Understanding English Bible Translation
- Tuesday, December 15, 2009
What is significant about the rise of the word equivalence as the dominant term? The significance lies in the fact that the word was popularized by Eugene Nida and his followers. While the word need not imply license, as used by dynamic equivalent proponents, it does imply a loose attitude toward preserving the words of the original text of the Bible. As used by the people who elevated it to the main term in translation theory, translating the Bible into something equivalent to the original text stands in implied contrast to translating it into something that corresponds to or is identical with the words of the original (subject of course to the changes required by translation from one language into another).
We might ask further what the word dynamic is doing in the formula. The phrase has become so common that we scarcely note what an odd adjective dynamic is in this context. It is mainly an honorific term—dynamic in contrast to the allegedly static or dead products of essentially literal translators. But in this context the word dynamic actually means something in addition, namely, a spirit of freedom or exemption from the need to reproduce the actual words of the original in an English translation.
The terms currently in fashion have the pernicious effect of privileging dynamic equivalence over the rival theory of translation. Consider the formula verbal equivalence. This would be innocuous and even helpful if it meant "finding the equivalent English word for the word in the original." The problem is that the word equivalent has already been co-opted by dynamic equivalent advocates. It carries the connotation of being a substitute for rather than corresponding to the words of the original biblical text.
We also need to note how inadequate—to the point of being misleading—the terms dynamic equivalence and functional equivalence are as descriptors of what translations bearing those names actually do with the original text. In fact, only a small amount—almost a statistically insignificant quantity—of what we find in modern dynamic equivalent translations is a matter of finding an equivalent for something in the original. What these translations mainly do is beyond that parameter, consisting of such things as changing syntax and word order, adding exegesis and interpretive commentary to the text, simplifying the content of the original text, removing figurative language from sight, producing a colloquial style for the English Bible, and adapting the translation to the expectations of a target audience. None of these activities can be honestly construed as finding an equivalent for difficult words and phrases in the original text of the Bible.
Realistically, the prevailing terminology will not change any time soon. So we need to use the terms in a "state of high alert." Many of the terms are misleading. They also stack the deck in favor of modern translation theories and against traditional understandings of what English Bible translation should be.
Copyright © 2009 by Leland Ryken
Published by Crossway Books
a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
1300 Crescent Street
Wheaton, Illinois 60187
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