Introduction: Now that we’ve established the origins of the various Greek New Testaments, the next step in the process is translation into the receptor language. Last time, we saw that there are really two streams of MSS that have basically produced about four Greek standardized texts which are very similar to each other. Two are from the Byzantine family of MSS and the other two are a combination of both the older Alexandrian MSS as well as the Byzantine texts as well. We saw that the major differences in these texts are about 17 Individual verses missing from the older MSS and about 6 larger portions that are missing. The total difference is about 1/1000th of a percent between these two families of texts which attests to the preservation of God’s Word over the years and through out all the different parts of the world where these ancient MSS have been found.
1. The Need for Translation
Now we come to the point of understanding how a translation is produced from these various Greek texts. The first thing I want to talk about is the need for translation. The first obvious reason for translation is that of language barriers. The original writers wrote in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Today, the vast majority of people have no idea how to read write or speak those languages. Unlike the Koran, the Bible doesn’t claim to be the Word of God only in the original languages. If it cannot be understood, it does no good to you. Understanding the Word which has its origins in God alone, is what powerfully changes people. The Word is powerful, but it must be understood in the languages of all the different people in the world. For over a thousand years, the Bible was only available in Latin, so that only educated people were able to read it. The common people, for the most part during the Middle Ages were uneducated, illiterate and had no Bible whatsoever. They had to depend on the priests to explain what the Bible said and meant. You can see how this could really be used for evil. A man or a whole institution could tell people what the Bible meant and the people would have no way to verify it. And the people were taught that the Church created the Bible anyway, so it had authority to interpret it as it wished.
Let me make something else clear about languages – there are no superior languages. English is not a more holy language than German, Spanish, Tagolog , Chinese, etc… God created language when he made Adam, and God made diversity of languages at the tower of Babel. Language is nothing more than an arrangement of sounds that convey meaning. Language is not static, it continuously changes and evolves. Languages add new words, change the meaning of words and drop the usage of other words as time passes. So the need for translation work and continued translation work is absolutely necessary.
To complicate the matter more, languages also have differences in form, tense, voice and mood. There are tenses in biblical Greek that don’t exist in English, so that a perfect translation of the original tense cannot be communicated in English. For example :
2 Corinthians 2:15 (KJV) For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish.
2 Corinthians 2:15 (NKJV) For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
The words “are saved or are being saved” is one Greek word: “sozomenois” which is in the
Tense – Present; Voice – Passive; Mood – Participle
We don’t have one word for “save” that matches the Greek word, so the KJV goes with a present tense “are saved” but the problem is this – “sav-ed” in English communicates past tense, when this word in Greek has no past tense, it’s in the present and the participle means to make the word a continual process in the present tense. So, the NKJV tries to convey that idea more clearly by translating it: “are being saved”. I actually have read and heard KJVO folks who have tried to say this verse is proof of corruption in the new versions because it perverts the doctrine of salvation. These kinds of accusations are leveled from those who are ignorant of Greek, ignorant of their own language, and ignorant of the theology in the Bible they are trying to defend since the Bible teaches that were are saved, being saved and will be saved.
So, by this one example it’s obvious that trying to convey a perfect exact translation of a foreign language – especially a foreign language that nobody has spoken in 1000+ years – is not as simple as it seems.
2. Methods of Translation
So, that moves me to the next section which is the method of translation. How do you make decisions to go from one language to another? Which words to you use if there isn’t an easy exact equivalent? What about word order? If you read from the Greek or Hebrew in literal word for word order, often times you will get a sentence that is totally unintelligible. There are really two philosophies of translation today that govern the decisions of translation committees. The first one we’ll look at is called:
A. Formal Equivalence
This is a “word for word” type of translation. This method of translation seeks to be as faithful to the original words as possible within the linguistic obstacles that different languages naturally set up. At such points of obstacle such as an idiom, a strict wooden formal equivalence will not do. You will lose either exactness in the wording or lose the meaning and in some cases, you cannot have both. This leads us to the next philosophy of translation that is an attempt to make up for the deficiencies in formal equivalence. Here is an example of strict formal equivalence found in Young’s Literal Translation from 1898 1 Corinthians 6:7 Already, indeed, then, there is altogether a fault among you, that ye have judgments with one another; wherefore do ye not rather suffer injustice? wherefore be ye not rather defrauded?
This same verse in the KJV sounds like this:
1 Corinthians 6:7 Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?
And here is this verse in the NKJV:
1 Corinthians 6:7 Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?
B. Dynamic Equivalence
The founder of the UBS, Eugene Nida, really coined this phrase and articulated this idea of translation in his book Toward a Science of Translating published in 1964. Other names have been used to describe this method such as “functional equivalence” or “meaning – based translation”. The main idea here is to translate the most precise meaning of a phrase into an easy to understand meaning in the receptor language. In Nida’s book, he proposed a systematic way by which translating can be done with respect for the linguistic intricacies of the receptor language. He developed principles to help translators handle them objectively and efficiently. The theory is basically good since it’s based on proper linguistic, grammatical principles; however as with every thing else, it has been taken to an extreme by translators. Instead of trying to be faithful to the actual words of the original text, translators have gone further by interpreting what the original says and then translating it into the receptor language based upon how they understood the original to read. The danger in this practice is that when the reader reads a verse that perhaps the translator didn’t interpret correctly, the reader could be led to believe a false idea about a passage.
Here’s an example of that found in the NLT:
Psalm 23:5 NLT You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.
Psalm 23:5 KJV Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
This attempt to be more understandable has actually limited the passage. The table that was set before him, doesn’t necessarily mean a table of food. It could be a table of land, a large broad open flat space for a sheep to graze on safely. The cup overflowing or running over is now limited to “blessings” when the Psalmist could mean, happiness or something else. The danger with this kind of interpretation in translation is that the accuracy of the Bible version is greatly reduced and the mind of the translator is inserted with the mind of God and the reader can’t tell the difference.
Modern versions that take this approach to translation are the NIV, NLT, the Living Bible, the Message (which is a paraphrase).
To make things worse, there have been translations made with such a strong dynamic equivalence emphasis, that the translators of some versions have taken it to extremes such as the TNIV’s feminist accommodation by using more gender neutral prounouns, or the “Word on the Street” which is a Bible written in street slang, or the “gender neutral Bible”
Proverbs 13:1 TNIV A wise child heeds a parent’s instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes.
Proverbs 13:1 KJV A wise son heareth his father’s instruction: but a scorner heareth not rebuke.
3. The People Behind the Translations
The last thing to consider about a translation, is who are the scholars doing the translation work? What is their philosophy, what is their theological background and what do they actually believe about the Bible? This is a little more difficult to find out. This may take some extensive research.
So, when we look back at the KJV translators in 1611, what were their credentials and theological commitments? All of them were a part of the Church of England which makes sense since King James of England commissioned the translation. Although I don’t recommend the writings of Dr. D.A. Wait, he does have a good list of 24 translators of the KJV in his book Defending the King James Bible which shows that they were able men and as far as we can tell 400 years removed, they were believers.
What about the NKJV? Two large meetings of the North American Overview Committee met at Nashville and Chicago in 1975 to assist in preparing guidelines for the NKJV. Nearly all felt that the project was worthy of the time, money, and effort that would be invested. Members of this committee included well known men like Jerry Falwell, James Kennedy, Curtis Hudson, Tim LaHaye, Henry Morris, Adrian Rogers, Dwight Pentecost, Charles Ryrie, RC Sproul, Charles Stanley, etc..
The newly translated ESV comes from the NA27 and has a good list of men on the committee such as Wayne Grudem, JI Packer, Kent Hughes, Leland Ryken and mostly reformed men.
The NIV translation committee had a large conversion of different denominations involved. Some men whom we might recognize would have been Charles Ryrie, Lewis Johnson, Edmond Heibert but the blemish on the NIV besides the dynamic equivalency, was the linguistic stylist Virginia Mollenkott who was used as a consultant on translation. She (is/was?) an Episcopal college professor. She has come out of the closet as a lesbian and belongs to a group called “Christian Lesbians Out Together” and has even more recently written wicked books on the acceptance of homosexuals and transgender people in the church. Even though the NIV committee didn’t know she was a homosexual at the time, many believe that the NIV has watered down its language in regards to homosexuality by substituting words like “sodomite” with “shrine prostitute” or “temple prostitute”. Versions such as the NIV and TNIV are being translated to be more sensitive to feminists and homosexuals.
1 Corinthians 6:9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders.
Ms. Mollenkott says that this phrase is closer to the text because a homosexual offender could be speaking of a homosexual who does bad things like rape or something and the same could be said of heterosexuals.
So, in conclusion I would not personally recommend dynamic equivalent translations who had liberals and unbelievers involved in the translation decisions. But on the other hand, if that’s all you’ve got, God is bigger than them and can even use them to communicate His Word in whatever language they are translating to.