Book Review - Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach

Image of Understanding English Bible Translation
by Leland Ryken
Crossway 2009
Paperback 208

As I am writing this, Tyndale House is sponsoring a contest to promote the sale of their New Living Translation (NLT). Among the giveaways are several iPads, an iPod, a Kindle and a trip to Hawaii! This “Bible Contest and Giveaway” is called “Breakthrough to Clarity.” Of course, I entered. I may not be a fan of the NLT, but I am of Apple and Hawaii.

To various degrees marketing influences us all. How healthy an impact it has had on modern society is not for this discussion. However, marketing does enter into our consideration of the history of Bible translation. Marketing puts the emphasis on the consumer. It makes the audience supreme. It was this attention to the audience that led to the great divide between translation theories.

Next year, the King James Version (KJV) will celebrate its 400th birthday. For over 360 years the KJV reigned unrivaled. This changed in 1978 with the debut of the New International Version (NIV). The NIV quickly became a best seller. Leland Ryken, in his book Understanding English Bible Translation suggests the “NIV cornered the market because (a) it was the only viable alternative to the obsolete King James Bible, and (b) marketing and advertising made it irresistibly attractive to the masses” (p. 65).

The Committee on Bible Translation for the NIV had the audience in mind from the outset:

A sensitive feeling for style does not always accompany scholarship. Accordingly the Committee on Bible Translation submitted the developing version to a number of stylistic consultants. Two of them read every book of both Old and New Testaments twice—once before and once after the last major revision—and made invaluable suggestions. Samples of the translation were tested for clarity and ease of reading by various kinds of people—young and old, highly educated and less well educated, ministers and laymen.1

What the NIV did in moderation, later translations did in spades. Are all translations created equal? Obviously, translators take different approaches to the text. Are all these approaches of equal value?

In Understanding English Bible Translation author Leland Ryken, professor of English at Wheaton College since 1968, lays out (as the subtitle indicates) The Case For an Essentially Literal Approach. The book is a follow-up to his earlier book The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation . If you choose to read just one, I recommend Understanding English Bible Translation, a more enjoyable, though less in-depth, read. Be advised—having served as literary stylist for the ESV and as coeditor of the ESV Literary Study Bible, Ryken is not an impartial observer. He states right up front this “is a book about the theory and practice of English Bible translation. Its aim is to clarify the current English Bible translation scene and to present arguments in favor of an essentially literal translation philosophy as being better than dynamic equivalence” (p. 13). I believe he accomplishes what he set out to do.

In Bible translation work, there are two extremes. The King James tradition (starting with Wycliffe and Tyndale and including Coverdale, Rogers and the Geneva Bible) uses an essentially literal approach to translation known as “verbal equivalence or formal equivalence” (p. 49). This formal approach was continued with the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible, the New King James Version and the English Standard Version. The other end of the translation spectrum is known as “dynamic equivalence” (p. 57). This approach began with the work of Eugene Nida and is seen first in the Good News Bible, then the New International Version, the New Living Translation, the New Century Version and other more recent translations.

One way Ryken sums up these two extremes is by asking whether the goal of translation work is allegiance to the audience or to the author.

One of Eugene Nida’s translation principles is “the priority of the needs of the audience over the forms of language.” Nida then caters to readers even more specifically: “the use of language by persons twenty-five to thirty-five years of age has priority over the language of the older people or of children”; “in certain situations the speech of women should have priority over the speech of men” (p. 74).

Here the audience reigns supreme. In a more literal approach, the translators instead strive to find an English equivalent for the actual words of the author (or perhaps we should say, “Author”).

Ryken clearly demonstrates this contrast between formal and dynamic equivalence throughout the book. The author builds a very strong argument for the formal approach, demonstrating that many dynamic equivalent translations are essentially paraphrases.

Ryken often backs up his statements by referring directly to the prefaces of the dynamic equivalence translations, thus avoiding putting words in their mouths. He also repeatedly provides examples of dynamic equivalence verse translations and how they differ from the original words of the authors. Using Matthew 6:22-23 as a test case, Ryken quotes from a number of dynamic equivalent translations. His conclusion:

Even a cursory reading of the passages leaves us with an accurate general impression: the translators are continuously nervous about the possibility that readers will be unable to handle the passage accurately and/or easily in its untouched form. As a result, the translators have become commentators as well as translators, constantly tugging at the original text to make it something different from what the original text says: “sunshine into your soul”; “plunges you into darkness”; “dark with sin”; “a window for your body”; “all the light you need”; “open your eyes wide in wonder and belief”; “pull the blinds on your windows.” (p.102)

Boxes scattered throughout the book contain informative quotes from others who have something important to add to the discussion.

Ryken believes that the reader ought to be able to trust a translation to give them an English version of what the original author wrote. An essentially literal translation labors to do just that. He agrees with biblical scholar Raymond Van Leeuwen who writes, “It is hard to know what the Bible means when we are uncertain about what it says” (p.28).

I recommend this book, especially to those who stand in the aisle at the bookstore agonizing over which translation to choose.


Greg Wilson was raised in a Christian home and was led to the Lord at a young age by his father. He has been in full-time Christian ministry since graduating from Midwestern Baptist College (Pontiac, MI) in 1981. He has been married to Sharon for over 26 years and they have two married daughters and a teenage son. He has been the pastor of the Community Bible Church (Palmyra, PA) since 1998. His website is fromthebook.org.

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There are 26 Comments

Steven Thomas's picture

I appreciate the review of Ryken's latest book, however it sounds like he has continued the flawed and fallacious arguments that he set forth in Understanding English Bible Translation. Ryken served as an English consultant on the ESV project and shows that he hasn't the qualifications to provide a nuanced evaluation of translation theory. The idea of "literal translation" is a myth. It is impossible to translate any document without making numerous interpretive decisions to make it understandable in the target language. An good example is the ESV rendering of Heb. 7:20-22. The ESV breaks one sentence into three, modifies the grammatical structure (independent clauses rather than comparative structure), and adds words that do not appear in the Greek. These are the very changes that provoke his severe criticism of the NIV.

Obviously, all translators make lexical, grammatical, and structural modifications driven by interpretive judgments. Any discussion of translation theory deals with the position various versions occupy on the spectrum between the two poles of formal equivalence and functional (formerly called dynamic) equivalence. I have stated the obvious to set up this observation: Ryken tends to leave the impression that versions lie at the poles setting up a fallacious either/or alternative. Pitting concerns of author against concerns of audience is another example of blatant fallacy that gains traction because of its emotional appeal to people who live in a monolingual culture.

The NIV is the target of his ongoing criticism. Translators introduced the public to the terminology of "dynamic equivalence" in the introduction to the NIV with the result that it became the lightning rod of criticism, being erroneously associated with any abuses of that theory. In reality, the NIV translators employed a moderate approach that balanced the formal and functional principles, preferring the latter on a case by case basis.

I would recommend Rod Decker's DBTS Journal article on the subject. http://www.dbts.edu/journals/2006/Decker.pdf

Steven Thomas

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

"It is impossible to translate any document without making numerous interpretive decisions to make it understandable in the target language."
Ryken does not deny this. (Anybody who's even spent 20 minutes translating a few verses from the epistles of John can see it). That's why they call it "essentially literal."

What he does show is that there is a genuine philosophical difference between the approach the ESV translators (and other more formal equivalent versions like NASB) took and that taken by NIV translators and the makers of paraphrases like NLT. It's true that NIV is barely in the dynamic equivalent category, and NLT is much deeper into that approach. It's also true that ESV occasionally gets fairly paraphrastic. They do this reluctantly though and from a starting point that is DE averse. It would be a great help to have translators notes for the ESV like we have for NET so folks could see why they felt it necessary to break up this sentence here and alter word order dramatically there.

But on that score, as one who writes a fair amount and edits a good bit--in English, sentence divisions don't carry a whole lot of semantic value. That is, one long sentence with four independent clauses does not mean anything different from four sentences, and the latter is easier to read. But yes, when you're doing that with portions of Paul's epistles, for example, you have to repeat subjects and verbs here and there when you create a sentence break and that does involve departing from "literalness" a step more than usual.

The truth is that all translations are somewhere on a scale of formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence and hardly any can be characterized as purely one or the other. But Ryken points out some substantial advantages for translations that try to be as literal as possible while still producing good quality English.
(Just to be clear, I have often found NIV valuable and also greatly enjoyed reading the entire Bible in NLT. But the latter clearly moves into "extremely concise commentary" on a regular basis. So it's value is similar to the value of a commentary, but fills a unique niche because it is so compact.)

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

This might help... from p.19-20

Ryken wrote:
Essentially literal translation: a translation that strives to translate the exact words of the original-language text but not in such a rigid way as to violate the normal rules of language and syntax in the receptor language.

Mike Durning's picture

I too just finished Ryken's book (and had been marking things hoping to review it here, but was told it was already taken). Ryken makes important points in favor of Formal Equivalence -- points of which every thinking believer should be aware. But I agree there is a tendency to make this an either/or discussion as if THE MESSAGE (at the extreme end of Dynamic Equivalence) and the KJV are entirely representative of every version at their end of the spectrum.

A casual reading of this book would lead one to believe that the NIV is as bad as THE MESSAGE, and that the KJV never engages in dynamic equivalence. Neither is true.

Where we go from here is the larger question. If Fundamentalists and Conservative Evangelicals are all going to rally round the translations that tend toward Formal Equivalence (KJV, NASB, ESV, etc.), as we should, then we must develop strategies to communicate the Word and its meaning to those with lower reading levels (rapidly becoming the majority of our population).

I'm working on an article on this now. In the near future I will submit it for publication here at SI.

JobK's picture

From Wikipedia:

"In spite of his conservative background, in later years Nida became increasingly ecumenical and New Evangelical in his approach."

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Mark Snoeberger's picture

JobK wrote:
From Wikipedia:

"In spite of his conservative background, in later years Nida became increasingly ecumenical and New Evangelical in his approach."

Furthermore, and equally pertinent to the point at hand, cows eat grass.

MAS

Paul J. Scharf's picture

[quote=Mike Durning ]If Fundamentalists and Conservative Evangelicals are all going to rally round the translations that tend toward Formal Equivalence (KJV, NASB, ESV, etc.), as we should, then we must develop strategies to communicate the Word and its meaning to those with lower reading levels (rapidly becoming the majority of our population).[quote]

As the Bible was proclaimed in the years following the Reformation, literacy grew both as a by-product and because people wanted to understand the Bible. Then as a result of people holding and reading their very own copies of God's Word, literal interpretation increased and expositional preaching came into vogue.

In other words, the spiral started going up -- based on the Bible. I don't think we can win by chasing the culture with new translations -- which Mike is also not saying.

(On the other hand, we have probably all met some Baptist deacons who are "KJV Only" but can't find many books in the Old Testament or pronounce half the words in the KJV. Not sure what strategy might be needful to reach them... :Sp)

Hey -- I have a great idea: How about a new movement called NKJV Only/Preferred??! H:)

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Mike Durning wrote:
we must develop strategies to communicate the Word and its meaning to those with lower reading levels (rapidly becoming the majority of our population).

I don't disagree with that but I think we also need strategies to improve reading levels.... in the long run, I'd put more money there (had I money to put).

I don't see NIV as being the same as "the Message" by a long shot, and it's true, Ryken is probably not careful enough about some important distinctions there. He does pretty much approach the question as "essentially literal vs. all other." I don't have my copy of his book handy at the moment but it seems like I remember the vast majority of his examples being from Good News Bible, Message, New Living Translation, and other versions quite deep into "dynamic" territory. But even NLT doesn't deserve to be just lumped with The Message. Vastly different. Both dynamic but Message pulls out all the stops. I don't consider it to even be a good paraphrase.

In Ryken's defense, he probably chose to keep some things simpler for the sake of the target audience of the book. He is quite passionate about ESV's translation philosophy though, and I did think he was overstating things a bit here and there in his zeal to bring the differences of approach into sharp relief.

JobK's picture

Mark Snoeberger wrote:
JobK wrote:
From Wikipedia:

"In spite of his conservative background, in later years Nida became increasingly ecumenical and New Evangelical in his approach."

Furthermore, and equally pertinent to the point at hand, cows eat grass.

As Nida is the creator of the “dynamic equivalence”, it is indeed somewhat more pertinent to the point at hand than cows eating grass. And based on the nature of your reply, you knew this to be true when you responded in the manner that you chose to.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Mark Snoeberger's picture

JobK wrote:
Mark Snoeberger wrote:
JobK wrote:
From Wikipedia:

"In spite of his conservative background, in later years Nida became increasingly ecumenical and New Evangelical in his approach."

Furthermore, and equally pertinent to the point at hand, cows eat grass.

As Nida is the creator of the “dynamic equivalence”, it is indeed somewhat more pertinent to the point at hand than cows eating grass. And based on the nature of your reply, you knew this to be true when you responded in the manner that you chose to.

My point is that there is no demonstrable correspondence between the dynamic equivalence theory of translation and new evangelicalism or ecumenism. This is a classic instance of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Nida didn't adopt the dynamic equivalence model because he was ecumenical or new evangelical. He adopted it because from his standpoint as a trained linguist, that's how translation works. You can disagree with the substance of his conclusion (and many do), but lobbing the ecumenical label at the dynamic equivalence theory of translation is quite unfair to those who appreciate dynamic equivalence theory despite their resistance to ecumenism.

MAS

Mike Durning's picture

Paul J. Scharf wrote:
As the Bible was proclaimed in the years following the Reformation, literacy grew both as a by-product and because people wanted to understand the Bible. Then as a result of people holding and reading their very own copies of God's Word, literal interpretation increased and expositional preaching came into vogue.

In other words, the spiral started going up -- based on the Bible. I don't think we can win by chasing the culture with new translations -- which Mike is also not saying.

(On the other hand, we have probably all met some Baptist deacons who are "KJV Only" but can't find many books in the Old Testament or pronounce half the words in the KJV. Not sure what strategy might be needful to reach them... :Sp)

Hey -- I have a great idea: How about a new movement called NKJV Only/Preferred??! H:)


__________

Aaron Blumer wrote:
I don't disagree with that but I think we also need strategies to improve reading levels.... in the long run, I'd put more money there (had I money to put).

OK, now. How can I write an article if you all are just anticipating it? Stealing my thunder? I should have kept my mouth shut.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It's OK, write it anyway... lots of people never read discussion threads. (Or so they say. I think some of them just do it secretly. Biggrin )

Dave G's picture

There shouldn't even need to be a "case" for a literal approach. Anyone who professes Christ should by DEFAULT desire God's very words. IMO if they don't, they're none of His.

On a side note, I wonder if in the continuing process of littering the landscape with English translations, someone will eventually use a collated text that is representative of ALL the extant manuscripts out there ( I've heard Hodges and Farstad is, but I've yet to hear of a Bible formally translated from it, at least from a group that wasn't trying to make MONEY off it...;P ).

Meh, I'll stick with the "KJV"...it isn't copyrighted, marketed or hyped up in some sort of trite contest. Plus I trust it's scholarship much more than any current one....I mean, 400 years closer to Christ's coming, and 400 years further down the toilet into apostasy....I'll leave the rest unsaid...:)

One point I would like to make:

I feel pity for the individual or group who takes liberty with the Word of God, "tugging" it in one direction or the other, practicing a fool's approach using Dynamic Equivalency. There's going to be HELL to pay for such gross mishandling of Almighty God's very words.

I wonder how such a person can sleep, knowing what's reserved for them after this life.

Dave.

PS: I'd like to start a new movement called, " Most Accurate Only "....lol

Sola Scriptura, both mentally and physically.
That means no other books about Bible interpretation on my shelf, sorry...;)

1 John 2:27-29

Larry's picture

Moderator

Just so I am clear, Dave, are you saying that people who prefer a translation like the NIV are unbelievers?

Dave G's picture

What I'm saying is, that those who prefer it KNOWING WHAT IT IS, should ask themselves if they should continue using it as a child of God; because, in essence, it's NOT God's Word, but man's word stuffed in God's mouth...that is what Dynamic Equivalency is, some bunch of people getting together who THINK they know what God's Word says and publishing it.

If it's done any other way than Formal Equivalency IMO, then it's unfaithful and inaccurate.

As to your question, I can't know the heart of a man by the Bible he reads....but I can know the evidence, OVER TIME, of a true believer.

"...My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me..."said the Lord.

The others don't.

BTW, hopefully the implication you zeroed in on, Larry, wasn't the only thing you got out of my "wall of text"...heheh.

Dave.

Sola Scriptura, both mentally and physically.
That means no other books about Bible interpretation on my shelf, sorry...;)

1 John 2:27-29

James Bliss's picture

[quote=Dave G ]
I feel pity for the individual or group who takes liberty with the Word of God, "tugging" it in one direction or the other, practicing a fool's approach using Dynamic Equivalency. There's going to be HELL to pay for such gross mishandling of Almighty God's very words.
/quote ]

I have not met a single person, regardless of their degree of religious training or education, who has not 'mishandled' God's words. Many have 'good intent' in doing this but the ultimate problem is that it fails in the final analysis.

I have seen people here do it, I have done it (as meaningless as that may be) and i have seen many 'famous' and 'reputable' evangelists, preachers, etc. who have done this. Dave, I will leave the determination to you as to whether you have done it.

This is always a problem with a translation (much less relaying the message to others) and was the intention of the KJV to attempt to avoid with the large number of people involved. But, then, there is the dispute between the KJV and the Geneva Bible and the reason certain passages have been interpreted in one manner or another.

Jim

Charlie's picture

Over the last few years, I've moved my preference toward a more functional approach. I would like to point out, in regard to the OP, that Leland Ryken is not very well informed about linguistic theory. The Word of God in English operates on a rather low level of engagement with the issue, and if this reviewer is correct that Understanding English Bible Translation is written on a lower level, that can only be a bad thing. Mike Aubrey, linguist and NT researcher, comments on Ryken from a critical perspective:http://evepheso.wordpress.com/?s=leland+ryken

I think there are some serious misunderstandings of translation philosophy going around in conservative evangelicalism, and I'm not going to outline them all here. There are accessible works by reputable linguists about the debate. Ryken, however, does not seem to be qualified to speak to this issue. To my knowledge, he has no extensive training in Greek, Hebrew, or linguistics.

For myself, I place less and less trust in the English (or any translation) for in-depth Bible study. For highly technical study purposes, there is no substitute for Greek and Hebrew. For less in-depth research, there's hardly any difference between the best English versions. My guess is that much of the push for essentially literal translations is from people, including pastors, who want to be Bible buffs without directly engaging with the original languages. As a matter of broader perspective, I'd also like to point out that if anyone suggested that the best translations of Homer, Ovid, Augustine, etc. are "essentially literal" in the sense being argued for I think they would be laughed out of their classics departments. Poetic or highly emotive literature is most faithfully conveyed functionally, not formally, though many times there is no need to choose between the two.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
... in essence, it's NOT God's Word, but man's word stuffed in God's mouth...that is what Dynamic Equivalency is, some bunch of people getting together who THINK they know what God's Word says and publishing it.
Well, no, that's not what it is really. It is a good deal more complex than that.

Quote:
If it's done any other way than Formal Equivalency IMO, then it's unfaithful and inaccurate.
Actually, a formal equivalent translation can be very faithful and inaccurate. It's the way language works.

But I do wonder if you reject dynamic equivalence when the KJV uses it.

Quote:
"...My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me..."said the Lord.
Do you think that was talking about which translation method a person prefers?

Quote:
BTW, hopefully the implication you zeroed in on, Larry, wasn't the only thing you got out of my "wall of text"...heheh.
There was more that almost as troubling as the statement I zeroed in on. But I don't want to get involved in that issues because I am not sure that it would be profitable.

Here's a few highlights though:

1. The KJV is copyrighted, though that doesn't really matter anyway..
2. The electic text does use all extant manuscripts. It simply weighs them differently than HF or RP or MajT. In essence, with the exception of the TR, these Greek texts consider all available evidence and simply choose different variants based on their critical philosophy.
3. The 400 years since the KJV was translated has brought numerous advances in textual study, linguistics, grammar, lexicography, etc. We should probably take advantage of that in the interest of knowing what God's word says.
4. As for "most accurate only," I think the almost universal view is that the NASB is the most literal translation among the common ones. Most seem to dislike it because it is too wooden in its devotion to formal equivalence.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Charlie... I'm not really dismissing your criticism of Ryken's qualifications, but I'd personally be more persuaded by seeing answers to his arguments. I have a copy of the book and all you have to do is look at the diagrams where he compares more literal translations to really "dynamic" ones and you can see there is a genuine and important difference in translation philosophy behind them. And at least some of his case is built on the practical implications of having a translation where more of the interpreting has already been done for you (which is obviously the case with NLT for example, as well as NIV in many passages--I read NIV regularly in study along w/several other versions).

So I'm just saying that it sure looks to me like he's on to something. Aside from the fact that he shouldn't know what he's talking about--lacking the proper credentials--what reason do I have to believe he is wrong?

Charlie's picture

Well, if his definition and understanding of DE/FE is wrong, then all of his examples are meaningless. The linguists that I've read and know say that he doesn't really understand the translation philosophy, so, if they are right, then his books merely amount to a string of examples of poor translation choices. Since the review didn't really present any arguments, I'm not going to go back through my copy of The Word of God in English to find his arguments to refute them. I posted a link above, which contains some info and a bunch of other links with more info.

Even the review, though, makes some unfortunate and unsupportable leaps. His use of Eugene Nida is irresponsible. For one thing, readers should keep in mind that Nida has devoted much of his life to working with unreached people groups who are getting Bibles in their language for the very first time. Much of his translation philosophy stems from his experience with languages that bear far less resemblance to Greek and Hebrew than English does. When he asserts "the priority of the needs of the audience over the forms of language," he really just means forms of language. So, participles don't need to be rendered by participles, subject-verb-object order doesn't always need to be kept intact, etc. His whole point is about how to faithfully communicate meaning from one context to another, not being distracted by mechanical features. So, when I translate "What's your name?" into French, I say, "Comment vous appelez-vous?", which would be woodenly rendered into English, "How do you call yourself?" Now, there are French equivalents for "what," "is," "your," and "name," but they don't add up to the same meaning. Not only do the French and English differ as to the (again woodenly speaking) words used, they also use different sentence structures for the same question. The English uses an equative (linking) verb with a predicate nominative, whereas the French has an active verb with a direct object. But who would object that rendering "What is your name?" by "Comment vous appelez-vous?" is being unfaithful to the original speaker?

Quickly, Nida's point that the language of the median age should be preferred is virtually common sense. I hope no one would translate the foreign language equivalent of "movie" into English as "moving picture" (an example a bit dated, but I hope still clear). In less literate/educated cultures, language change is much more rapid, so there may be a noticeable difference between generational speech patterns. In summary, people should actually read Nida and others for themselves. Nida for one is both accessible and informative. Ryken comes close to positing a "dynamic equivalence" conspiracy theory, and it simply isn't there. There are wretched Bible translations, but there isn't some supra-philosophy connecting the NIV, NLT, CEV, etc.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Don Johnson's picture

Charlie wrote:
So, when I translate "What's your name?" into French, I say, "Comment vous appelez-vous?", which would be woodenly rendered into English, "How do you call yourself?" Now, there are French equivalents for "what," "is," "your," and "name," but they don't add up to the same meaning. Not only do the French and English differ as to the (again woodenly speaking) words used, they also use different sentence structures for the same question. The English uses an equative (linking) verb with a predicate nominative, whereas the French has an active verb with a direct object. But who would object that rendering "What is your name?" by "Comment vous appelez-vous?" is being unfaithful to the original speaker?

Sorry for the subject line, it's late and the terms struck me as funny at the time.

But really, are you saying your French example here is Dynamic Equivalence? Wow, I think you need to read your linguists again if you think so. That is Formal Equivalence as far as I can see.

I think you need to come up with a better example to make your case.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Mike Durning's picture

Charlie wrote:
Well, if his definition and understanding of DE/FE is wrong, then all of his examples are meaningless.

Charlie, I see where you are going with this, and I agree that Ryken is NOT dealing with some big underlying philosophical issues in this debate, some of which have theological implications. And they should be dealt with.
I am a little more at peace with some Dynamic Equivalence than most here would be. For instance, I am frequently OK with the NIV handling of a passage. I am only troubled by it once in awhile. The KJV has some glaring Dynamic Equivalence renderings itself. Sometimes, such a translation choice is required by the nature of the differences between the source language and the receptor language.

Nevertheless, your statement above is not really correct. The examples show the result of the extremes of DE translation philosophy. Even if Ryken doesn't frame the debate adequately, some of the examples Ryken gives from the more out-there DE translations are blood-chilling. The NIV is not the problem (except for a few isolated passages), but translations like "The Message" are dangerous. Years ago, publishers were responsible to call such works "paraphrases". We distinguished between a paraphrase and a translation by saying something like "paraphrases put it in different, easier words, whereas translations directly convert the words from the original language." The more modern and extreme DE translations blur this line.

I was troubled by Ryken's book, though I get his point. In dealing with the translation philosophy debate, he spends much time dealing with it from a standpoint of the "literary qualities" that are being lost in the DE translations. But there is a loss of God's intended Biblical meaning in some of these translations. Our doctrine of Verbal inspiration must have implications for our translation philosophy, though the particulars need to be hashed out.

Charlie's picture

@Mike, I agree with you. I use the ESV primarily, but I also like the NET and HCSB. I'm hardly a radical.

@Don, my point was that the English/French example points us beyond caricatures. I'm not tackling the issue of translation philosophies, but focusing narrowly on Ryken and the reviewer. Ryken does not express himself well when he says, “Translators must decide what English word or phrase most closely corresponds to a given word of the original text” (Understanding English Bible Translation, 23-24). In my English/French example, none of the 4 words in English have any direct lexical relation to the 4 words in French (maybe half a point for your/vous). Also, the whole structure of the sentence is transformed. The most important point, though, is that you could woodenly translate that sentence into French as "Quel est votre nom." That sentence is grammatically acceptable, but it is clearly not the best choice for translation. You can look at the example backwards. Would you recommend to a French person learning English to say, "My name is Pierre, what is your name?" or "I call myself Pierre, what do you call yourself?" Both may be intelligible, but the first is superior. Ryken, on account of his superficial framing of the issue, cannot explain why the less formally similar translation is preferable to the formally equal one, as it obviously is in this case. So yes, Don, my example does express functional equivalence.

A quick note: I didn't think this thread was going to get technical, but I may as well head off further comment by saying that the term DE is a bit dated and some of the ideas originally connected with it have been discarded. Most translation experts now are going to use the terms "formal equivalence" and "functional equivalence." See the Rod Decker article about that (also posted above). Decker also heavily criticizes Ryken: http://www.dbts.edu/journals/2006/Decker.pdf

Here is a quick post on what functional equivalence means: http://evepheso.wordpress.com/2010/01/01/linguistic-functions-in-transla...

Here is a review of Ryken from a translator and linguist: http://goddidntsaythat.com/2009/09/30/review-understanding-english-bible...

Finally, my point is not that the more formal translations are bad. I just think Ryken is a poor guide into this issue. However, the Ryken Bible Handbook is still one of my favorite reference works.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Don Johnson's picture

Charlie wrote:
Both may be intelligible, but the first is superior. Ryken, on account of his superficial framing of the issue, cannot explain why the less formally similar translation is preferable to the formally equal one, as it obviously is in this case. So yes, Don, my example does express functional equivalence.

Well, your comment struck me as funny since you are criticizing Ryken yet I can't imagine Ryken disagreeing with your example. (I do have to note that I haven't read his second book, just the first one.)

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Sounds to me like, at worst, Ryken's terminology is confusing to some. His point though is that some translations are made with according a model that allows for a whole lot of unnecessary paraphrase, while other translations are made with the conviction that this is not the right approach. And the examples make that point quite clearly. Whether he properly understands the translation theory or not, it's quite evident to me that he understand the difference in results.
I don't think he has written against the sort of equivalence that Charlie described in asking "What is your name?" in French. Didn't see that, myself.

I'm sure several of his positive examples involve exactly that sort of thing, comparing the Greek to the English.

I'll grant the point about Nida, though. I've picked up enough just reading the Bibles International newsletters over the years to understand that the problems involved in going to a non-Latin based language are sometimes huge. You have whole concepts that simply do not exist in a language sometimes, and they are not always "higher" concepts either. (Example, read of a language recently where the way you say "go fishing" is "go kill fish." The writer observed how do you render "fishers of men" in that language? The nearest equivalent is going to be significantly different. But this is not the same thing as saying "Let's take large quantities of interpretive work out of the hands of readers and do it for them by paraphrasing.")

Charlie's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Sounds to me like, at worst, Ryken's terminology is confusing to some.

No one that I know has accused Ryken of being confusing; just inaccurate, simplistic, and unhelpful. At least, that's what people actually trained in the field are saying. The Decker article is the best, since it defines terms, discusses context, and then brings in Ryken at the end. Also, he prefers more formal equivalence. I'd like your thoughts on it if you get the chance.

Don, the point is not that Ryken would disagree with my translation. No one with the barest familiarity with French and English would disagree. The point is that I don't see that he would get to the right answer by following his translation philosophy as he has expressed it. It simply exposes that there is something wrong with the way the issues are being framed.

Ryken does make a lot of good points about individual translations and translation choices. Almost all of his reviewers grant him that. His problem is that the larger framework he builds to discuss the issue does not conform to the reality of the situation.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

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