Thursday, April 12, 2012

Strengths and Weaknesses of Translations

     All translations of the scriptures have strengths and weaknesses. Ideally we want the
strengths to outweigh the weaknesses. We also want the main strength to be fidelity to
the original texts (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). The question is: what do we mean by
"fidelity to the original texts?" This question must be discussed because many people
believe "fidelity" necessitates that a translation be strictly literal. The problem is, no
translation   is   strictly   literal.   If    it    were   it   would   not   be   readable   or  
understandable to the masses.  Furthermore, that is not how  the translation process
works. For instance, John 3:16, a text known by most people who study the Bible,
literally reads, "This manner for loved the God the world that the Son the unique one
he gave that everyone believing in him may not perish but have life eternal."   Friends,
is it not apparent that the Greek sentence must be arranged in a way that make it
readable in the English language? We want to be sure that the rearrangement does no
injustice to the meaning of Greek text. So, we could translate it in this way: "God loved
the world in this manner, he gave his unique Son, that everyone who believes in him may
not perish, but have eternal life."

     All translation involves interpretation. It is unavoidable because a translator must
determine  what  the  words  in  the  original  language mean, before he can choose the
equivalent in the receptor language that reflects the meaning of the original word or
phrase. Many people object to translations such as the NIV because they believe
interpretation and translation are necessarily mutually exclusive. The fact is, the NIV
contains some translation choices that are among the very best available in any English
version of the scriptures. (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10; Phil. 2:5-11) The latest edition of the NIV
(NIV-2011), is a marked improvement over the previous edition (NIV-1984) in many
ways! It isn't perfect, but it is imminently readable, and highly accurate most of the time.
I refuse to take part in any uninformed movement that criticizes a translation on the basis
that it is "too interpretative" or  that it is "Calvinistic in its translation choices." Study a
translation on a passage by passage basis. Reject what is inaccurate and accept what is
accurate in any translation.  The KJV  contains  "Calvinistic renderings."  (Acts 2:47;
Acts 13:48; Heb. 6:6) Will the detractors discard it because it is sometimes contains a
Calvinistic slant in certain key texts?

     The ASV-1901 is a highly accurate English version in that it is very close to the
original texts. To this day it remains an excellent study version of the scriptures. Yet, it
uses old English, is not very readable, often contains the word order of the Hebrew and
Greek instead of English word order, and sometimes has textual choices that do not
accurately reflect the meaning of the words in the Hebrew and Greek texts.  The same
things  are  sometimes  true of  the  RSV, ESV, NASB, NKJV, etc.  Ideally, we want
translations that are as literal as possible and as idiomatic as necessary. Strive to know
the strengths and weaknesses of the translation(s) you select for use.
                                                                                                        R. Daly

Copyright 2012