Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Modern Bibles: Who's calling the shots?

The majority of new Bibles on today's bookshelves follow a theory of translation called "dynamic equivalence." This method of translation is based on the idea that whenever something crops up in the original languages that is foreign to the modern reader, the original text should be translated in an eqivalent (rather than literal) fashion. In other words, the translators will try to give us the "idea" or "meaning" of the sentence instead of the actual sentence. All Bibles do this from time to time but most of today's Bibles do it as a matter of course.

If you take the time to read the preface in some modern Bibles, you will discover a pretty amazing theme. Read the following statements and try to discern the common thread:
  • "This translation seeks "to express the meaning in a manner and form easily understood by the readers" (Good News Bible).
  • "Metaphorical language is often difficult for contemporary readers to understand, so at times we have chosen to translate or illuminate the metaphor" (New Living Translation).
  • "Because for most readers today, the phrases 'the Lord of hosts' and 'God of hosts' have little meaning, this version renders them 'the Lord Almight' and "God Almighty'' (New International Version).
  • "Ancient customs are often unfamiliar to modern readers" (New Century Version).
  • "We have used the vocabulary and language structures . . . of a junior-high student" (New Living Translation).
Who exactly is calling the shots here - the biblical author or today's ignorant readers? John MacArthure once said that these Bibles "diminish the glory of divine revelation by being more concerned with the human reader than the divine author."

You might think that it's a good thing to make the Bible more understandable. You are right but there are better ways to do this. A problem occurs in modern translations when today's readers have no understanding of the liberties that some translations take with the words penned by Moses and Paul. We end up with a translation and an interpretation and often a commentary. The problem is that we can't really tell where the translation ends and the commentary begins. I'll examine this more fully as I begin my look at the best Bibles on the market today.

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