Modern Bible Translation Philosophies

When translating the Bible from the original languages, modern English Bible translators do not all use the same approach. Here are the four different kinds of translations available:

1. Formal Equivalent Translation Bible – a.k.a. literal translations, word-for-word translations. This philosophy seeks to translate as close to the original languages as possible and yet understandable to the modern reader. Emphasis is on the ancient text. Tends to be favored by conservatives/fundamentalists and verse-by-verse teachers.

Strength – considered very faithful to the original languages. Traditional approach; the modus operandi for Bible translations up through the mid-20th Century.

Weakness – considered awkward reading with often obscure words and thus difficult to read and understand for some people.

Examples – New King James Version (NKJV), English Standard Version (ESV), and New American Standard Bible (NASB).

2. Functional Equivalent Translation Bible – a.k.a. free or dynamic translations, thought-for-thought or phrase-for-phrase translations. This philosophy seeks to make the translation as understandable as possible to the modern reader, and yet faithful to the original languages. Emphasis is on the modern reader. Tends to be favored by conservatives/moderates and evangelists.

Strength – considered very readable and understandable.

Weakness – considered to cross the line at times into unwarranted interpretation of the text

Examples – New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT), and New Century Version (NCV).

3. Optimal Equivalent Translation Bible – a new translation theory in which seeks integrate the formal equivalent approach with the functional equivalent approach by translating in formal equivalent mode as long as it is highly readable and understandable to the modern reader. When it is not highly readable and understandable to the modern reader, the translators switch to functional equivalent mode.

Strength – ideally it is highly readable and understandable and very faithful to the original languages.

Weakness – too early to tell? Seems like it might bring in more subjectivity into the translation by adding another layer of responsibility to the translators. It seems like these translators have to constantly be wrestling with the question, “Do we switch gears now?”

Example – Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

4. Paraphrase – one man putting the Bible into his own words or seeking to put into words that are most easily understood by the modern culture; highly biased, very colloquial and temporal.

Strength – considered very readable, very understandable, and fresh.

Weakness – not a legitimate Bible; not trustworthy for study.

Examples: The Message by Eugene Peterson and  The Living Bible by Kenneth Taylor.

WHAT’S AHEAD–> Tomorrow we will look at arguments for the formal approach and Monday we will look at arguments for the functional approach.


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3 thoughts on “Modern Bible Translation Philosophies”

  1. Thanks for educating us on these translations. Simple, clear, understandable…your blog would fall into “optimal equivalent”…haha. Great Job!!!

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