Bible Translation Theory: Formal Equivalence vs. Functional Equivalence, pt. 2

Friday we looked at the arguments in favor of formal equivalent (word-for-word) translations over functional equivalent (thought-for-thought) translations. By way of reminder, popular formal translations include the New King James Version (NKJV), English Standard Version (ESV), and New American Standard (NASB). Popular functional translations include the New International Version (NIV) and New Living Translation (NLT).

Today I want to share some powerful arguments made in favor of the functional equivalent approach.

Arguments for Preferring Functional Equivalent Translations:

1. Functional translations are more easily understood by the reader.

2. Functional translations reflect a missionary approach to a culture, a fact which American Christians need to accept and then make necessary adjustments.

3. Functional translations are more effective in sharing with unchurched people.

4. Functional translations are more effective with children.

5. Functional translations are more faithful to the goal of the Bible writers…to communicate in the common language of the people.

6. Functional translations are easier for new Christians to understand.

7. Functional translations relate better to the lesser educated.

8. Functional translations are more effective with people who speak/read English as a second language.

Can you think of arguments in favor of this position that I have neglected to mention?

In your opinion, how forceful are these arguments compared to those made by the formal equivalence proponents? If you have not already, take a look at my previous post on the subject to compare arguments.

Which side are you on? Why? Have you given it much thought before? How important is it for Christians to be educated on these issues? I’d love to get your feedback.

Tomorrow I will share my opinion on these matters.

4 thoughts on “Bible Translation Theory: Formal Equivalence vs. Functional Equivalence, pt. 2”

  1. Both “sides” are very compelling. I am not sure I really stand on either side. I think the arguments really point out a need to have more than one translation when really studying the Bible.

    However, I definitely agree that we need to make God’s Word accessible to anyone. If that means we use a functional translation with non believers or new believers or children to make it more understandable, I think teaching the Word is far more important than arguing over which translation is best.

  2. ๑۩۩๑ Classifications of Modern Bible Translation Methodology ๑۩۩๑

    • Formal Equivalence – Literal (word-for-word) translation. *words*

    • Dynamic/Functional Equivalence – Simplified (thought-for-thought) translation. *thoughts*

    • Paraphrastic – Interpretive, summarized (amplified) translation. *expressions*

    • Optimal Equivalence – Combines Formal Equivalence with Dynamic Equivalence for optimal contextual clarification.

    ——— Arguments for Formal Equivalence Translations ———

    • They’re more *precise* concerning the original *wording*.

    • They use the *predominant* pre-NIV translation *methodology*.

    • They *eliminate* opinions and *theological* biases of the translator(s).

    • They seem to *convey accuracy while retaining literary prestige*.

    • They *typically* allow *the reader* to interpret *contextual* meaning.

    Your other claimed arguments were either inaccurate or untrue.

    ——— Arguments for Dynamic Equivalence Translations ———

    • They’re *typically* more *comprehensible* for *laypersons*.

    • They *may relate better* with the youth, unlearned, and unchurched.

    Your other claimed arguments were entirely spurious and/or unfounded.

    ——— Arguments for Paraphrastic Translations ———

    • They summarize details per passage and stanza like modern books.

    • They imbue emotional qualities not present in most other translations.

    • They often incorporate commentarial elements to assist with interpretation.

    • Though mainly non-literal, they don’t oversimplify the context.

    • They’re potentially advantageous for churchgoers and missionaries.

    ——— Arguments for Optimal Equivalence Translations ———

    • They provide a better balance between context and meaning.

    • They clarify the meaning of otherwise abstruse passages.

    • They don’t compromise literalness like some dynamic translations.

    • They don’t compromise comprehensibility like some formal translations.

  3. I say that you publish the texts in the original language and if people really care to understand what the texts say they can learn to read in that language. Notice the hint of sarcasm? I like this blog post, of yours. Folks need to understand the variation in translations. Well done.

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