Bible translation philosophy revisited (part one)

An ongoing fascination for me is the whole issue of both manuscripts from which we get our scripture as well as how we translate them into our language and other languages from the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. I much appreciate the work of all who have gone before us in this, and want to learn from them.

The Septuagint is the first translation of scripture, sometimes quoted in the New Testament as the word of God. Like other translations, the Septuagint translates in a way that people call literal, as well as paraphraistic. There are a number of issues involved in this translation, not essential for this post.

As a young Christian I listened to the KJV New Testament on old records my grandmother used to listen to. I used the Living Bible, and in time became a New American Standard devotee. I liked the idea of that translation, literal in the sense of trying to translate word for word. But soon after that the NIV was on the scene, and I found myself attracted to and rather fascinated by how clear it was, and yet how it seemed to correspond so well to the Bible as it had been known, even in the KJV. I struggled over its lack of “literalness,” how many connectives were dropped, etc., but by and by I seemed to have the Lord’s peace concering that and it became my translation.

And so most of my years since then, with the exception of a few years when the NLT was my main Bible, I’ve listened to the NIV being read and have used it as my main and most of the time, my only Bible. In fact I attribute how I write in significant measure at least to how the NIV is written, since I’ve been through it a good number of times.

This is such a big subject, so I’ll have to cut it short on this post. In recent years, even decades now, there’s been a movement afoot to get us back to more literal renderings of scripture. The ESV is a translation done in signficant part I think in response to this perception, as well as to the hot issue (I say-at least largely- non-issue, myself) over translating gender. Just like the NASB in the past, one will find that the ESV is not only nonliteral in many places (a number of times, the NIV being more literal), but it also does the very same thing in regard to gender, that translations like the NLT and now the NIV do.

Dave Brunn’s One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? is quite helpful in showing this. And so if anyone has an ESV or an NASB and think they are getting a more “literal” rendering, they will often be mistaken. The nature of translating scripture makes the process far more difficult than that. This book is the best I’ve read in helping one see how futile it is to think that one can simply translate word for word and even in word order, and actually translate, or at least translate well.

A big strength of the book (among other strengths) is simply how close our Bible translations really are. While there are differences, and perhaps a few of them signifcant, by and large the similarities vastly outweigh them all. So whatever translation of scripture you are comfortable with, continue to read from that. As we seek God’s will and blessing together in Jesus together for the world.