Which Are More Accurate: Literal or Non-Literal Bible Translations?

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TylerR's picture


Mark's various articles on this subject over the past year or so have helped me crystallize something I was stumbling towards for awhile. You should read a good variety of conservative translations. I just finished translating a passage last night, for my upcoming Sunday School lesson, and was reminded of all this a dozen times over as I struggled to decide if I was looking at a partitive or subjective genitive! 

You really cannot appreciate all the subtleties and nuances in translations unless you actually try it. That means it really isn't fair to always demonize "evil" gender-neutral translations, or "evil" dynamic equivalence translations. Very good article.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Anyone who thinks that you can get 100% equivalence consistently when translating from one language to another is monolingual, if that.  So while I prefer the "word for word" translations, I've also brought more "dynamic equivalence" translations into the mix when teaching kids who were simply struggling over the text.  At least let them get the main points if they're not at the level of wrestling over whether 2 Cor. 2:17 is speaking of a peddler, or of someone corrupting the Word of God.

It really has a lot to do with the old joke:

Q. What do you call someone who speaks several languages?  A: Polylingual.

Q. What do you call someone who speaks two languages?  A.  Bilingual.

Q. What do you call someone who speaks only one language?  A.  An American.

(I once lost a debate with some Englishmen over which country learned languages worse when a friend walked in, asked me something in German, and I responded...to which they immediately said "you lose!"....don't tell Trump or I'll lose my citizenship)

But seriously speaking, I would suggest that an end to many wars over Bible translations could be had if militants on all sides could count on interacting with people who are "not Americans" in the meaning of that joke.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

Why do you think President Trump thinks negatively of people knowing other languages?

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Bert Perry's picture

Of course he doesn't mind other people knowing other languages, as I believe Melania might have something to say about that, not to mention his son, son-in-law and grandchildren, servants at Mar-a-Lago (many Romanians), and the like.  

The joke is that his well-known anti-illegal-immigration sentiments are being misconstrued as anti-immigrant in general.  Hence if I showed signs of xenophilia (love of foreigners) like learning a second language, I'd be deported.  It's kinda like this bit from the Babylon Bee about Trump deporting the Statue of Liberty.

But evidently it went over like a lead balloon....  :^)  Oh well, I guess I'm just ein biBchen meschugge, as Jared and Ivanka might say.  

Another bit of translation fun; my spiritual grandfather and his wife spent some time on a Kibbutz in Israel, and the Sabras (native Israelis) there had a great deal of amusement out of the term Michigander (resident of MI) having a lot of similarity to the Hebrew Michigoyim (crazy people). As the husband of a troll, I've got to concur.  Why else would she have married me?

OK, one more illustration of the hazards of translation. I was watching a movie in Germany, and found I was often the only person in the theater laughing.  The reason was that I was getting the puns as I translated them from German, and the movie's translators had put new puns in German that I wasn't yet getting.  And as people who've read the book of Philemon in Greek know, puns don't translate well, even though they're useful.


Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.