Discussing
It's the thought that counts: Eugene Nida and Bible translation

Nathan Bierma

Melayton
September 14, 2011

I think a big part of what makes work like Nida's scary to some people is, it's completely possible that what one language could sya, another language simply doesn't have the words for. For example, how do you translate an Inuit writing about snow into English, when that language has so many words for snow and we have so few? 

That would mean there are biblical truths that are inexpressible in our current languages. So do we say there's some truth that God revealed but that is now lost to us? And if so what do you do with the verse, just omit it or make Scripture incomplete or what? That's a real challenge to folks who think that God's word is the same for all time - especially people who read "word" as a literal, spoken word, not as a rationes, an idea in the mind of God as many classical and medieval Christian philosophers did.

Rickld
September 14, 2011

I read and enjoy both kinds of translations. However, I much prefer a more literal word for word translation for Bible Study and daily reading. Even in the example Nathan cites, in the dynamic equivalence version, the NLT, the translator renders the thought, the ARMIES of heaven. This has a very militaristic flavor that the more literal, “multitude of heavanly hosts” does not have. I think some of these more blatant dynamic equivalence translations should more properly be called paraphrases.  Here is what I see as the dangers of this methodology (I am quoting another scholar here because they were so succint)

(1) It rejects the verbal aspect of biblical inspiration.

(2) It gives to the translator the role that rightly belongs to the preacher, commentator and Christian reader.

(3) It assumes that the present-day translator knows what contemporary words, idioms and paraphrases are equivalent to the prophets’ and apostles’ wording.

(4) It advocates conforming biblical language and concepts to the modern culture rather than conforming the modern culture to biblical language and concepts.

(5) It appears to discard the Protestant principle that Christian laity should have full access to the Word of God written without interposition of clergy or of paraphrastic veils.

Stephen Hale
September 14, 2011

I think "heavenly hosts" is an old English way of saying "the armies of heaven." I think, in this case, the NLT WAS translating it word for word, just not with an eye towards the history of translation. 


I think abandoning the history of translation would itself be a huge step forward. If we, after doing this, would THEN translate word for word, we'd have made huge steps forward.
-Stephen

Stephen Hale
September 14, 2011

Great post! I'm glad to know about Mr. Nida.It seems to me that most debates about issues like this have two sides: good sense vs. People afraid of change. While very few still hold to KJV only views, the plain truth of the situation is that there are a LOT of people who still hold to the primacy of how theKJV translated things, and have great difficulty letting go of it.Consider the uproar over the new Common English Bible, which translates "host" as "army," and "son of man" as "the human one." "The Human One" translates the meaning more accurately, while also giving the impression that there is something of a title/big idea beyond the literal meaning. Its a brilliant translation. But many conservatives have denigrated it. Why? If we could get right down to it, it's because that's not how they grew up hearing it. "That's not what the Bible says" by which they mean "that's not how I've heard it all my life!"Dynamic equivalence has risks, but no more than a word-for-word translation has.

Stephen Hale
September 14, 2011

:-) Sorry to comment on you twice, Rick. :-) I hope you see this as flattery, since I reread your comment after I made my last comment! 


On the 5 points you take from a Biblical scholar, I would comment:
1) Verbal inspiration isn't meaningful if you get into it. It's either dictation theory, which is rejected by practically everyone today (on account of being silly) or it teaches that God inspired the words of the documents, but in the voices of the writers themselves to speak to the cultures of the day themselves. If this is what verbal inspiration means in this case, then you're back where you were with just translating Mark. That is to say, we can translate mark's thoughts easily. Or we can just as easily translates the words God spoke in Mark's mouth. There is no functional difference.
2) All translations do this, whether word-for-word or not. All translations are commentaries. In this objection #2, the Bible Scholar holds a problem against the dynamic equivalence, but doesn't hold it against the word-for-word, even though it's just as true in both cases. Reinforcing my view that he is just defending what he grew up with and not looking at things objectively.

3)Same as #2, this applies equally well to word-for-word translations.

4) Again, just as true of word-for-word translations. And anyway, applying this idea to a translation seems strange to me. Does this scholar really think we should conform modern society to the ancient society even in language issues? If so, then in what specific language issues? The language itself? If that's the case, then should it be greek or aramaic, or the Hebrew possibly spoken closer to Jerusalem? Should it be in the idioms used? We should use those same idioms in modern english? Really? Why? God didn't ordain them, God used them for God's own ends. Notice the way various writers uses different idioms differently. I think this is a misguided point in the first place, but if this scholar wants to use it, it applies as well to both translation models.5) This isn't possible, and I'm not sure that it's a Protestant principle, anyway. I will accept that, in some cases, word-for-word gives you closer access to what the text ACTUALLY says, but I will also insist others acknowledge that sometimes the word-for-word obscures what the text ACTUALLY says. In some cases, the dynamic equivalence translations are superior in achieving this goal.Just my thoughts. :-)

-Stephen

Dschram
September 14, 2011

Remember
that the Bible was written in everyday common Greek for its time. When
the Bible is translated literally "word for word" it becomes sometimes
incomprehensible and hard to understand. However with "dynamic
equivalence" there is the problem of the bias of the translator - that's
when you need to know history and customs and have a Strong's
Concordance handy.

Rickld
September 14, 2011

There are different attitudes towards translation and I know that “word for word” and “dynamic equivalence” represent two ends of a spectrum and most translations are somewhere in between. I see nothing wooden or mechanical or off-putting by the English Standard Version or the New American Standard which are closer to the word for word or verbal inspiration concept. Were Marks thoughts inspired or did the Holy Spirit carefully choose certain words in Mark’s vocabulary to express meaning? I want to err on the side of being very careful to stay true to the language rather than interpret too much. If an idiom seems unusual, then the dynamic equivalent can be expressed in the margin. I appreciate that. 

Christ endorsed the concept of verbal inspiration when he noted that man does not live by bread alone, but by every “word” that proceeds from the mouth of God (Mt. 4:4). If those words from God are not embodied in the Scriptures, where are they to be found?

Jesus, in contesting certain teachings of the Sadducees (who denied the bodily resurrection of the dead) called attention to the fact that Jehovah once had said to Moses, "I am [not “I was”] the God of Abraham?" (Ex. 3:6). The present tense form of the verb reveals that the Lord was still Abraham’s God, though the patriarch had been dead for four centuries. Jesus’s argument turns upon the very tense of a verb. Sounds like verbal inspiration.

When Christ asked the Pharisees why David referred to his own offspring (i.e., the Messiah) as “Lord” (see Psa. 110:1; Mt. 22:41-46), they could not answer. The point is — Jesus grounded his argument on a single word, “Lord,” within the Old Testament text.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated that not a single “jot” or “tittle” of the Mosaic law would pass away until all things be accomplished (Mt. 5:18; cf. Lk. 16:17). The “jot” was the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and the “tittle” was a tiny stroke added to certain letters. 

Verbal plenary” inspiration means the inspiration extends to the very words themselves (verbal)—not just concepts or ideas—and that the inspiration extends to all parts of Scripture and all subject matters of Scripture (plenary). Some people believe only parts of the Bible are inspired or only the thoughts or concepts that deal with religion are inspired, but these views of inspiration fall short of the Bible’s claims about itself. Full verbal plenary inspiration is an essential characteristic of the Word of God. This view was affirmed by The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and I really don’t regard it as “silly”.

Guest
September 14, 2011

You forgot to cite your source...

That response is an article copied pretty much word for word from the Christian Courier.



Rickld
September 14, 2011

Correct you are. The first paragraph is mine. The following 4 scripture illustrations are taken from Christian Courier. And the definition of Verbal Plenary inspiration was from Christian Courier. I summed up and affirmed the Chicago Statement. Thank you Christian Courier for a succinct defense. I just came across these folks today. I usually cite if I quote other material as I did in my earlier response.

Jnotestein
September 15, 2011

If the exact words, rather than the translated meaning of those words, were essential, why translate into any other language in the first place?  Just teach everyone the original languages and use them.  Most of the OT quotes in the NT don't come from the original OT language, but from the Greek translation of the OT.  I think if we speak English, the Word should be translated in English in the way that we actually use it.  Either that or just use an interlinear and forget the rest.

Nathan Bierma
September 15, 2011

>>>  I see nothing wooden or mechanical or off-putting by the English Standard Version or the New American Standard 

I couldn't possibly disagree more strenuously with that. These translations in many places are so awkward that they sound creepily foreign, leaving us in a no-person's-land between the original and English. Mark Strauss has probably documented this in the most detail, here's a snippet: http://bit.ly/o9Esn6

Nathan Bierma
September 15, 2011

The number of Inuit words for snow is a myth -- see http://bit.ly/pJYAjs -- but your point is well taken. Of course, wouldn't a word-for-word approach also potentially obscure cases of mystery and ineffability, as each word and phrase in the Bible is presented with a deceptively tidy correspondence?

Rickld
September 15, 2011

To each his own I guess. I have used the new American Standard for many decades and I love it. I find it readable and memorable and excellent for Bible study. I also enjoy reading the New Living Translation, not for Bible study, but for comprehension and of course it is an example of dynamic equivalence. I keep a King James around only because so many concordances and dictionaries were created for it. Like I say, Bible translation is a spectrum and I am more comfortable on the more literal end of formal equivalence. I grew up on translations and word studies by people like Kenneth Wuest. Any thoughts on the Chicago Statement? BTW, enjoyed your Spoelhof address.

Paul
September 15, 2011

I take your point about the Word being presented in the English that we might use everyday; in a great many cases these versions make reading the bible 'easier'. However, I would make the contention that older versions, particularly the King James, elevate those portions of scripture which might be termed 'poetic' - I particularly have in mind the psalms. Personally, a great many of these seem flat and uninspiring when comparing  modern editions to the KJV. Isn't this part of the function of the Word whether contemporaneous to Shakespeare or the language of Main Street and the shopping Mall; to lift and enervate us to better discipleship and greater faith through emotive response, rather than - dare I say - a more, scientific, empirically based reaction to the Word.

J. Gayle
September 15, 2011

Thanks for the post.  I hope you won't mind my sharing your thoughts in a post about how several of us have thought about Eugene Nida's Dynamic Equivalence theory and practice:

http://bltnotjustasandwich.com/2011/09/15/what-must-we-think-about-eugene-nida/

Stephen Hale
September 15, 2011

I'm glad for a chance to talk about this issue, actually. It's a bit off-topic from Mr. Nida, but it's provided an opportunity to sort through issues relevant to his work. :-)



"Christ endorsed the concept of verbal inspiration when he noted that man does not live by bread alone, but by every “word” that proceeds from the mouth of God (Mt. 4:4). If those words from God are not embodied in the Scriptures, where are they to be found?"1) Jesus doesn't tell us where those words are to be found (he doesn't say "the writings" or anything like that), so this is pretty hard to use.
2) Divine revelation. Prayer. Etc. Prophets (quite common in NT times, and most of what they said was never written down)


"Jesus, in contesting certain teachings of the Sadducees (who denied the bodily resurrection of the dead) called attention to the fact that Jehovah once had said to Moses, "I am [not “I was”] the God of Abraham?" (Ex. 3:6). The present tense form of the verb reveals that the Lord was still Abraham’s God, though the patriarch had been dead for four centuries. Jesus’s argument turns upon the very tense of a verb. Sounds like verbal inspiration.When Christ asked the Pharisees why David referred to his own offspring (i.e., the Messiah) as “Lord” (see Psa. 110:1; Mt. 22:41-46), they could not answer. The point is — Jesus grounded his argument on a single word, “Lord,” within the Old Testament text."

C'mon, now. These examples show that Jesus believed these two passages were accurate, but they hardly demand inerrancy, especially VERBAL inspiration. The first argument hinges on a tense. Jesus endorses one quote here. He doesn't provide an interpretive model. You can read one in if you like, as many conservatives do, but I try to avoid that myself. :-)
Further, as many have pointed out, to say "the Bible itself claims to be verbally inspired" is a circular argument, anyway. I'm surprised that the same people who will demand logical consistency from atheists don't hold the same standard for themselves.

"In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated that not a single “jot” or “tittle” of the Mosaic law would pass away until all things be accomplished (Mt. 5:18; cf. Lk. 16:17). The “jot” was the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and the “tittle” was a tiny stroke added to certain letters. "This last example is famously talking about something completely different. Further, even if it is relevant, again, it doesn't say anything about where those jots and tittles came from in the first place, so it's irrelevant twice.In summary, none of these examples say what the Christian courier wants them to say. So, from my perspective, we're left without any evidence for verbal inspiration, and a whole lot of evidence against it. Which makes the choice easy. :-)
-Stephen

Stephen Hale
September 15, 2011

I see things from both perspectives on this. I agree with Nathan. Once I started asking "would anyone in real life say this?" The answer was "no" quite often for the ESV (and NRSV, my current fave). On the other hand, i'm with Rick: I hadn't noticed it! I grew up with the KJV, and...well...just hearing Bible talk. It sounds natural to my ears, until I stop to think about it. :-) I can see how many people don't notice how wooden it is, since I usually don't notice either!

Ernst Wendland
September 16, 2011

Thanks, Nathan, for your commendation of Eugene A. Nida. When we attempt to evaluate Gene's work and its significance, we must try to situate ourselves back in time to the period when he (and colleagues in both UBS and SIL) were promoting a "meaning-based" (dynamic equivalence) approach to Bible translation--that is, the in late 1960s-1970s. When I began my work in Bible translation during those years in SE Bantu Africa virtually all of the available translation were more literal (formal correspondence) "missionary"-led versions. These texts were generally well received by African Christians, but in most cases they were quite unnatural linguistically and difficult in many places to understand. Gene (and others like Beekman and Callow of SIL) taught us an approach that allowed the Scriptures to speak clearly, at times even idiomatically, in the languages of Africa. We did not claim that these new versions should replace the old; rather, they should be used together to give readers (and hearers!) a fuller understanding of the Bible--its significant forms of expression (from the older version) as well as more of its intended content and impact (from the newer version). Thus it is a matter of teaching folks how to correctly use both-and, not simply either-or. Personally, I am grateful to Eugene A. Nida for helping me to focus not only on the Hebrew and Greek forms of the original text, but also on what these words, syntactic constructions, and various discourse styles were designed to communicate in the initial settings as well as via translation today.

SiarlysJenkins
September 16, 2011

I once heard a woman teaching a Sunday School class (for adults) explain that she liked the NIV because it made everything clear. I immediately thought, that's dangerous, because there may have been many layers of meaning in the original, and all the translation makes clear is what the latest crew of translators decided to distill from it. I'm not at all sure it is good to translate "heavenly host" as "armies of heaven." Consider that Talmudic scholars say that the Greek "angelos" is a mistranslation of the Hebrew "malachim," and that malachim have, in fact, no more free will than my arm has when I command it to bring a glass to my mouth to drink.

Whether that is true or not, what if heaven has no "armies." Heavenly hosts is less specific and focused, but perhaps that is because we don't really know exactly WHAT they were. To sharpen up the translation with "armies" may be grossly misleading.

Then there is the story of how ha-Giladi (aka Jeptha) made a rash vow to give to the Lord what first came out of his house when he returned victorious from battle. It never did make sense to me that he could have burned his daughter on the altar, so many centuries after Abraham was instructed not to sacrifice Isaac. Well, it turns out, he didn't. A Hebrew word meaning "to elevate to the service of God" was replaced in the Septuagint with a Greek word meaning "a burnt offering." Going back to the text, she doesn't bemoan her imminent death, but her virginity, that she would never have children.

All in all, I prefer the King James Version, because is is NOT clear. Whether the result is that I have to think about the meaning, or that the Holy Ghost can more easily instruct me in the meaning, without having to cast aside erroneous preconceived notions, or simply that I am reminded there is more meaning than I will ever absorb, its a better read.

SiarlysJenkins
September 17, 2011

Most of the Bible was not written in everyday common Greek for its time, unless you are an adherent of Marcion, who proposed that the entire Old Testament was irrelevant. Jesus is not likely to have spoken in Greek either -- more likely Aramaic, whatever language recollections of his teachings were written down in.

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