What makes a Bible translation accurate? I agree completely with Dr. Ray Van Neste’s answer. I especially appreciate how he emphasizes the role of the church in helping people interpret the Scriptures:
What makes a translation accurate is faithful representation of the original text into the receptor language (English for us). This is basically agreed upon by all. Where there is debate is concerning the amount of interpretation that should be included in a translation. For example, quite often a Greek phrase is open to a variety of nuanced understandings. Some argue the translator should determine which nuance is best and make that clear in the translation. I would argue that the translation is best that maintains the ambiguity of the original text, so long as it is understandable English. For example, in Colossians 1:11 Paul prays that Christians might be strengthened with all power “according to the might of his glory” (my translation). The Greek phrase here can hypothetically mean “might which is his glory,” “might which comes from his glory,” “might which belongs to his glory” and several other options. Some would argue the translator must decide on one of these more interpretive options and use it. However, I would argue that in this case (and others like it) the simple English translation captures the meaning of the text while leaving open a variety of shades of interpretation.
The goal of a translation is not to decide the interpretive issue in each case. Rather it is to accurately communicate the original with its ambiguity as much as possible. Then the church and its pastors can wrestle together with the interpretive possibilities. Too often, in the laudable desire to make the Bible understandable to anyone, we forget the necessity of the teaching function of the church. Of course people ought to be able to read the Bible and basically understand it on their own. But we are not to expect people to understand the bible fully or as deeply as they could, without the teaching function of the church. Let translations give us access to the text with all its interpretive options and leave it to the church and its pastors to do the work of sifting through these options.”
– Ray Van Neste is associate professor of biblical studies and director of the R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. This article was originally posted at BibleGateway.com.