Does translation philosophy really matter?
Most people believe that different Bible translations are simply a function of varying levels of readability, though all are roughly similar in accuracy. Translations are not equal in accuracy, and “readability” may come at the expense of precision to God’s words and therefore His message.
Before the middle of the 20th century there was only one basic philosophy of Bible translation: “word-for-word” or “formal equivalence.” This translation philosophy placed a premium on making the original languages transparent to the reader to the extent that English grammar would allow. This translation theory is grounded in 2 essential facts.
1. Plenary (Verbal) Inspiration -the fact that God inspired not only the “thoughts” of the biblical writers, but also the “words.” (Psalm 12:6, Proverbs 30:5, Matthew 4:4, 2 Timothy 3:16, Revelation 22:18-19) Since God inspired the words, one must be hesitant to place a disproportionate weight on ‘readability’ at the expense of accuracy. It should be noted, however, that the English language changes. Many modern readers would be extremely hard pressed to understand the English that John Wycliffe spoke in the 14th century (or the AV of the 17th century.)
For God louede so the world, that he yaf his `oon bigetun sone, that ech man that bileueth in him perische not, but haue euerlastynge lijf.
(John 3:16 Wycliffe 1382)
That if thou knoulechist in thi mouth the Lord Jhesu Crist, and bileuest in thin herte, that God reiside hym fro deth, thou schalt be saaf.
(Romans 10:9 Wycliffe 1382)
Word-for-word translation theory does not suggest the preservation of archaic English. It attempts to render the original biblical languages as close as possible to their contemporary equivalents.
2. Thoughts can not be disconnected from the words that produce them. This is true in the Bible as it is all aspects of communication. Scholar Raymond Van Leeuwen says, “It is hard to know what the Bible means when we are uncertain about what it says.” (We Really Do Need Another Bible Translation) In other words, even if one didn’t hold to the verbal inspiration of Scripture, changing words necessarily changes the resulting meaning.
It is hard to know what the Bible means when we are uncertain about what it says.Raymond Van Leeuwen
Since the middle of the 20th Century there have been a proliferation of new translations whose premium is not transparency of the original languages, but rather to make the “thoughts” or the “meaning” of the text more comprehensible to the modern reader. These translations are called “thought-for-thought” or “dynamic equivalence” translations. Undoubtedly with the intention of making the Bible easier to understand, paraphrases and dynamic equivalent translations have produced texts which ironically compromise the meaning of the text.
In summary, we hope that when a person reads the Bible, he is confident that he is actually reading the words of God, in the form God delivered them to the biblical authors. From that starting point we trust God to reveal His Word to the reader. We do not trust a well meaning translator to do the work of interpretation. As a primary Bible, every Christian should be afforded the opportunity to read it with the confidence that the words are indeed God’s words.