Book Review: Understanding English Bible Translation

Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach by Leland Ryken

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach
Leland Ryken
ISBN-10: 1433502798
ISBN-13: 9781433502798

The one who avoids this book due to a fear of it being overly scholarly and hard to understand will certainly make a mistake. While the book is indeed well researched and intelligently written, it is also easy to read and to understand.

Ryken deals with the differences between dynamic equivalent translations of the Bible (those that translate in a more thought by thought manner) and formal equivalent translations (those that attempt to translate word for word).

Ryken claims that an essentially literal translation, or a formal equivalent translation is more to be desired than a dynamic equivalent.

Why? He gives a number of reasons. Two of these reasons stand out to me above all others. One is that the dynamic equivalent translations are not consistent. They vary from one translation to the other so that one is not sure which translation is correct. This leads to a destabilized text. It leads people to wonder which is correct. Another reason is that dynamic equivalent translations often present commentary instead of translation. Thus the reader gets the understanding of the translator, but doesn’t always get the understanding of the underlying text.

An essentially literal translation, however, seeks to translate word for word the original language into the receptor language. For the subject at hand, that language is English, because that is the language with which Ryken deals. (As an aside, I read one person who took issue with Ryken because things don’t always work as well when translating into languages other than English. Ryken specifically states, however, that he is only dealing with English and understands that other languages present significant challenges in this respect.) With an essentially literal translation, there may be variance in the words used to translate, yet they will still yield basically the same understanding when compared one to the other. An essentially literal translation will also present essentially the same words and phrases as the original texts so that the reader will be reading basically the same thing that the Biblical writers presented to their original readers.

As one who grew up under the King James Version and still uses it today, I was impressed that this author respects the KJV instead of breezily dismissing it. In fact, he claims (and I think, rightly so) that all essentially literal translations follow the same philosophy as the translators of the KJV.

In a day when there is much confusion over Bible translations and translating philosophies this book is a breath of fresh air. I believe it also brings some needed clarity to the debate. I could only wish that everyone saw the need for an essentially literal translation.

(This book provided for review by Crossway Publishers.)

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