Lost in Translation: Literally Dynamic
When God gave humanity his inspired Word, it was perfect in every way. The Scriptures in their original form were free of errors and communicated exactly what God desired for us. But as God's Word was translated by individuals with good intentions, mistakes naturally occurred. After all, "to err is human." As a result, though the Bible is perfect, there is no perfect translation of the Bible. Nevertheless, translations are necessary in a world where 99% of Christians are not fluent in the languages of Scripture: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. A thousand years ago, the Scriptures were only available in Greek and Latin. But courageous men soon began to translate the Bible into their own language, often martyred for doing so.
There are two different philosophies of translation which scholars follow when rendering the Scripture for today's Christians. The first philosophy is that of formal or literal equivalence. This philosophy seeks to provide as literal a translation of God's Word as is possible on a word-for-word basis. The American Standard Version, published in 1901, is considered to be one of the most literal translations in existence, even at teh expense of being unintelligible at times. At a glance, a literal translation of God's Word seems to be the best alternative. However, as in every other language, biblical languages contain idiomatic expressions or "figures of speech" which are often difficult to translate literally because the meaning is then lost.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the functional or dynamic equivalence philosophy seeks to translate the original biblical text on a thought-by-thought basis in an effort to be intelligible to the reader. This is extremely helpful when dealing with idiomatic expressions which cannot be interpreted literally. However, an inherent weakness of dynamic equivalence is that the translators do the interpreting for the reader, robbing him of the ability to interpret idiomatic expressions for himself. In other words, dynamic equivalence may make a biblical thought understandable, but what if the thought was misinterpreted by the translators? The New Century Version (NCV), first published in 1987, was translated with a dynamic equivalence philosophy.
To gain a sense of literal vs. dynamic translation philosophies, consider the following examples:
If Christians believe that the exact words of the original scriptures were inspired by God, then they should prefer a literal translation of the scriptures. However, because of the weaknesses of a literal equivalence philosophy, no one should use a literal translation exclusively. A translation which employs dynamic equivalence should also be on hand to help in interpretation where a literal rendering is confusing or ambiguous.
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