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    Translating God's Word

    William Tyndale's Plowboy Reconsidered

    Monday, June 11, 2012, 9:55 AM [General]
    Posted By: Apologist

    Leland Ryken

    Wheaton College

    This essay is a historical study.  That may seem anomalous in a journal devoted to current translation issues and practices, so a word of explanation is in order.  One of the functions of inquiring into the history of English Bible translation is that it can clarify the essential principles of Bible translation.  When the issues are distanced from us in time, we can see some things more clearly because they are unclouded by contemporary crosswinds.

    More important than the clarifying power of distance, though, is the authority that attaches to historical precedents.  This authority may or not be completely valid, but it is a fact that in the current debate between rival translation philosophies an appeal to historical precedents is considered important.  Both essentially literal translators and dynamic equivalent and colloquial translators probe the past to find examples of their own preferred style of translation.

    The current debate about William Tyndale


    It is obvious that we live in a day of debunking.  On the Bible translation scene, the King James Version is regularly and rigorously debunked by advocates of colloquial English Bible translations.  In turn, it has become common for these debunkers to attempt to drive a wedge between the King James Version and William Tyndale's translation work nearly a century earlier.

    More specifically, the claim is made that the King James translators spoiled Tyndale by refining his style.  Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, has of course led the charge, but he is not alone.  Predictably, the claim is made that Tyndale produced a colloquial[1] translation, while the King James translation is elegant.  Peterson claims that the King James translators "desecrated language upwards" [Eat This Book (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2006), 162].

    The most famous statement that Tyndale made about Bible translation, next to his dying prayer that God would open the king of England's eyes, is a comment that he made about wanting the plowboy to know the Bible better than the Catholic priests.  I will quote the statement shortly and then analyze it, but as a lead-in to that, I need to note that translators in what I call the "modernizing" camp claim that Tyndale in a single utterance endorsed (1) a colloquial style for an English Bible, (2) an uneducated reader as the assumed audience for an English Bible, and (3) a dynamic equivalent philosophy of translation (buttressed, of course, by a few famous examples from Tyndale's actual translation).  My thesis in this article is that Tyndale's plowboy statement has been extravagantly misinterpreted, and that none of the three conclusions I listed in the previous sentence is warranted.

    Exactly what did Tyndale say?

    Tyndale's plowboy statement is recounted in John Foxe's Book of Martyrs.  The context of the statement itself disproves the use to which modernizing translators put it.  Tyndale uttered the statement before he had even begun his work of translating the Bible.  The occasion of the statement was not Bible translation per se.  Instead, the statement occurred as part of a debate about whether the pope or the Bible is the ultimate authority for religious belief and practice. 

    Upon graduating from Oxford University, Tyndale returned to his native Gloucestershire and assumed a position as schoolmaster in the Catholic household of Sir John Walsh.  Tyndale was an early Reformer whose views brought him into heated debates with the local clergy.  Tyndale was appalled at the ignorance of the Catholic clergy.  Additionally, he was convinced of the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura on the question of religious authority.  I propose that these two things—the biblical ignorance of the clergy and the question of biblical authority—are the context for Tyndale's statement about the plowboy.

    We can hear these two themes of biblical ignorance among the clergy and the authority of Bible in the statement that I now quote: 

    There dwelt not far off a certain doctor, that he been chancellor to a bishop, who had been of old, familiar acquaintance with Master Tyndale, and favored him well; unto whom Master Tyndale went and opened his mind upon divers questions of the Scripture: for to him he durst be bold to disclose his heart. Unto whom the doctor said, "Do you not know that the pope is very Antichrist, whom the Scripture speaketh of? But beware what you say; for if you shall be perceived to be of that opinion, it will cost you your life."   Not long after, Master Tyndale happened to be in the company of a certain divine, recounted for a learned man, and, in communing and disputing with him, he drove him to that issue, that the said great doctor burst out into these blasphemous words, "We were better to be without God's laws than the pope's." Master Tyndale, hearing this, full of godly zeal, and not bearing that blasphemous saying, replied, "I defy the pope, and all his laws;" and added, "If God spared him life, ere many years he would cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture than he did."  The grudge of the priests increasing still more and more against Tyndale, they never ceased barking and rating at him, and laid many things sorely to his charge, saying that he was a heretic.

    We should note first what is not going on here.  The statement about the plowboy is not a comment about Tyndale's preferred style for an English Bible.  It is not a designation of teenaged farm boys as a target audience for a niche Bible.  In fact, the account does not even mention translation of the Bible into English.  Foxe's account makes it clear that the subject of debate at this early stage in Tyndale's career was the question of papal authority vs. scriptural authority.  When the priest asserted a strong view of papal authority and denigrated the authority of the Bible, Tyndale responded by making an implied case for the Bible as the authority for Christian belief and conduct.  We should not overlook Foxe's follow-up comment about "the grudge of the priests."  The plowboy statement is part of a debate with Catholic priests over papal authority, not on the style of an English Bible.

    Therefore, what did Tyndale mean in his famous plowboy statement?  First, he implicitly asserted the right of the laity to the Bible.  The plowboy is a representative of the whole of English society.  Tyndale's statement is not a comment about English style but about how widely Tyndale wanted the English Bible to be disseminated in English society.  Even the humble working class should have access to the Bible.

    Secondly, Tyndale was making a statement about how much of the Bible he wanted the laity to know.  His statement, to quote again, is "that he would cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture than [the priest] did."  The typical priest knew the snatches of Scripture that were embedded in the liturgy, the mass, and choral music, and he would have known it in Latin.

    What I most want to challenge is the view that Tyndale was an ally of what I call modernizing and colloquializing English Bibles that have proliferated since the middle of the twentieth century.  Whatever we conclude about Tyndale's preferred style in an English translation is something we need to deduce from his actual translation, not from his statement about the plowboy.


    Tyndale's plowboy statement is a virtual Rorschach inkblot [interpretation] in which modern translators sees what they themselves believe about English Bible translation.  In turn, Tyndale is such a towering figure that if one can claim him for one's side in the translation wars, it is in fact a victory.  I submit that Tyndale's plowboy statement should not be allowed to lend any support whatever to dynamic equivalent and colloquial translations.  Exactly where Tyndale stood on questions of essentially literal vs. dynamic equivalence and dignified vs. colloquial style needs to rest on his actual translation of the Bible.

    [1] colloquial [kə lṓkwee əl] informal: appropriate to, used in, or characteristic of spoken language or of writing that is used to create the effect of conversation

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    Jerome—The Forerunner in Bible Translation

    Monday, June 11, 2012, 9:54 AM [General]
    Posted By: Apologist

    The Catholic Church Sacred Tradition in support of the Vulgate's magisterial authority:

    Moreover, this sacred and holy Synod,—considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,—ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.[1]

    ON April 8, 1546, the Latin Vulgate was given an approved capacity by the Council of Trent (1545–1563) as the standard of the Biblical canon regarding which parts of books are canonical. The Vulgate had been completed for over a thousand years, yet Jerome and his translation had been the center of debate throughout. Who was Jerome? Why was his translation of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures into Latin, as well as himself debated? What impact has this work had on the field of Bible translation?

    Jerome Becomes a Scholar

    Jerome ([c. 346–420 C.E.] Latin: Eusebius Hieronymus) was a Roman Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, who became a Doctor of the Church. He was the son of Eusebius, of the city of Stridon, which was on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia. His parents were reasonably well-off, and he felt the benefits of money at an early age, receiving an education in Rome under the well-known grammarian Donatus. Jerome demonstrated himself to be a exceptional student of grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy. Throughout this period he also began to study Greek. He is most famously known for his translation of the Bible from the original languages of Hebrew (OT) and Greek) (NT) into Latin (the Vulgate), and his list of writings is extensive.

    Jerome was born at Stridon about 346 C.E. However, he was not baptized until sometime after close to 366 C.E, and shortly thereafter, he and his friend Bonosus headed for Rome. However, they became wanderers for a time, and then finally ended up in Aquileia, Italy, where Jerome was introduced to the idea of asceticism.[2] He became attracted to this extreme way of life, se he and a group of his friends spent a number of years cultivating an ascetic way of life.

    In 373 C.E., some unnamed trouble contributed to the groups going their separate ways. Let down, Jerome traveled without a purpose and without a known destination eastward across Bithynia, Galatia, and Cilicia and eventually arrived in Antioch, Syria.

    Even though he was only in his late 20’s at this point, Jerome’s health was damaged by a fever and he grew very ill during his journey.  “Oh, if only the Lord Jesus Christ would suddenly transport me to you,” he said, writing to a friend, Rufinus. “My poor body, weak even when well, has been shattered by frequent illnesses.”[3]

    Jerome had already coped with sickness, seclusion, and inner turmoil; he was now thrust into a spiritual crisis. In a dream, he was …

    Suddenly I was caught up in the spirit and dragged before the judgment seat of the Judge; and here the light was so bright, and those who stood around were so radiant, that I cast myself upon the ground and did not dare to look up. Asked who and what I was I replied ‘I am a Christian.’ But He who presided said: ‘Thou liest; thou art a follower of Cicero and not of Christ. For where thy treasure is there will thy heart be also.’ Instantly I became dumb, and amid the strokes of the lash—for He had ordered me to be scourged—I was tortured more severely still by the fire of conscience, considering with myself that verse ‘In the grave, who shall give thee thanks?’ Yet for all that I began to cry and to bewail myself saying: ‘Have mercy upon me, O Lord; have mercy upon me.’ Amid the sound of the scourges this cry still made itself heard. At last the bystanders, falling down before the knees of Him who presided, prayed that He would have pity on my youth, and that He would give me space to repent of my error. He might still, they urged, inflict torture upon me, should I ever again read the works of the Gentiles. Under the stress of that awful moment I should have been ready to make even still larger promises than these. Accordingly I made oath and called upon His name, saying ‘Lord, if ever again I possess worldly books, or if ever again I read such, I have denied thee.’ On taking this oath, I was dismissed, and returned to the upper world.[4]

    Sometime later would sidestep his pledge that he had made in the dream, and said that he should not be held answerable for a solemn promise made in a dream. However, Jerome felt somewhat obligated to his vow, so he left Antioch and searched for solitude in Chalcis in the Syrian Desert. Living as a recluse, he submerged himself in a study of the Bible and theological literature. Jerome said, “I read the books of God with a zeal greater than I had previously given to the books of men.”[5] He likewise learned the local Syriac tongue and started studying Hebrew with the help of a Jew who had become a Christian.

    Jerome Receives an Assignment from the Pope

    After about five years of living an ascetic life, Jerome returned to Antioch in 378 or 379 C.E. His return to civilization was met with disappointment, as the church was profoundly divided. While he had still been in the desert, Jerome had written to the Pope, saying “The church is rent into three factions, and each of these is eager to seize me for its own.”[6]

    Jerome eventually decided that he would take the side of Bishop Paulinus, one of three men that claimed that title of Antioch. Jerome unwilling accepted his being ordained, but demanded (1) that he not be held back from being able to continue his ascetic life, and (2) he would remain freed from any priestly duties to minister to a specific church.

    Jerome went with Paulinus to the Council of Constantinople and afterward continued on with him to Rome in 381 C.E. Pope Damasus swiftly appreciated Jerome’s learning and linguistic expertise. Inside of a year Jerome was raised to the important position of personal secretary to Damasus.

    Once in the position of personal secretary, Jerome seemed to attract controversy at every turn. For example, even though he lived in a luxurious papal court, he continued in his ascetic lifestyle. This was not only frowned upon, but he even went a step further and spoke out against the excessive lifestyle of the worldly clergy, creating numerous enemies. 

    Regardless of those who despised him, Jerome had the complete backing of Pope Damasus. Of course, the pope had very good reasons for seeing that Jerome continued in his Bible research. The Latin Bible version, were really in numerous forms; as many of them had been carelessly translated, filled with errors. Another problem that Damasus faced was the division of his church, the East and the West. Few in the Eastern portion of the church knew Latin, and fewer still in the Western portion knew Greek.

    Therefore, it was Pope Damasus’ intention to have Jerome create a standard Latin text of the Gospels. Damasus desired a translation that would me a mirror image of the original language Greek texts, yet at the same time, be moving, stirring and powerful, as well as clear in the Latin. Jerome and only a handful of other scholar were up to such a task. He was fluent in Greek, Latin, and Syriac and possessed a fundamental knowledge of Hebrew, making him well suited for the job. Therefore, Jerome was commissioned into a project by Damasus that would not be completed for the next 20 years of his life.

    Greater Controversies Lie Ahead

    Jerome was a translator with a mission, and it showed with the speed for which he was accomplishing his task. Jerome exhibited a clear, technique that would be used by translator and textual scholars over a millennium later. One of the leading textual scholars of the 20th century, the late Dr. Bruce M. Metzger had this to say about Jerome’s method:

    Within a year or so Jerome was able to present Damasus with the first-fruits of his work―a revision of the text of the four Gospels, where the variations had been extreme. In a covering letter he explained the principles which he followed: he used a relatively good Latin text as the basis for his revision, and compared it with some old Greek manuscripts. He emphasized that he treated the current Latin text [of his day] as conservatively as possible, and changed it only where the meaning was distorted. Though we do not have the Latin manuscripts which Jerome chose as the basis of his work, it appears that they belonged to the European form of the Old Latin (perhaps they were similar to manuscript b). The Greek manuscripts apparently belonged to the Alexandrian type of text. (Metzger 1964, 1968, 1992, 76)

    Initially the Jerome Latin translation was well received. However, the critics came out of the woodwork to complain about the supposed liberties that he took in making his translation.

    After I had written my former letter, containing a few remarks on some Hebrew words, a report suddenly reached me that certain contemptible creatures were deliberately assailing me with the charge that I had endeavored to correct passages in the gospels, against the authority of the ancients and the opinion of the whole world.[7]

    These condemnations only grew in intensity after the death of Pope Damasus in 384 C.E. The new pope and Jerome did not have a working relationship like he had shared with Damasus, so he made the decision to leave Rome. One again, Jerome was wandering toward the east.

    Jerome Becomes a Hebrew Scholar

    In 386 C.E. Jerome had found his way to Bethlehem, where he would spend the rest of his life. He was traveling with a few of those who had remained loyal to him, as well as Paula, a well-off woman of nobility from Rome. Paula had grown attracted to the plain and simple way of life without luxury, as a result of Jerome’s influence. However, here financial wealth was used to establish a monastery under the direction of Jerome. It would be here that he would take his scholarly pursuits to a whole new level, completing the ultimate work of his life.

    As you likely remember, Jerome’s understanding of Hebrew was only functional, so this new life in Bethlehem was going to offer him the opportunity at become an extraordinary Hebrew scholar. Here again, Paula was able to help him afford several different Jewish tutors, who helped him fully grasp a number of the more difficult characteristics of the language. Concerning one teacher, Jerome said;

    What trouble and expense it cost me to get Baraninas to teach me under cover of night. For by his fear of the Jews he presented to me in his own person a second edition of Nicodemus.[8]

    The Jews of Jerome’s day were not too receptive to Gentiles for their failure to pronounce the guttural sounds properly. This did not dissuade Jerome though, as he simply put more effort into his studies, and was eventually able to master these sounds. In addition, Jerome transliterated numerous Hebrew words into Latin.[9] This method not only assisted him in remembering the words but also preserved the Hebrew pronunciation of that time.

    The Greatest Controversy of Jerome

    We are not sure how much of the Bible that Damasus wanted Jerome to translate. However, we are well aware of how much Jerome intended to accomplish. Jerome was very attentive and resolute. Jerome was determined to make available a revised Latin translation of the whole Bible.

    Therefore, I beseech you, Paula and Eustochium, to pour out your supplications for me to the Lord, that so long as I am in this poor body, I may write something pleasing to you, useful to the Church, worthy of posterity. As for my contemporaries, I am indifferent to their opinions, for they pass from side to side as they are moved by love or hatred.[10]

    The basis for the Old Testament was the Greek Septuagint (LXX).[11] The Septuagint was viewed by the Christians of the time as though it too were inspired by God.[12] It functioned as Scripture for the Greek-speaking Jews and was used by a large amount of Christians down to the time of Jesus and his apostles, as well up unto the time of Jerome. In the Greek New Testament, most of the 320 direct quotations and the collective total of perhaps 890 quotations and references to the Hebrew Old Testament are from the Septuagint.

    As Jerome got involved in the work of translating the Old Testament, he was again met with discrepancies, like had been the case with the different Latin manuscripts, and now between the different Greek manuscripts he was using. One can only imagine the feeling of disappointment, exasperation, or weariness of this man as he realized the work that would be involved in translating, as well as making textual decisions too. In the end, Jerome simply decided that it would be more practical to scrap his plan of using the Greek manuscripts, and even the revered Septuagint, and to go with the Hebrew text as his basis for the translation.

    Here is where Jerome finds himself being falsely accused as a forger of the text, a man who was disrespectful of God, deserting the traditions of the church in favor of the Jews. Even the leading theologian of Jerome’s day, Augustine, begged him to drop the Hebrew text and return to the use of the Septuagint as the basis for his Latin translation, saying: “If your translation begins to be more generally read in many churches, it will be a grievous thing that, in the reading of Scripture, differences must arise between the Latin Churches and the Greek Churches.”[13]

    As you can see the fear that dwelled within Augustine, was the church to become even further divided? He feared that the Western churches would be using Jerome’s Latin text based on the Hebrew text, while the Eastern Greek churches would be using the Greek Septuagint. Moreover, Augustine was concerned about setting aside the Greek Septuagint, for a translation that only Jerome would be able to defend.

    What was Jerome’s reaction to all of these critics? He chose to stay true to himself, he simply ignored them. He stayed with the Hebrew text as the basis for his Latin translation of the Old Testament, and brought the whole Latin Bible to complete in 405 C.E. It would be labeled the Vulgate some years later, which is a reference to a commonly received version (the Latin vulgatus meaning “common, that which is popular”).

    The Accomplishment of Jerome

    The Old Testament portion of the Latin translation that Jerome produced was not just a revision of the current Latin texts. It was the beginning of something far greater, a course change in the way the Bible was studied and translated. “The Vulgate,” said historian Will Durant, “remains as the greatest and most influential literary accomplishment of the fourth century.” (Durant 1950, 54)

    Granted Jerome possessed a bitter or critical manner of speaking and a combative temperament, he by himself transmitted Bible research back to the inspired Hebrew text. With a sharp eye, he pored over and compared ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible that are no longer accessible to us today. Jerome’s monumental work was also accomplished before that of the Jewish Masoretes.[14] Therefore, the Vulgate is a treasured reference tool for comparing alternate renderings of Bible texts. Hence, it would seem that his and his fellow assistant’s petitions were heard:

    Therefore, I beseech you, Paula and Eustochium, to pour out your supplications for me to the Lord, that so long as I am in this poor body, I may write something pleasing to you, useful to the Church, worthy of posterity. As for my contemporaries, I am indifferent to their opinions, for they pass from side to side as they are moved by love or hatred.[15]

    [1] Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, The Fourth Session, 1546.

    [2] self-denying way of life: austerity and self-denial, especially as a principled way of life

    [3] Jerome, "The Letters of St. Jerome", Volume VI: St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1893), 4.

    [4] Rufinus of Aquileia, "The Apology of Rufinus", trans. William Henry Fremantle In , in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume III: Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius, Rufinus: Historial Writings, Etc., ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 462-63.

    [5] Jerome, "The Letters of St. Jerome", Volume VI: St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1893), 36.

    [6] Jerome, "The Letters of St. Jerome", Volume VI: St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1893), 20.

    [7] Jerome, "The Letters of St. Jerome", Volume VI: St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1893), 43-44.

    [8] John 3:2; Ibid, Volume VI, 176.

    [9] Transliterated means to represent letters or words written in one alphabet using the corresponding letters of another.

    [10] Jerome, "Prefaces to the Books of the Vulgate Version of the Old Testament", Second Series, Volume VI: St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1893), 493.

    [11] A Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made 280 and 150 B.C.E. to meet the needs of Greek-speaking Jews outside Palestine. The Septuagint contains some books not in the Hebrew canon. The roman numerals LXX stand for seventy, and according to tradition, The Septuagint was made by 72 Jewish scholars of Alexandria, Egypt. Later, the number 70 somehow came to be used, and thus the version was called the Septuagint.

    [12] We need to offer a word of caution here, because the Greek Septuagint was not inspired. Moreover, there were a number of Greek translations made, which was not a carefully guard text, nor unified. Thus, there are considerable differences between the Greek and the Hebrew Old Testament.

    [13] Augustine of Hippo, "Letters of St. Augustin", trans. J. G. Cunningham In , in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume I: The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustin With a Sketch of His Life and Work, ed. Philip Schaff (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 327.

    [14] The Masoretes were early Jewish scholars: any of the scholars who produced the Masoretic Text. The Masoretic Text was the Hebrew Bible: revised and annotated by Jewish scholars between the 6th and 10th centuries C.E.

    [15] Jerome, "Prefaces to the Books of the Vulgate Version of the Old Testament", trans. W. H. Fremantle, G. Lewis and W. G. Martley In , in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume VI: St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1893), 493.

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    The Bible Translation Debate

    Monday, June 11, 2012, 9:49 AM [General]
    Posted By: Apologist

    Leland Ryken

    Wheaton College


    UNTIL THE MIDDLE OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, all major English Bible translations were based on the premise that the goal of Bible translation is to take the reader as close as possible to the words that the biblical authors actually wrote.  William Tyndale, the fountainhead of English Bible translation, even made up English words like intercession, atonement, scapegoat, and Passover in order to do justice to the very words of the biblical text.

     Equally striking are the italicized words in the King James Version.  Surely many English readers are mystified by the italicizing of words and phrases in the KJV.  Following the lead of the Geneva Bible (1560), the King James translators were so scrupulous about keeping the record clear as to what the biblical authors actually wrote that they italicized words that the translators added for the sake of clarity or fluency in English.  By contrast, modern dynamic equivalent translators hope to keep readers in the dark regarding changes that have been made to the original.  If that seems like a doubtful statement, I will just adduce the example of a colleague of mine who was given permission to produce an interlinear version of the NIV New Testament.  A high-ranking person in the publishing house expressed surprise that this permission had been granted since it would show at once how many words in the NIV have no corresponding word in the Greek original.

    Exactly what happened in the middle of the twentieth century?

    All major translations before the rise of dynamic equivalent translations were based on the principle of essentially literal translation, also known as verbal equivalence.  This translation philosophy strives to give an equivalent English word or phrase for all words found in the original text of the Bible.  The goal is to convey everything that it is in the original—but not more than is in the original or less than is there.

    The new translation philosophy is called dynamic equivalence, but that designation is totally inadequate to cover all that modernizing translations actually do.  In fact, equivalence is not usually what these translations give.  Usually they give a substitution or replacement for what the original says.  Additionally, dynamic equivalent translators omit material from material in the original and add to it.  Dynamic equivalent translators feel no compulsion to reproduce in English the words that the biblical authors wrote.  In fact, the prefaces to these translations, as well as surrounding published materials and interviews, hold verbal equivalence up to scorn.  These prefaces and translators are bold to claim that a translation that departs from the words of the biblical authors is often more accurate than translations that reproduce the words of the original text.

    Are my claims really true?  I will give an example of each of the three common maneuvers of dynamic equivalent translators.

    Omitting material from the Bible.  The most plentiful parts of the Bible where this is done is passages with figurative language.  In 1 Corinthians 16:9, Paul speaks metaphorically of "a wide door" that has "opened" to him (ESV).  Dynamic equivalent translators who believe that modern readers cannot understand metaphors simply remove the wide door from sight:  "a good opportunity" (New Century Version); "a wonderful opportunity" (Contemporary English Version); "a real opportunity" (Good News Bible).  As all of this license unfolds before us, we need to ask, Who gave us the metaphor of the wide door in the first place?  The answer should be, The writers of the Bible writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

    Offering a substitute for what is in the Bible.  Omission of material from the original text is often accompanied by a substitution for what a biblical author wrote.  In Psalm 73, the poet recalls his crisis of faith in metaphoric terms:  "my steps had nearly slipped" (v. 2b, ESV).  Several dynamic equivalent translations give us a substitute for the image of slipping steps:  "I had almost lost my faith" (New Century Version); "my faith was almost gone" (Good News Bible).  As one expert on Bible translation exclaims, "This is not translation at all but merely replacement."

    Adding commentary to what the biblical authors wrote.  Dynamic equivalent translators incessantly add commentary to what the original text gives us.  Of course the reader has no clue as to where the original text of the Bible ends and the commentary of the translators begins.  In Psalm 23:5a, David writes, "You anoint my head with oil."  There is no dispute that this is what the original text says.  But dynamic equivalent translators feel an overpowering urge to add commentary beyond the biblical text:  "You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil" (NLT).  Unless you can read the Hebrew original or have the good fortune to be familiar with an essentially literal translation, you cannot answer the question of where the original text ends and the translator's commentary begins.  Of course you should be able to trust your English Bible not to mislead you.

    Why would translators do these things?

    Why do translators feel free to engage in the kind of license I have noted?  There are several answers.  First, Bible translation took a wrong turn when the concept of a target audience became enthroned.  This concept envisions an audience of limited linguistic and theological abilities.  The almost universally accepted criterion of dynamic equivalent translations is a reader with the linguistic and theological comprehension of a sixth-grader. With this target audience firmly ensconced, the entire translation is then slanted toward the assumed abilities of this audience.  I agree with the verdict of Dr. John McArthur, who in an endorsement of one of my books spoke of translators who are more concerned with the human audience than the divine author of the Bible.

    Additionally, the entire dynamic equivalent enterprise is based on the premise that the Bible is an inadequate book that needs correction.  All we need to do is read the prefaces of these translations and observe what the translators have done to see that the translators believe that they can communicate better than the biblical authors did.  The biblical authors used metaphors, but modern readers cannot understand metaphoric language.  The biblical authors used theological language, but theological language is beyond modern readers.  Etc., etc.  The view of biblical authors that emerges from this branch of Bible translation is that they are inept and in need of correction.  It is no wonder that half a century of dynamic equivalent translations has made the following formula omnipresent in evangelical circles:  "now what the biblical author was trying to say is . . . ."

    What is at stake in the current debate?

    Two things chiefly are at stake in the current debate between the rival translation philosophies.  One is whether we can trust our English Bibles.  I propose that we cannot trust dynamic equivalent translations to put us in contact with the Bible that God inspired the human authors to write.  What is the assumption (completely legitimate) that we all make when we hold a book in our hands?  Surely that the publisher has put into print the words that the author wrote.  Dynamic equivalent translations consistently betray that trust.

    Additionally, English readers need to choose between the actual Bible that God inspired his authors to write, or a substitute for that Bible.  I resonate completely with an emailer who wrote to me that he was raised on an essentially literal Bible, gravitated to a dynamic equivalent translation through peer pressure, and returned to an essentially literal translation after reading one of my books.  His parting shot was that "it was as though someone had given me my Bible back."

    When dynamic equivalence swept the field half a century ago, people were so intoxicated by the exciting new view of Bible translation that they did not pay attention to what was actually happening.  The time has come for sober reality.  I would urge readers of the English Bible to practice what an advertising slogan of several years ago advocated:  Accept no substitute.

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