This is a short introduction to the basics of Bible translation, with later chapters readdressing some areas herein, in greater detail.
John Wycliffe (1330?-84), was a Catholic priest and renowned Oxford theologian. He is credited with producing the first complete English Bible. Of course, this was a handwritten edition and produced from the Latin Vulgate and not the original language of Hebrew and Greek. It is William Tyndale (1494–1536), who produced the first printed edition of the New Testament from the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. Our modern English translations begin with the 1901 American Standard Version.
Those who wish to read the Bible, likely only have access to translations, as it was originally written in ancient Hebrew, some Aramaic, and Greek. As of 2010, there are 6,900 languages spoken in the world today, with 2,100 still needing the Bible translated into their language. (Wycliffe Translators) The English-speaking world has over 100 different translations while others have just one. In fact, the Bible has even been translated into Klingon, the made-up language of the television show Star Trek. If we are one of the fortunate ones who have a choice, we certainly want to choose the Bible that is literal, accurate, clear, natural, and easy-to-understand.
The question that begs to be asked is, ‘why the need for so many English translations?’ There are several reasons, but as is true with many things in life, it can be taken to the extreme. The primary reason is that the English language changes over time. We no longer speak the way of the King James Version or the American Standard Version. Another reason is that other methods of translating have come on the scene in the 1950s, which has caused a plethora of new translations: the easy-to-read dynamic equivalents and the paraphrases. Another basic reason is that even literal translation will differ in minute ways is because of textual, literary and grammatical problems that translators must make choices over.
The Words and Their Meaning
After the translation committee has established, which critical [master] text they are going to work from, they must still work the evidence of each word that has significant variants. Once it has been determined what the original language word is, its meaning must be established. The Hebrew Old Testament has hundreds of words that have not been found outside of the Old Testament itself. Let us look at an example.
1 Samuel 13:21 King James Version (KJV)
21Yet they had a file [Heb., pim] for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads.
What was a pim? It would not be uncovered until 1907 when archaeology discovered the first pim weight stone at the ancient city of Gezer. The translation, like the above King James Version, struggled in their translation of the word “pim.” Today, translators know that the pim was a weight measure of about 7.82 grams, or as the English Standard Version has it, “two-thirds of a shekel,” a common Hebrew unit of weight that the Philistines charged for sharpening the Israelites plowshares and mattocks.
Weight inscribed with the word pym Z. Radovan/www.BibleLandPictures.com
1 Samuel 13:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
21 The charge was a pim [Heb,. pim] for the plowshares and for the mattocks, for the three-pronged fork, for the axes, and for fixing the oxgoad.
The Greek New Testament does not face the same challenges, as there are a mere handful of words that does not appear outside of the New Testament literature. We can look at one example though from Jesus’ model prayer.
Matthew 6:11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
11 Give us this day our daily [Gr., epiousion] bread,
Here, “epiousion” is defined in the lexicon as either “daily” bread or “bread for tomorrow.” The policy of almost all modern translations is to use both words if a given Hebrew or Greek word can be taken in two different ways. Generally, they select one for the translation, the other will be placed in a footnote as “or.”
The Punctuation in Translation
For centuries, there was no punctuation in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the Bible. Punctuation marks started to be introduced by copyist and translators, in accordance with their interpretation of context, as well as their understanding of Bible doctrine. There is one verse, which captures the seriousness of the modern translator, making the choice of punctuation, i.e., Luke 23:43. Depending on where the translation places the comma, you have a completely different outcome.
- Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Alternatively,
- Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise.”
With number (1), you have Jesus telling the criminal that sided with him eventually, “today you will be with me in paradise.” With number (2), you have Jesus telling the criminal today, “you will be with me in paradise.” In other words, number (2) tells us that the criminal was being told this day, the day he and Jesus were speaking, that he would be with Jesus in paradise. This would mean that the criminal would die with the guarantee of an immediate future resurrection. Moreover, if the criminal were resurrected that day, it would conflict with the fact Jesus was not resurrected that day. Jesus remained in the tomb for parts of three days.
The Grammar in Translation
The grammar of Hebrew and Greek can present multiple problems. The initial problem is which words should be transliterated. The Hebrew word ʼadam′ means “Adam” or “man.” When should it be translated “Adam,” and when should it be translated “man.”
Genesis 1:26a Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
26 And God went on to say, “Let us make man [ʼadam] in our image, after our likeness.
“Let us make man [ʼadam] in our image, after our likeness.
Genesis 3:17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
17 And to Adam [ʼadam] he said,
By looking at both the ancient translations, as well as the modern ones, we see a major disagreement. At Genesis 2:7 the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan uses “Adam.” The Greek Septuagint does not use Adam until 2:16; and the Latin Vulgate, at 2:19. Moving to modern translations, we find the New American Standard Bible at 2:20, the New International Version at 2:21; the New English Bible at 3:21; and the New Revised Standard Version at 5:1. Other difficult choices are with the Greek word Christos, which means “Christ,” or “anointed one.” Additionally, Should the Greek verb baptizo, be transliterated as “baptize,” or translated as “immerse?” Moreover, should the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek word hades be transliterated, as it is confusing when it is translated as “hell,” as “death,” “grave,” as well as other renderings? Should Gehenna, Tartarus, and others be transliterated as opposed to translating them?
Another translation issue of late is the gender-inclusive issue. The question before a translation committee is whether the masculine-oriented Bible should stay that way. What these gender-inclusive translators fail to understand is this: to deviate, in any way, from the pattern, or likeness of how God brought his Word into existence, merely opens the Bible up to a book that reflects the age and time of its readers. If we allow the Bible to be altered because the progressive woman’s movement feels offended by masculine language, it will not be long before the Bible gives way to the homosexual communities being offended by God’s Words in the book of Romans; so modern translations will then tame that language, so as to not cause offense. I am certain that we thought that we would never see the day of two men, or two women being married by priests, but that day has been upon us for some time now. In fact, the American government is debating whether to change the definition of marriage. Therefore, it is suggested that the liberal readers not take the warning here as radicalism, but more like reality.
The Most Important Choice
The most important decision a Christian can make is, ‘which translation should be my study Bible?’ If we are to make an informed choice on which translation, is best, we need to consider the following questions: What are the different types of translations available to us, and how is each to be best used? Of the different types, what are the strong points and weaknesses? Thus, if there are weaknesses, why should you be cautious? For the purpose of this chapter, we are only considering the English language translation. In addition, while we could demonstrate with both Hebrew and Greek, to keep it simple we will only use Greek in the examples. In addition, we will use the actual Greek font, but this will not affect those who do not know Greek. The different types of translations cover a wide-range of styles, but there are three basic categories.
One can look at these three different styles of translations as different stages in the Bible translation process. The interlinear stage is not a Bible translation. The interlinear stage is a very rough stage of sorts, in that it does not have a smooth, clear, natural, flow, nor is it in an easy-to-understand format. However, the interlinear is a tool, and not meant to be smooth as you will see below. The literal translation is a much smoother and clearer translation when compared with an interlinear, and should be our choice of a study Bible. The dynamic equivalent is much smoother and easy-to-read, with the paraphrase being very conversational-informal (every day). However, one has to ask, at what point are we moving beyond the Word of God, and into a smooth, clear, easy-to-understand translation, that has hidden or obscured the original language text.
The interlinear Study Tool: This study tool could be known as a hyper-literal translation. The interlinear follows the original language without any concern for English grammar and syntax. Beneath the Hebrew or Greek words of the original language text, depending upon which testament you are working with, the lexical English equivalent is placed. The Greek New Testament, 2004 (UBS4); The Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 2004 (NA27); The Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament, 2008-2010 (LGNTI); The Lexham Hebrew-English Interlinear Old Testament, 2004 (LHB).
The Literal Translation: The literal translation is commonly called the word-for-word translation. Unlike the interlinear, the literal translation follows the original language with concern for English grammar and syntax. The literal translation seeks to render the original language words and style into a corresponding English word and style. Again, they seek to retain the original syntax and sentence structure, and the style of each Bible writer as far as possible. For example, we have the King James Version, 1611 (KJV); American Standard Version, 1901 (ASV); Revised Standard Version, 1952 (RSV); New American Standard Bible, 1995 (NASB); English Standard Version, 2001 (ESV); and the Updated American Standard Version, 2018 (UASV).
Dynamic Equivalent Dishonesty
There has become a pattern for those who favor a dynamic equivalent translation, to use an interlinear Bible, which is not a translation, and refers to it as a word for word translation, because they know that this phrase is tied to translations like the KJV, ASV, RSV, ESV, and NASB. Below is an example from Duvall and Hays in the third edition of Grasping God’s Word (GGW).
Grasping God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and Daniel J. Hays is a great book, so please take what is said with a grain of salt. However, what is quoted below is very dishonest, wrong, misleading, and shows the length one will go to, to biasedly express their preference in translation philosophy. Within the table below are the egregious words from GGW.
|Approaches to Translating God’s Word
The process of translating is more complicated than it appears. Some people think that all you have to do when making a translation is to define each word and string together all the individual word meanings. This assumes that the source language (in this case, Greek or Hebrew) and the receptor language (such as English) are exactly alike. If life could only be so easy! In fact, no two languages are exactly alike. For example, look at a verse chosen at random–from the story of Jesus healing a demon-possessed boy (Matt. 17:18). The word-for-word English rendition is written below a transliteration of the Greek:
Should we conclude that the English line is the most accurate translation of Matthew 17:18 because it attempts a literal rendering of the verse, keeping also the word order? Is a translation better if it tries to match each word in the source language with a corresponding word in a receptor language? Could you even read an entire Bible “translated” in this way?
Because these authors favor the dynamic equivalent translation philosophy, they misrepresent the literal translation philosophy here, to the extent of dishonesty. They give you, the reader, an interlinear rendering of Matthew 17:18, and then refer or infer that it is a literal translation, which by association would include the ASV, RSV, NASB, ESV, and the UASV. Again, an interlinear is not a Bible translation; it is a Bible study tool for persons who do not read Hebrew or Greek. What is placed under the Greek is the lexical rendering, while not considering grammar and syntax, i.e., they are the words in isolation. Now, to demonstrate that J. Scott Duvall and Daniel J. Hays are being disingenuous at best, let us look at the literal translations, to see if they read anything like the interlinear that Duvall and Hays used; or rather, do the literal translations consider grammar and syntax when they bring the Greek over into their English translation.
18 And Jesus rebuked him; and the demon went out of him: and the boy was cured from that hour.
|18 And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.||
18 And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him and the boy was healed from that hour.
18 And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly.
|18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.||
18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and from that moment the boy was healed.
As can be clearly seen from the above four literal translations (ASV, NASB, UASV, and the RSV) and the essentially literal ESV and the optimally literal CSB, they are nothing like the interlinear that Duvall and Hays tried to pawn off on us as a word-for-word translation, i.e., a literal translation. The reader can decide for himself if this is misleading or dishonest.
The Dynamic or Functional Equivalent: This is actually going beyond the Word of God. This method of translation is fine for those few verses that would be misunderstood or even meaningless if it were left literal. For example, 1 Peter 3:3 reads, “Do not let your adorning [kosmos, literally “world”] be external, the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear.” It would be nonsensical if it were left literally to read, “Do not let your world be external, the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear.”
The DE or thought-for-thought translation philosophy (dynamic equivalent) seeks to render the biblical meaning of the original language text as accurately as possible into an English informal (conversational) equivalent. For example, to mention just a few, we have Today’s English Version, 1976 (TEV, GNB); Contemporary English Version, 1995 (CEV); New Living Translation (second edition), 2004 (NLT).
Paraphrase translations are the furthest removed from the interlinear stage. The translators of these Bibles, if we dare to call them such, render the original language into the target language as freely as they feel it needs to be, with the target audience being their most important concern. For example, we have The Living Bible, 1971 (TLB) and The Message Bible, 2002 (MSG).
The Moderate Translation: Like anything in life, there is a tendency to strike a balance between two polarizing worlds, such as the literal translation and the dynamic equivalent. These versions of the Bible endeavor to express the words as well as the meaning and essence of the original-language expressions while also making the text easier to read. For example, we have the New English Translation, 1996 (NET); Holman Christian Standard Bible, 2003 (HCSB); and the New International Version, 2011 (NIV). However, this gesture is a slippery slope for two reasons (1) there is no need to drop below a literal translation level, to do so is to dilute the Word of God. (2) In addition, a step toward the dynamic equivalent is usually followed by another step before long. For example, the 1984 New International Version was an attempt at the middle ground, but the 2011 edition of the NIV went another step toward the dynamic equivalent camp.
 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 376.
 Duvall, J. Scott; Hays, J. Daniel (2012-05-01). Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (Kindle Locations 494-507). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.