Choosing the Best Bible Translation
Delton R. Fair
Two Philosophies of Translation-
Formal Equivalence – or – Dynamic Equivalence
Formal Equivalence or Literal Translation Method
In search for an answer to this question about the best kind of Bible version, it is necessary first to understand, in some detail, the two major philosophies of translation. One philosophy focuses most attention on maintaining the integrity of the original text or the source of the translation. This is called the literal or formal equivalence method of translation. The other is more concerned about readability, or ease of understanding, with little or no emphasis on maintaining the integrity of the Bible. This is referred to as the free or dynamic equivalence method of translation. A literal translation seeks a word-for-word equivalency, trying also to retain the grammatical structure of the original insofar as the destination language, in our case English, will permit.
Dynamic Equivalence or Free Translation Method
A free translation or dynamic equivalence aims to effectively communicate their version of the Bible in receptor language, again English for us. According to dynamic-equivalence advocates literal translations, which are, for the most part, the traditional and older ones, have not allowed adequately for cultural and social factors that affect readers of a translation. The formal-equivalence advocate responds that the translator of a free translation has not shown sufficient respect for the inspired text.
This highlights a difficulty inherent in free translation and paraphrase. The translator must choose one interpretation from the possible alternatives, thus leaving the English reader at the mercy of his choice. The translator of a literal translation can often retain the ambiguity of the original text and thus allow the English reader to interpret for himself.
Here are some examples of this very real and vital problem.
Examples of Translation Methods
Galatians 5:12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you. KJV
Here the King James Version, a word for word formal equivalence or literal translation, is ambiguous because the original text is ambiguous. However the dynamic equivalence translations insert a variety of different thoughts into this text, of course determined by the thought process of the so called translator. In the following versions they are talking about physical mutilation.
Galatians 5:12 I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. NASU
Galatians 5:12 Would that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. NASB
Galatians 5:12 I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves! RSV
Galatians 5:12 I only wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves. NLT
Galatians 5:12 Would to God that those who are unsettling your faith would even mutilate themselves! WNT
The New International Version translates Galatians 5:12 as “Emasculate themselves.”
Galatians 5:12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! NIV
Several other Modern Free Translations use the phrase “Castrate Themselves.”
Galatians 5:12 0 that the ones agitating you* would also castrate themselves! Analytical-Literal Translation
Galatians 5:12 Oh that those who disturb you would even castrate themselves! EMTV
Galatians 5:12 I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves! NRSV
Galatians 5:12 I wish that the people who are upsetting you would go all the way; let them go on and castrate themselves! TEV
The American Standard Version states that they should “even go beyond circumcision.”
Galatians 5:12 I would that they that unsettle you would even go beyond circumcision. ASV
The Living Bible paraphrase, as well as the PME, indicated removing themselves from fellowship.
Galatians 5:12 I only wish these teachers who want you to cut yourselves by being circumcised would cut themselves off from you and leave you alone! TLB
On the other hand the King James Version, along with a few others, leave the ambiguity of the original text in tact by translating this passage “cut off,” or “cut themselves off.”
The NRSV, NASU, NASV, NIV, and NLT blatantly inserts Trinitarian doctrine in their translation of John 1:18. We will first look at the King James Version which correctly translates this passage word for word.
John 1:18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. KJV
Now let’s look at the free or dynamic translations.
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. NRSV
John 1:18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. NASU
John 1:18 No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. NASB
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God. But his only Son, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart; he has told us about him. NLT
The ultimate irony of Trinitarian dogma is demonstrated by the NIV’s translation of John 1:18.
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. NW
Here not only is the only begotten Son (in reality the man Christ Jesus cp. I Timothy 2:5) called God, but He is called God the One and Only, who is, inexplicably, at the Father’s side. How can the “One and Only” God be at the side of another God???
The NRSV, RSV, NIV, and the NLT completely eliminate John 5:4 from the Word of God, as well as other passages from the New Testament.
John 5:4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. KJV
The NASB and NIV blunt the majesty and power of the Incarnation of God in human flesh! First let’s look at the KJV which correctly translates this passage word for word.
I Timothy 3:16
I Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
I Timothy 3:16
1 Tim 3:16 And by common confession great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, NASB
I Thessalonians 4:4
Which interpretation is right in I Thessalonians 4:4, the one which says that Paul speaks of control over one’s own body as in the JB, NEB, NIV, PME, or that which says that he speaks of taking a wife in marriage as in the LB, RSV, and GNB?
Or should the translator shun the responsibility of making a choice as in the Kings James Version, as well as a couple of others?
I Thessalonians 4:4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour. KJV
I Thessalonians 4:4 that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, KJV
I Thessalonians 4:4 that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, RSV
I Timothy 3:2
1 Timothy 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; KJV
Does 1 Timothy 3:2 prohibit appointment of an overseer who is a bigamist, as strongly implied by the NIV, LB, PME, and the GNB through the addition of the word “only”?
Or does it forbid appointment of a man who is a divorcee, as the JB indicates?
Perhaps the verse speaks of the quality of faithfulness without dealing with marital history as is the choice of the NEB? But the decision in this matter should be left to the reader, as indicated by the noncommittal rendering of the King James Version and two or three others.
We could go on to cite dozens of other drastic changes, omissions, and insertions of false doctrine into modern translations based on the ‘thought for thought” concept (over 200 of them)! We will list just one more which makes a subtle but profound change in the text.
In the King James Version translation of Deuteronomy 22:5 we read:
Deuteronomy 22:5 The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God. KJV
Deuteronomy 22:5 A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this. NIV
The Hebrew word translated “pertaineth to” in the KJV, keliy, means anything masculine. It is applied to garments, weapons of war, tools, utensils of any type, implements that are used in any way whatsoever. Thus the prohibition for women is much stronger that mere men’s clothing, it includes anything that is in anyway masculine in nature, appearance, or that will lend itself to masculine actions on the part of the woman who wears them! This means that a woman’s pantsuit pertains to masculine apparel and actions. All these subtle distinctions are lost in the NIV.
The translator has no right to read his own interpretations into the text.
The added responsibility of a dynamic-equivalence translator is made apparent by these comparisons. He has also become a commentator. It is to this added role that we strongly object. Without acknowledging that he has done so, such a translator has attached his own personal interpretation to the text, thereby excluding from the reader a consideration of the other possible meanings of the text. A literal translation can, on the other hand, often leave the same obscurity in the English text as is found in the original.
Thus we see that a Dynamic Equivalence translation is not a translation of the Word of God at all, but a commentary, based on the translators own ideas. Commentaries are much needed, but it is a mistake to assume that a translation can function in that role without ceasing to be a translation. Preaching from a dynamic equivalence or free translation or paraphrase is tantamount to preaching from a commentary, not from a translation. It is not the translator’s job to mediate between God’s Word and modern culture as the commentator or expositor does. When any man imposes on the people of God his personal interpretation, he is morally obligated to clarify his role, that it is one of an expositor, not a translator. In any work that is precisely called a translation, interpretation should be eliminated. Otherwise, the role of the expositor is usurped, and the work becomes a commentary on the meaning of the text, not a translation into the closest equivalent of the original language.
This is why free translations and paraphrases are not really Bibles. All modern translations, with the possible exception of the Amplified Bible, are dynamic equivalence or free translations. This is also why the general recommendation is to follow a literal translation in all Bible reading. By far the best formal equivalence or literal translation is the King James Version of the Bible.
Taken from the Gospel Tidings magazine, Jan/Feb/Mar 2009
This article may be used for study and research purposes only.