The debate as to where one should be in the spectrum of literal versus dynamic equivalent, i.e., their translation philosophy has been going on since the first translation of the Hebrew (Aramaic) into Greek, i.e., the Septuagint (280-150 B.C.E.). However, if we were to look to the first printed English translation of 1526 by William Tyndale, we would find a literal translation philosophy that ran for almost four-hundred-years. It was not until the 20th century that we find the wholesale overthrow of the literal translation philosophy. For every literal English translation that we have today, there are dozens of dynamic equivalent translations. Just to name a few, we have the Contemporary Version, the Good News Translation, the Easy to Read Version, the New Life Version, the New Living Translation, God’s Word, the New Century Version, the New International Reader’s Version, and the like. Below, we will offer a deeper discussion of these translation philosophies than we had in the previous chapter, which had simply served as an introduction to the subject.

Interlinear Study Tool

The interlinear Bible page is set up with the left column where you will find the original language text, with the English word-for-word lexical gloss beneath each original language word; generally, the right column contains an English translation like the ESV, NASB, or the NIV. The interlinear translation in the left column and the modern-day English translation in the right column are parallel to each other. This allows the student to make immediate comparisons between the translation and the interlinear, helping one to determine the accuracy of the translation.

Greek-English Interlinear

The New Greek-English Interlinear NT by Tyndale Publishing

The interlinear and the English equivalent in the left column are not generated by taking the English word(s) from the translation on the right and then placing them under the original language text. Whether we are dealing with Hebrew or Greek as our original language text, each word will have two or more English equivalents. What factors go into the choice of which word will go under the original language word? One factor is the period in which the book was written. As the New Testament was penned in the first century, during the era of Koine Greek, as opposed to classical Greek of centuries past, and then there is the context of what comes before and after the word under consideration.

Therefore, the translator will use his training in the original language, or a lexicon to determine if he is working with a noun, verb, the definite article, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, participle, and the like. Further, say he is looking at the verb, it must be determined what mood it is in (indicative, subjunctive, imperative, etc.), what tense (present, future, aorist, etc.), what voice (active, middle, passive, etc.), and so forth. In addition, the English words under the original language text are generated from grammatical form, the alterations to the root, which affect its role within the sentence, for which he will look to the Hebrew or Greek grammar reference.

Choosing Your BibleThe best lexicon is the 3rd edition Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (BDAG) ten years in the making, this extensive revision of Bauer, the standard authority worldwide, features new entries, 15,000 additional references from ancient literature, clearer type, and extended definitions rather than one-word synonyms. Providing a more panoramic view of the world and language of the New Testament, it becomes the new indispensable guide for translators. The second best lexicon is the Greek-English Lexicon: With a Revised Supplement, 1996: Ninth Revised Edition – Edited By H.G. Liddell, R. Scott by H.G. Liddell & R. Scott. Each word is given in root form along with important variations, and an excellent representation of examples from classical, Koine and Attic Greek sources follows. This lexicon is appropriate for all classical Greek and general biblical studies. By far the best traditional Hebrew lexicon currently available is The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) (vols. 1-5; trans. M. E. J. Richardson; Brill, 1994-2000). However, the price is beyond most students and scholars. A more affordable edition, which I highly recommend, is available, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Unabridged 2-Volume Study Edition) (2 vols. trans. M. E. J. Richardson; Brill, 2002).

There are numerous lexicons on the market, which would be fine tools for the Bible student. Many scholars would concur that Biblical lexicons have four main weaknesses:

  • They are geared toward the translations of the 20th century, as opposed to new translations.
  • They primarily contain only information from the Bible itself, as opposed to possessing information from Greek literature overall.
  • They are too narrow as to the words of say the New Testament, attempting to harmonize a word and its meaning. The problem with this agenda is that a word can have numerous meanings, some being quite different, depending on its context, even by the same author.
  • Most Biblical lexicons have not escaped the etymological fallacy, determining the meaning of a word based on its origin and past meaning(s). Another aspect being that the meaning of a word is based on the internal structure of the word. A common English example of the latter is “butterfly.” The separate part of “butter” and “fly” do not define “butterfly.” Another example is “ladybird.”

[1]

Interlinear John 3.7

7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘It is necessary for you to be born again.’[2]

As you can see the interlinear translation reads very rough, as it is following the Greek sentence structure. The Updated American Standard Version rearranges the words according to English grammar and syntax. Do not be surprised that at times words may need to be left out of the English translation, as they are unnecessary.  For example, The Greek language sometimes likes to put the definite article “the” before personal name, so in the Greek, you may have “the Jesus said.” In the English, it would be appropriate to drop the definite article. At other times, it may be appropriate to add words to complete the sense in the English translation. For example, at John 4:26, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.” *The word “he” is not in the Greek text but is implied, so it is added to complete the sense. Please see the image on the next page.

Interlinear John 4.26

The Greek New Testament, (Interlinear)

Here in John chapter 4, you have Jesus being spoken to by a Samaritan woman. She is inquiring about the coming Messiah, and Jesus does something with the Samaritan woman that he has not done even with his disciples, He discloses who he really is, “I am the one [i.e., the Messiah]. The ESV, like the other translations that we have considered, is aware that there is an implied predicate pronoun in the sentence “I am [he] the one speaking to you.”

The Complete Guide to Bible Translation

Literal Translation

Once the interlinear level has taken place, it is now time to adjust our English lexical glosses into sentences. Each word will possess its own grammatical indicator. As the translator begins to construct his English sentence, he will adjust according to the context of the words surrounding his focus. As you will see shortly, in the examples below, the translator must transition the words from the Greek order, to correct English grammar and syntax. This is a delicate balance faced by the literal translation team. As they must determine how close they will cling to the Hebrew or Greek word order in their English translation. The reader will find that the KJV, ASV, NASB, ESV and the UASV will allow a little roughness for the reader, for them an acceptable sacrifice as they believe that meaning is conveyed by the word order at times. An overly simplified example might be Christ Jesus as opposed to Jesus Christ, with the former focusing on the office (“Christ” anointed one), while the latter focuses on the person.

Even though it is impossible to follow the word order of the original in an English translation, the translator will attempt to stay as close as possible to the effective and persuasive use that the style of the original language permits. In other words, what is stated in the original language is rendered into the English, as well as the way that it is said, as far as possible? This is why the literal translation is known as a “formal equivalence.” As a literal translation, it “is designed so as to reveal as much of the original form as possible. (Ray 1982, p. 47)

It should be noted that this writer favors the literal translation over the dynamic equivalent, and especially the paraphrase. The literal translation gives us what God said, there is no concealing this by going beyond into the realms of what a translator interprets these words as saying. It should be understood that God’s Word to man is not meant to be read like a John Grisham novel. It is meant to be meditated on, pondered over, and absorbed quite slowly; using many tools and helps along the way. There is a reason for this, it being that the Bible is a sifter of hearts. It separates out those who really want to know and understand God’s Word (based on their evident demonstration of buying out the opportune time for study and research), from those who have no real motivation, no interest, just going through life. Even though, literal translation method needs to be done in a balanced manner, and should not be taken too far.

There are times when a literal word-for-word translation is not in the best interest of the reader and could convey a meaning contrary to the original.

  • As we have established throughout this book, but have not stated directly, no two languages are exactly equivalent in grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure.

Ephesians 4:14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV

 14 So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of teaching, by the trickery [lit., dice playing] of men, by craftiness with regard to the scheming of deceit;

The Greek word kybeia that is usually rendered “craftiness” or “trickery,” is literally “dice-playing,” which refers to the practice of cheating others when playing dice. If it was rendered literally, “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery dice-playing of men,” the meaning would be lost. Therefore, the meaning of what the original author meant by his use of the Greek word kybeia, must be the translator’s choice.

Romans 12:11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

11 Do not be slothful in zeal,[3] be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;

When Paul wrote the Romans, he used the Greek word zeontes, which literally means, “boil,” “seethe,” or “fiery hot.” Some serious Bible students may notice the thought of “boiling in spirit,” as being “fervent in spirit or better “aglow with the spirit,” or “keep your spiritual fervor.” Therefore, for the sake of making sense, it is best to take the literal “boiling in spirit,” determine what is meant by the author’s use of the Greek word zeontes, “keep your spiritual fervor”, and render it thus.

Matthew 5:3 New International Version, ©2011 (NIV)

   3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

   3“Blessed are those who [are poor in spirit] recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

This one is a tough call. The phrase “poor in spirit” carries so much history, and has been written as to what it means, for almost 2,000 years that, even the dynamic equivalent translations are unwilling to translate its meaning, not its words. Personally, this writer is in favor of the literal translation of “poor in spirit.” Those who claim to be literal translators should not back away because “poor in spirit” is ambiguous, and there is a variety of interpretations. The above dynamic equivalent translation, God’s Word, has come closest to what was meant. Actually, “poor” is even somewhat of an interpretation, because the Greek word ptochos means “beggar.” Therefore, “poor in spirit” is an interpretation of “beggar in spirit.” The extended interpretation is that the “beggar/poor in spirit” is aware of his or her spiritual needs as if a beggar or the poor would be aware of their physical needs.

  • As we have also established in this chapter a word’s meaning can be different, depending on the context that it was used.

2 Samuel 8:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 3 Then David struck down Hadadezer, the son of Rehob king of Zobah, as he went to restore his authority [lit. hand] at the River.

1 Kings 10:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 13 King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all her desire which she requested, besides what he gave her according to his royal bounty [li. hand]. Then she turned and went to her own land, she together with her servants.

Proverbs 18:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 Death and life are in the power [lit. hand] of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

The English word “hand” has no meaning outside of its context. It could mean, “end of the arm,” “pointer on a clock,” “card players,” “round in a card game,” “part in doing something,” “round of applause,” “member of a ship’s crew,” or “worker.” The Hebrew word “yad,” which means “hand,” has many meanings as well, depending on the context, as it can mean “control,” “bounty,” or “power.” This one word is translated in more than forty different ways in some translations. Let us look at some English sentences, to see the literal way of using “hand,” and then add what it means, as a new sentence.

  • Please give a big hand to our next contestant. Please give a big applause for our next contestant.
  • Your future is in your own hands. Your future is in your own power. Your future is in your own possession.
  • Attention, all hands! Attention, all ship’s crew!
  • She has a good hand for gardening. She has a good ability or skill for gardening.
  • Please give me a hand, I need some help.
  • The copperplate writing was beautifully written; she has a nice hand.

Do We Still Need a Literal Bible

At times, even a literal translation committee will not render a word the same every time it occurs, because the sense is not the same every time. The only problem we have is that the reader must now be dependent on the judgment of the translator to select the right word(s) that reflect the meaning of the original language word accurately and understandably. Let us look at the above texts from the Hebrew Old Testament again, this time doing what we did with the English word “hand” in the above. It is debatable if any of these verses really needed to be more explicit, by giving the meaning in the translation, as opposed to the word itself.

2 Samuel 8:3: who went to restore his hand at the Euphrates River – who went to restore his control at the Euphrates River

1 Kings 10:13: she asked besides what was given her by the hand of King Solomon – she asked besides what was given her by the bounty of King Solomon

Proverbs 18:21: Death and life are in the hand of the tongue – Death and life are in the power of the tongue

We can look to one example translation, who touts the fact that it is a literal translation, i.e., the English Standard Version (ESV). In fact, it waters that concept down by qualifying its literalness, saying that it is an essentially literal translation. Essentially means being the most basic element or feature of something. In this case, the ESV is the most basic element or feature of a literal translation. In the course of 13 years of using the ESV, this author has discovered that it unnecessarily abandons its literal translation philosophy quite regularly. Dr. William Mounce was the head of the translation committee that produced the ESV, and he leans toward or favors the dynamic equivalent translation philosophy. He has since left the ESV committee and has become the head of the New International Version committee, which is being more and more of a dynamic equivalent, with each new edition. This is not to say that the ESV is not a splendid translation because it is.

Dynamic Equivalent Translation

Translators who produce what are frequently referred to as free translations, take liberties with the text as presented in the original languages. How so? They either insert their opinion of what the original text could mean or omit some of the information contained in the original text. Dynamic equivalent translations may be appealing because they are easy to read. However, their very freeness at times obscures or changes the meaning of the original text.

Ecclesiastes 9:8 (NLT)

Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!

Ecclesiastes 9:8 (CEV)

Dress up, comb your hair, and look your best.

Ecclesiastes 9:8 (GNT)

Always look happy and cheerful.

Ecclesiastes 9:8 (NCV)

Put on nice clothes
and make yourself look good.

First, the above dynamic equivalents do not even agree with each other. What does Ecclesiastes 9:8 really say.

Ecclesiastes 9:8 (NASB)

8Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head.

Ecclesiastes 9:8 (ESV)

8 Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

Ecclesiastes 9:8 (UASV)

8 Let your garments be always white, and let not your head lack oil.

Ecclesiastes 9:8 (HCSB) 
8
 Let your clothes be white all the time, and never let oil be lacking on your head.

What does the metaphorical language of “white garments” and “oil on your head” symbolize? Does “white garments” mean to “wear fine clothes,” “dress up,” “look happy,” or “put on nice clothes”? In addition, does “oil on your head” mean “a splash of cologne,” “comb your hair” or “make yourself look good”? Duane Garrett says, “Wearing white clothes and anointing the hair (v. 8) symbolize joy and contrast with the familiar use of sackcloth and ashes as a sign of mourning or repentance.”[4] Let us also look at an exegetical commentary as well as a book on Bible backgrounds.

John Peter Lange et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Ecclesiastes

White garments are the expression of festive joy and pure, calm feelings in the soul, comp. Rev. 3:4 f.; 7:9 ff. Koheleth could hardly have meant a literal observance of this precept, so that the conduct of Sisinnius, Novatian bishop of Constantinople, who, with reference to this passage, always went in white garments, was very properly censured by Chrysostom as Pharisaical and proud. Hengstenberg’s view is arbitrary, and in other respects scarcely corresponds to the sense of the author: “White garments are here to be put on as an expression of the confident hope of the future glory of the people of God, as Spener had himself buried in a white coffin as a sign of his hope in a better future of the Church.”

And let thy head lack no ointment. As in 2 Sam. 12:20; 14:2; Isa. 61:3; Amos 6:6; Prov. 27:9; Ps. 45:8, so here appears the anointing oil, which keeps the hair smooth and makes the face to shine, as a symbol of festive joy, and a contrast to a sorrowing disposition. There is no reason here for supposing fragrant spikenard (Mark 14:2), because the question is mainly about producing a good appearance by means of the ointment, comp. Ps. 133:2. Ver. 9.[5]

James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible

In any area with strong sunlight, white clothing is preferred because white reflects the sunlight and so decreases the heating effect of it. In addition, white garments in the East were symbols of purity, and so were worn on certain special occasions. The symbols and custom were adopted by the West and is reflected especially in the wedding ceremony. The oil was symbolic of joy. Together they signified purity and the joy of festive occasions.

In the Bible there are several references to white garments symbolizing purity, righteousness, or holiness. In Daniel 7:9, the clothing worn by the “Ancient of Days … was as white as snow.” When Jesus was transfigured, “his clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). The angels appeared in white robes when they appeared to the soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb and when the women went to the tomb after He had risen (Matthew 28:3, Mark 16:5, Luke 24:4, and John 20:12), and also when Christ ascended into heaven (Acts 1:10). In the ages to come, the redeemed will be clothed in white (Revelation 7:13 and 19:14).[6]

We can see that the three sources interpret the metaphorical language of “white garments” and “oil on your head” as purity and joy. Would we get this by way of the four dynamic equivalents in the above? Would “Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne” (NLT) get us to the correct meaning? We should not replace metaphorical language because we feel it is too difficult for the reader to understand. They should buy out the time, just as this writer has done, by going to commentaries, word study books, and Bible background books. Let us look at one more informative Bible background book,

9:8. clothed in white. Scholars have understood the color white to symbolize purity, festivity or elevated social status. In both Egypt Story of Sinuhe) and Mesopotamia (Epic of Gilgamesh) clean or bright garments conveyed a sense of well-being. Moreover, the hot Middle-Eastern climate favors the wearing of white clothes to reflect the heat.

9.8. anointed head. Oil preserved the complexion in the hot Middle Eastern climate. Both the Egyptian Song of the Harper and the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh described individuals clothed in fine linen and with myrrh on their head. (Walton, Matthews and Chavalas 2000, p. 574)

As we are about to take up the subject of the paraphrase, let us consider the above Ecclesiastes 9:8 and the surrounding verses in a paraphrase.

Ecclesiastes 9:8 (The Message)

 7-10 Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,
Drink wine with a robust heart.
Oh yes, God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
Dress festively every morning.
Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.
Relish life with the spouse you love
Each and every day of your precarious life.
Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange
For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!
This is your last and only chance at it,
For there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think
In the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.

Paraphrase Translation

A paraphrase is “a restatement of a text, passage, or work giving the meaning in another form.”[7] The highest priority and characteristic is the rephrasing and simplification. Whatever has been said in the above about the dynamic equivalent can be magnified a thousand fold herein. The best way to express the level this translation will be to go to a paraphrase and set it side-by-side with the dynamic equivalent and literal translations. Below we have done that, i.e., Isaiah 1:1-17. It is recommended that we read verses 1-4 in the Message Bible, then in the New Living Translation, and then in the English Standard Version. Thereafter, read verses 5-9 in the same manner, followed by verses 10-12, and 13-17. This way we will taste the flavor of each with just a small bit at a time, so you do not lose the sense of the previous one by too much reading.

Isaiah 1:1-17 The Message (MSG)

1The vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw regarding Judah and Jerusalem during the times of the kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. 2-4Heaven and earth, you’re the jury.
Listen to God’s case:
“I had children and raised them well,
and they turned on me.
The ox knows who’s boss,
the mule knows the hand that feeds him,
But not Israel.
My people don’t know up from down.
Shame! Misguided God-dropouts,
staggering under their guilt-baggage,
Gang of miscreants,
band of vandals—
My people have walked out on me, their God,
turned their backs on The Holy of Israel,
walked off and never looked back.

5-9“Why bother even trying to do anything with you
when you just keep to your bullheaded ways?
You keep beating your heads against brick walls.
Everything within you protests against you.
From the bottom of your feet to the top of your head,
nothing’s working right.
Wounds and bruises and running sores—
untended, unwashed, unbandaged.
Your country is laid waste,
your cities burned down.
Your land is destroyed by outsiders while you watch,
reduced to rubble by barbarians.
Daughter Zion is deserted—
like a tumbledown shack on a dead-end street,
Like a tarpaper shanty on the wrong side of the tracks,
like a sinking ship abandoned by the rats.
If God-of-the-Angel-Armies hadn’t left us a few survivors,
we’d be as desolate as Sodom, doomed just like Gomorrah.

10“Listen to my Message,
you Sodom-schooled leaders.
Receive God’s revelation,
you Gomorrah-schooled people.

11-12“Why this frenzy of sacrifices?”
God’s asking.
“Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of burnt sacrifices,
rams and plump grain-fed calves?
Don’t you think I’ve had my fill
of blood from bulls, lambs, and goats?
When you come before me,
whoever gave you the idea of acting like this,
Running here and there, doing this and that—
all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship?

13-17“Quit your worship charades.
I can’t stand your trivial religious games:
Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—
meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!
Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!
You’ve worn me out!
I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,
while you go right on sinning.
When you put on your next prayer-performance,
I’ll be looking the other way.
No matter how long or loud or often you pray,
I’ll not be listening.
And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing
people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.
Go home and wash up.
Clean up your act.
Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings
so I don’t have to look at them any longer.
Say no to wrong.
Learn to do good.
Work for justice.
Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
Go to bat for the defenseless.

 

 

 

 

Isaiah 1:1-17 New Living Translation (NLT)

1 These are the visions that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. He saw these visions during the years when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah.

2 Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth!
This is what the Lord says:
“The children I raised and cared for
have rebelled against me.
3 Even an ox knows its owner,
and a donkey recognizes its master’s care—
but Israel doesn’t know its master.
My people don’t recognize my care for them.”
4 Oh, what a sinful nation they are—
loaded down with a burden of guilt.
They are evil people,
corrupt children who have rejected the Lord.
They have despised the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him.

5 Why do you continue to invite punishment?
Must you rebel forever?
Your head is injured,
and your heart is sick.
6 You are battered from head to foot—
covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds—
without any soothing ointments or bandages.
7 Your country lies in ruins,
and your towns are burned.
Foreigners plunder your fields before your eyes
and destroy everything they see.
8 Beautiful Jerusalem stands abandoned
like a watchman’s shelter in a vineyard,
like a lean-to in a cucumber field after the harvest,
like a helpless city under siege.
9 If the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
had not spared a few of us,
we would have been wiped out like Sodom,
destroyed like Gomorrah.

10 Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.”
Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.”
11 “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
says the Lord.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to worship me,
who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
13 Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
I want no more of your pious meetings.
14 I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
15 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
16 Wash yourselves and be clean!
Get your sins out of my sight.
Give up your evil ways.
17 Learn to do good.
Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans.
Fight for the rights of widows.

 

 

 

 

Isaiah 1:1-17 English Standard Version (ESV)

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

The Wickedness of Judah

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for Jehovah has spoken:
“Sons I have brought up and raised,
but they have revolted against me.
An ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”

Woe to the sinful nation,
a people weighed down with error,
brood of wicked men,
sons who act corruptly!
They have abandoned Jehovah,
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they have turned their backs on him.

Where will you be stricken again,
as you continue in your rebellion??
The whole head is sick,
and the whole heart faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head,
there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores
and raw wounds;
they are not pressed out or bound up
or softened with oil.

Your land is desolate;
your cities are burned with fire;
in your very presence
foreigners devour your land;
it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
And the daughter of Zion is left
like a shelter in a vineyard,
like a hut in a cucumber field,
like a city besieged.

Unless Jehovah of armies
had left us a few survivors,
we would be like Sodom,
we would have become like Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of Jehovah,
you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the law[1] of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “What are your many sacrifices to me?
says Jehovah;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed animals;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.

12 “When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of assemblies —
I cannot endure iniquity[2] and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
yes, even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full[3] of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17  learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct the oppresor;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead for the widow.

[1] Or teaching or instruction

[2] Isaiah’s use of (ʾāwen) may designate magic or idolatrous ritual, or evil caused by the misuse of power.

[3] Or covered with

 

Literal Contrasted With Dynamic Equivalent

In short, the dynamic equivalent translator seeks to render the biblical meaning of the original language text as accurately as possible into an English informal (conversational) equivalent. Alternatively, the literal translation seeks to render the original language words and style into a corresponding English word and style.

Again, there are two major divisions in translation philosophy. We have the word-for-word and the thought-for-thought. A literal translation is one-step removed from the original, and something is always lost or gained, because there will never be 100 percent equivalent transference from one language to the next. A thought-for-thought translation is one more step removed than the literal translation in many cases and can block the sense of the original entirely.  A thought-for-thought translation slants the text in a particular direction, cutting off other options and nuances.

A literal word-for-word translation makes every effort to represent accurately the authority, power, vitality and directness of the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures and to transfer these characteristics in modern English. The literal translations have the goal of producing as literal a translation as possible where the modern-English idiom permits and where a literal rendering does not conceal the thought. Again, there are times when the literal rendering would be unintelligible, and so one must interpret what the author meant by the words that he used.

Literal Translation Dynamic Equivalent
Focuses on form Focuses on meaning
Emphasizes source language Emphasizes receptor language
Translates what was said Translates what was meant
Presumes original context Presumes contemporary context
Retains ambiguities Removes ambiguities
Minimizes interpretative bias Enhances interpretative bias
Valuable for serious Bible study Valuable for commentary use
Awkward receptor language style Natural receptor language style

The alteration of one word can remove an enormous amount of meaning from the Word of God. Let us consider 1 Kings 2:10 as an example.

Literal Translation Dynamic Equivalent
1 Kings 2:10 (ESV)

10 Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.

1 Kings 2:10 (GNT)

10 David died and was buried in David’s City.

1 Kings 2:10 (ASV)

10 And David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.

1 Kings 2:10 (NLT)

10 Then David died and was buried with his ancestors in the City of David.

1 Kings 2:10 (NASB)

10 Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.

1 Kings 2:10 (GW)

10 David lay down in death with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David.

1 Kings 2:10 (UASV)

10 Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.

1 Kings 2:10 (NIRV)

10 David joined the members of his family who had already died. His body was buried in the City of David.

1 Kings 2:10 (RSV)

10 Then David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.

1 Kings 2:10 (NCV)

10 Then David died and was buried with his ancestors in Jerusalem.

One could conclude that the (dynamic equivalent) thought-for-thought translations are conveying the idea in a more clear and immediate way, but is this really the case? There are three points that are missing from the thought-for-thought translation:

 In the scriptures, “sleep” is used metaphorically as death, also inferring a temporary state where one will wake again, or be resurrected.  That idea is lost in the thought-for-thought translation. (Ps 13:3; John 11:11-14; Ac 7:60; 1Co 7:39; 15:51; 1Th 4:13)

Sleeping with or lying down with his father also conveys the idea of having closed his life and having found favor in God’s eyes as did his forefathers.

When we leave out some of the words from the original, we also leave out the possibility of more meaning being drawn from the text.  Missing is the word shakab (“to lie down” or “to sleep”), ’im (“with”) and ‘ab in the plural (“forefathers”). Below are verses that enhance our understanding of death, by way of sleep, as being temporary for those who will be awakened by a resurrection.

 Psalm 13:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

3 Consider and answer me, Jehovah my God;
give light to my eyes
lest I sleep the sleep of death,

John 11:11-14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died,

Acts 7:60 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.[8]

1 Corinthians 7:39 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

39 A wife is bound for so long time as her husband is alive. But if her husband should fall asleep (koimethe) [in death], she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.[9]

1 Corinthians 15:51 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,

1 Thessalonians 4:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 But we do not want you to be ignorant,[10] brothers, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.

Those who argue for a though-for-thought translation will say the literal translation “slept” or “lay down” is no longer a way of expressing death in the modern English-speaking world.  While this may be true to some extent, the context of chapter two, verse 1: “when David was about to die” and the latter half of 2:10: “was buried in the city of David” resolves that issue.  Moreover, while the reader may have to meditate a little longer, or indulge him/herself in the culture of different Biblical times, they will not be deprived of the full potential that a verse has to convey. (Grudem, et al. 2005, pp. 20-21)

A Word of Caution

The dynamic equivalent and paraphrase can and does obscure things from the reader by overreaching in their translations. This can be demonstrated on the moral standards found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 The Message

 9-10 Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men of passive homosexual acts, nor men of active homosexual acts,[11] 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

If you compare the MSG with the UASV, you will notice that the MSG does not even list the specifics defined by the apostle Paul on precisely what kind of conduct we should shun.

Matthew 7:13 Today’s English Version (TEV)

 13“Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it.

Matthew 7:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.

The Greek word apōleian means “destruction,” “waste,” “annihilation,” “ruin.” Therefore, one has to ask, ‘why did the TEV translation committee render it “hell”? It has all the earmarks of theological bias. The translation committee is looking to promote the doctrine of eternal torment, not destruction. The objective of the translator is to render it the way that it should be rendered. If it supports a certain doctrine, this should be accepted, if not, then this should be accepted as well. The policy is that God does not need an overzealous translator to convey his doctrinal message.

Literal Dynamic Equivalent Dynamic Equivalent
1 Corinthians 11:10 (UASV)

10 This is why the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

1 Corinthians 11:10 (GNT)

10 On account of the angels, then, a woman should have a covering over her head to show that she is under her husband’s authority.

1 Corinthians 11:10 (CEV)

10 And so, because of this, and also because of the angels, a woman ought to wear something on her head, as a sign of her authority.

As we can see, the English lexical glosses of the interlinear are literally carried over into the Source Language word for word, keeping the exact form. This is called a gloss in the world of the Bible translator. While this does not convey much meaning to the average English reader, it does to one who has studied Biblical Greek. However, the Bible student would have a literal translation as a study Bible. The literal translation, as you can see, will keep the form as far as is possible, as well as the wording. The Dynamic Equivalent advocates will argue that this does not sound natural. Well, for those that want the Word of God in its undiluted form, as accurately as possible, we will accept a little unnatural sounding at times. Soon, we will see the danger of going beyond translation into interpretation.

Our literal translation contains ambiguity. Is the writer talking about women or wives? Is the woman to have her own authority, or is something or someone else to have authority over her? This is just fine, because it ambiguity has many benefits, as you will see. First, as a quick aside, the work of interpretation will weed out those pseudo-Christians, who do not want to put any effort into their relationship with God, who do not want to buy out the time to understand. Now, the reader has the right to determine for himself or herself which is the correct interpretation. The translator should not steal this right from them, for the translator or the translation committee, could be wrong, and life or death may be uncertain.

Seeing two dynamic equivalents side-by-side helps you to see that they have arrived at two different conclusions and both cannot be right. The Today’s English Version believes that the “woman” here is really the “wife,” as it refers to the “husband.” It also believes that the wife is to be under the husband’s authority. On the other hand, the Contemporary English Version does not commit to the argument of “woman” versus “wife,” but does understand the verse to mean the woman has her own authority. She has the authority to act as she feels she should, as long as she wears something as a sign of this.

A good translation will do the following:

  • Accurately render the original language words and style into the corresponding English word and style that were inspired by God.
  • Translate the meaning of words literally, when the wording and construction of the original text allow for such a rendering in the target language.
  • Transfer the correct meaning (sense) of a word or a phrase when a literal rendering of the original-language word or a phrase would garble or obscure the meaning.
  • After considering, the objectives of the first three points, as far as possible, use natural, easy-to-understand language that inspires reading.

Are there such translations available on the market? Yes, the author recommends that you use the NASB Zondervan Study Bible by Kenneth L. Barker, Donald W. Burdick, John H. Stek and Walter W. Wessel (Jan 6, 2000), as your primary study Bible. Of course, you should consider other literal translations as time permits. In addition, use the dynamic equivalents as mini-commentaries, as that is what they are.

 

[1] Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993; 2006), Jn 3:7.

[2] Edward Andrews et al., The Updated American Standard Version (Christian Publishing House, 2014; 2018), Jn 3:7.

[3] Or diligent

[4] Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 14, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 331.

[5] John Peter Lange et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Ecclesiastes (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 126.

[6] James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 338.

[7] Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary., Eleventh ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).

[8] I.e. died

[9] The ASV, ESV, NASB, and other literal translation do not hold true to their literal translation philosophy here. This does not bode well in their claim that literal is the best policy. We are speaking primarily to the ESV translators, who make this claim in numerous books.

[10] Or uninformed

[11] The two Greek terms refer to passive men partners and active men partners in consensual homosexual acts