craig Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 2008.

Should I Use Multiple Translations or Stick with One? Robert Yarbrough

Posted in Translation Philosophy by Robert Yarbrough on November 3rd, 2010

Question: Should I use multiple translations or stick with one?

What a luxury to be asking this question! In many parts of the world there is only one translation available. And it may be dated, less than stellar in quality, incomplete (as in NT only), or hard to obtain. We should not forget the ongoing task for this and coming generations of taking the gospel to the world through more and better translations.

If we think of the English-speaking world, most people who have arrived at a good overall grasp of the Bible did so by reading and rereading, year after year, a favorite Bible. (Mine was a brown leather-bound NASB, a Christmas gift from my wife when I was just 22. I read it avidly for the next ten years.) My hunch is that more times than not, if the goal is to “master” Scripture in terms of sustained and multiple readings, to “stick with one” will prove to be a fruitful course. (I still find it to be, though I change the translation every few years.)

Multiple translations are valuable when one is checking out possible nuances of a passage. If one knows the original languages, then various translations reveal how other scholars have dealt with it. If one does not, one can compare and get a feel for possibilities that one’s everyday favorite Bible may obscure.

The point here of course would not be to ransack translations to cherry pick the most advantageous renderings of troublesome verses. It is rather to get a feel for the breadth of meanings possible, assuming that each translation has some merit. (And this is normally true for mainstream published translations.) This can enhance personal understanding, devotion, witness, and explaining the text to others, whether that means to children in family devotions, to a co-worker, or as the leader of a youth group or adult education class at church.

Back in the 1980s, I heard a national fundamentalist leader who always used the King James Version admit that he was reading the Living Bible in his daily devotions. He said it was giving him a fresh sense of many passages that had grown stale in his decades-long devotion to the KJV.

Probably most of us can benefit from ongoing daily meditation from a translation that is as familiar to us as a best friend. At the same time, there is a place for variety. I often consult my eight-translation NT to see how important translations of the previous generation handled a passage. Even more possibilities are now readily available online, of course.

Robert Yarbrough is professor of New Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He is co-editor of the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series.

Third Question: Should I Use Multiple Translations or Stick with One?

Posted in Translation Philosophy by Collin Hansen on November 3rd, 2010

Those of us who speak English and live in the United States have been blessed with many good Bible translations. We can afford to engage in a discussion of translation philosophies. If we sour on one version, we can always grab another. Or another. Or another. Or many at once. Some preachers even search different Bible versions (perhaps using BibleGateway.com) to find one that says what they want or need it to say for the sake of their sermon points. We have been blessed. Or is this proliferation actually a curse?

With the third question for our Perspectives in Translation forum panel, I asked, “Should I use multiple translations or stick with one?” Just because I have a stack of different Bibles in my closet, does that mean I should use all of them? Might each have its own season? Or will one suffice for every purpose? Is the answer different if I’m a pastor, scholar, or layperson? What about new Christians or unbelievers? As you can see, this one questions raises many more.

Lone gone are the days when the King James Version sat in every home, when its peculiar phrases peppered presidential speeches. But the faithful work of modern-day translators brings its own blessings, too, which these scholars will explore.

What Makes a Translation Accurate? Michael Bird

Posted in Translation Philosophy by Michael Bird on November 1st, 2010

Question: What makes a translation accurate?

In my estimation a translation is “accurate” when it faithfully communicates the meaning of the source text to a target audience. Note, first, I did not say that the goal of translation is to communicate the words of the source text, because words are not always capable of direct translation/association into another language. That holds whether we are going from Greek to English or from Hebrew to Spanish. Words are windows into concepts, and it is the underlying conceptual and discourse levels of meaning that are conveyed in translation.

Second, it depends on your audience. If you want to produce a translation that is capable of being understood by 5th grade children or by adults with reading disabilities, that will certainly impact your approach to translation.

Third, all translation is also an exercise in interpretation. A translation will be accurate when the interpretive framework that it uses is itself shaped by the overall canonical context rather than determined by, as I call them, theological shibboleths and exegetical hobby horses.

Michael Bird formerly lectured in New Testament at the Highland Theological College (UHI Millennium Institute) in Scotland and is currently lecturer in theology and New Testament at Crossway College in Brisbane, Australia. He is also an honorary research associate at the University of Queensland. He is the translator of 1 Esdras in the Common English Bible.

What Makes a Translation Accurate? Ray Van Neste

Posted in New Testament, Translation Philosophy by Ray Van Neste on November 1st, 2010

Question: What makes a translation accurate?

What makes a translation accurate is faithful representation of the original text into the receptor language (English for us). This is basically agreed upon by all. Where there is debate is concerning the amount of interpretation that should be included in a translation. For example, quite often a Greek phrase is open to a variety of nuanced understandings. Some argue the translator should determine which nuance is best and make that clear in the translation. I would argue that the translation is best that maintains the ambiguity of the original text, so long as it is understandable English. For example, in Colossians 1:11 Paul prays that Christians might be strengthened with all power “according to the might of his glory” (my translation). The Greek phrase here can hypothetically mean “might which is his glory,” “might which comes from his glory,” “might which belongs to his glory” and several other options. Some would argue the translator must decide on one of these more interpretive options and use it. However, I would argue that in this case (and others like it) the simple English translation captures the meaning of the text while leaving open a variety of shades of interpretation.

The goal of a translation is not to decide the interpretive issue in each case. Rather it is to accurately communicate the original with its ambiguity as much as possible. Then the church and its pastors can wrestle together with the interpretive possibilities. Too often, in the laudable desire to make the Bible understandable to anyone, we forget the necessity of the teaching function of the church. Of course people ought to be able to read the Bible and basically understand it on their own. But we are not to expect people to understand the bible fully or as deeply as they could, without the teaching function of the church. Let translations give us access to the text with all its interpretive options and leave it to the church and its pastors to do the work of sifting through these options.

Ray Van Neste is associate professor of biblical studies and director of the R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.

What Makes a Translation Accurate? Richard L. Pratt Jr.

Posted in New Testament, Old Testament, Translation Philosophy by Richard L. Pratt Jr. on November 1st, 2010

Question: What makes a translation accurate?

Imagine this. I’m teaching about 50 students in the first legal Bible school in a country whose alphabet I cannot descipher. I won’t tell you the name of the place to protect the innocent. Anyway, the students are excited to have brand new translations of the New Testament in their hands. I’m excited, too, because the man responsible for the translation is my interpreter for the class. He’s a Westerner who married into the nation. Well into the hour, I ask a student to read aloud from a passage in Romans, a short passage. It’s only one line in my Greek text. She pauses to take a breath, but then reads more and more. Convinced that she must be reading the wrong verse, I look over her shoulder. The numbers are right, but the verse is over half a page long. So I look up at my interpreter and say, “That’s a lot more than the Greek says.” But he shrugs his shoulders and replies with a wink, “Well, sometimes you have to do a lot of explaining to get the point across.” I just stand there, not knowing what to say.

That’s the problem with accuracy in translation. Translators are pulled in two directions. We want “to get the point across,” but we also don’t want to say “a lot more than the Hebrew or Greek says.” Some translators define accuracy more in terms of their anticipated readers and ask, “Will my translation enable my readers to understand?” Other translators define accuracy more in terms of the biblical authors and ask, “Will my translation reflect what the authors actually wrote?”

Happily, we can find some guidance from the Bible itself. New Testament authors always translated the Old Testament when they referred to it. Like the various translators of the Septuagint, sometimes they were so concerned with getting the point across that they gave their readers highly interpreted translations, what most of us would call paraphrases. At other times, they were so interested in not saying a lot more than the Hebrew text said that they gave their readers rather wooden renderings, what most of us would call literal translations. If divinely inspired authors went in both directions as they translated Scripture, then surely it is not only permissible but also wise for us to do the same.

I approach this issue for myself with this adage in mind: “All responsible translation is interpretation, and all responsible interpretation is translation—so long as we know what’s coming.” Translation and interpretation go hand in hand, but we have choices to make. Will a translation project tend to clarify, explain, or interpret the biblical text for our readers/audiences? Will a translation project tend to leave obscure, unexplained, or uninterpreted what biblical authors left in that condition for their readers/audiences? Or will we aim for some middle ground? The full spectrum serves us well, “so long as we know what’s coming.” That is to say, the accuracy of a translation is measured by how well we communicate and meet our goals.

Richard L. Pratt Jr. is the president of Third Millennium Ministries. He chaired the Old Testament department and taught at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, and Orlando, Florida, for 21 years.

What Makes a Translation Accurate? Denny Burk

Posted in New Testament, Translation Philosophy by Denny Burk on October 29th, 2010

Question: What makes a translation accurate?

A translation is accurate when it faithfully renders the intended meaning of the biblical author into a receptor language. Biblical scholars differ over what approach to translation best achieves this goal. Those who favor a dynamic or functional equivalence approach argue for thought-for-thought translation. Those who favor a formal equivalence approach argue for word-for-word translation. In truth, no translation consistently follows either of these approaches. Rather, what we have is a spectrum with formal equivalence at one end and dynamic equivalence at the other. Translations like the NASB, ESV, and KJV belong somewhere on the formal equivalence half of the spectrum, while the GNB, NLT, and LB belong on the dynamic equivalence half. The NIV is probably somewhere in the middle.

Which of these two approaches produces the most accurate translation? Neither of them does if followed in their purest form. A pure formal equivalence translation would look something like the English glosses in an interlinear version. In such a version, there is a wooden substitution of English equivalents for the individual words of the original biblical text. No translator worth his salt would accept an undiluted formal equivalence approach, because it produces English sentences that make little to no sense. In fact, one of the complaints against formal equivalence translations is their lack of readability (though this complaint is sometimes overwrought). Likewise, hardly anyone would favor a pure dynamic equivalence approach because while readable, it can produce renderings that sit too loose to the linguistic structures and content of the donor language.

I would argue that the most accurate approach to translation is one that retains formal equivalence as far as is compatible with good English. There are nuances and implicatures of language that are retained in such an approach but that can be lost in dynamic equivalence renderings. Here are a couple of examples where nuances are lost in dynamic equivalence renderings.

Holman Christian Standard Bible

1 Peter 3:1 “Wives, in the same way, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the Christian message, they may be won over without a message by the way their wives live, when they observe your pure reverent lives.”

The issue in this text is the rendering of two occurrences of the Greek word logos. In the first half of the verse, logos is translated as “Christian message” and in the second half of the verse as “message.” The strength of this rendering is its clarity of meaning in the first occurrence of logos. Clearly logos is a reference to the Christian message (i.e., the gospel). In the second instance, however, such is not the case. One can only assume that the translators attempted to be consistent in the second instance of logos and also translated it as “message.” But this introduces a potential distortion into the text because Peter is not arguing that husbands will be won to the gospel without a “message.” The difficulty is alleviated if the dynamic equivalent “Christian message” is replaced with the more formal equivalent “word.” Word in this case has a similar semantic range to logos and allows the translator to preserve the play on the word logos. Logos in the first instance does mean “Christian message,” but in the second instance it means “speech” or “speaking.” The play on words is lost in the dynamic equivalent rendering, but is retained in the formal equivalent rendering. This is the kind of subtlety that is often missed in dynamic equivalence approaches.

Today’s New International Version

Hebrews 2:6 “What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

There was a great deal of controversy surrounding this verse when the TNIV was first released because it reflects the anthropological interpretation of the Greek phrase huios anthropou (lit., “son of man”). The formal equivalent translation “Son of Man” allows for both the anthropological and the messianic interpretations. “Human beings” only allows for the anthropological one. The upside of the TNIV rendering is its clarity. The downside is that it mutes the intercanonical connections with “son of man” language found in the Old and New Testaments—language that in some Old Testament contexts is unmistakably messianic (Psalm 8:4; Daniel 7:13). Thus the TNIV rendering obscures an interpretation that is widely held both in today’s Hebrews scholarship as well as in the early church. As such, this translation does a disservice to readers and should be revised (see Barry Joslin, “‘Son of Man’ or ‘Human Beings’? Hebrews 2:5–9 and a Response to Craig Blomberg” JBMW 14.2 [2009]: 41-50).

The issues here are complex, but more examples could be adduced to show that accuracy is best achieved by retaining formal equivalence as far as is compatible with good English. When there is no suitable formal equivalent in the receptor language, a dynamic equivalent may be used.

Denny Burk is associate professor of New Testament and dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

What Makes a Translation Accurate? George H. Guthrie

Posted in New Testament, Translation Philosophy by George H. Guthrie on October 29th, 2010

Question: What makes a translation accurate?

A translation is intended to facilitate communication. So accuracy involves the translator communicating in the target language the original author’s intended meaning of what was written. Translation, therefore, must be more than simply relating the semantic makeup of the words in a sentence; intended impact also is critical to assess based on the original context. Once discerned, the translator must work through how best to communicate that intended meaning and impact to the target audience.

Let me explain. At 1 Corinthians 7:1, both the NASB and the KJV read, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Fair enough. This translation is accurate in terms of one possible meaning of the Greek word haptō, which can communicate variously, “to touch,” “to make contact with,” or “to light or kindle.” Yet based on this translation, a modern reader could misunderstand Paul to mean that a man should not shake hands with a woman, for instance, or give a hug to a female relative. However, the word haptō also can refer to sexual relations, and it seems clear from the context of 1 Corinthians 7 that this is what Paul has in mind (e.g. NET, ESV) and perhaps marriage particularly (e.g. NIV). So the NASB and KJV are not accurate at this point, since they fail to communicate the apostle’s intended nuance of this term.

George H. Guthrie is Benjamin W. Perry professor of Bible at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He served on the translation evaluation team for the Gospel of Mark in the New Living Translation.

What Makes a Translation Accurate? Robert Yarbrough

Posted in New Testament, Translation Philosophy by Robert Yarbrough on October 29th, 2010

Question: What makes a translation accurate?

Quite simply, a translation is accurate when the form and substance of the original is rendered as faithfully as possible into another language. But there is nothing very simple about that when it comes to Bible translation.

First, our knowledge of the ancient languages, while impressive, is not perfect. We wish we better understood the nuances of many words and phrases in Scripture.

Second, translator abilities vary. Even committees arrive at decisions that time reveals to have been less than optimal.

Third, what is “form” in the biblical languages, and what is “substance,” is often debatable. Are the purported “hymns” in the NT (passages like Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:16) rightly printed in poetry-like format to underscore their possible hymnic origin and character? Does the “form” of a three-word phrase in Hebrew require that three and only three words be used in a translation? How do we best convey the “substance” of a word like “propitiation” in a culture that views a wrathful God with incredulity and distaste? What is the “substance” of andres adelphoi (“men, brothers”) in Acts (e.g., 1:16; 2:29, 37; 7:2; 13:15) in an inclusive-language age? And how do English-language inclusivist principles apply in non-English languages?

Fourth, what does it mean to render “faithfully”? Faithfully to whom or what? To the text? To God? How do we know when or if we have achieved that? To the author/s of the original, or the communities that preserved their writings? To the heritage of others who have interpreted and/or translated these writings? To our own age? If so, does that mean people in the church who understand at least some biblical concepts? Or does that mean people outside the church who need a rendition in fresh and idiomatic language? Does that include people of a non-Christian religion, perhaps like Muslims who know about some things in the Bible only via the Qur’an, and who might be offended by terms like “Son of God” in NT writings? What does “faithfully” mean when such subgroups are in view?

Fifth, when we speak of an “accurate” translation, who is the audience we have in mind, and what purpose do we have in translating for this audience? Is the translation designed for use in public church reading ? Is the goal didactic, maybe as the basis for study Bible notes? Is it for expanding on possible nuances of the original languages (like the Amplified Bible)? Is it for avoiding churchy or stilted or stereotyped language (like the NLT)? Is it for people with a lower literary and educational level (like the GNT)? How about readers who regard calling God “Father” as sexist? What does “accurate” mean when this subgroup is in view?

These deliberations do not mean an “accurate” translation is an unattainable goal. They do suggest that due to a number of variables, there are a number of ways to go about “accurate” translating.

Robert Yarbrough is professor of New Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He is co-editor of the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series.

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