Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book Review: Understanding English Bible Translation

Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach. Leland Ryken. 2009. Crossway Books. 208 pages.

Does it matter what translation you use when you read the Bible? Leland Ryken argues that it does. (Don't jump to conclusions. He's not arguing that the King James Version is the only Bible, the only real Bible that is the inspired Word of God.) There are basically two translation philosophies at work these days.

Traditionally the focus has been on "translating" the Bible from its original languages (Hebrew and Greek) into other languages--for the purpose of this book, only English is considered--by choosing words that correspond with the original. Sometimes this has been called word-for-word translation. In recent years, the term has changed to "essentially literal." The focus has been on keeping the words and forms (or formats) as close to the original as possible...and having it still make grammatical sense. Translations that come under this tradition, this heritage are the Tyndale New Testament, the King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, the New King James Version, the Revised Standard Version, the English Standard Version. Just to name a few.

The second philosophy is thought-for-thought or dynamic equivalence. Translators are more concerned with translating meaning or ideas than focusing on the actual words used. So they substitute their own words, their own equivalences, into the translation. Their focus is on making the text as simple and transparent and obvious as it possibly could be. Often with the lowest reader in mind. Not always. There are some translations that are more sophisticated than others. (The NIV is far from the worst offender.) Translations in this camp are NLT, NIV, the Message, Good News Bible, TNIV, Contemporary English Version, God's Word, etc. Ryken argues that the prefaces hide certain implications--that the Bible needs to be "fixed" so that it can be understood by modern readers. And this is indeed the case. Take some translations and they will come straight out and tell you that they are purposefully choosing to take out words that are "too difficult" for "modern readers" to understand. What words? Well, grace, church, righteousness, justification, atonement, etc. Some words may have more than two or three syllables, it's true, but the words being eliminated are deep, rich words. Words that mean something--something important, something grand, something big. They are being replaced by nothing-words, words that couldn't even begin to cover the same meaning.

Here is how the book is arranged:

  • Part One: Overview of Issues
  • 1. Understanding English Bible Translation
  • 2. Questions and Answers about English Bible Translation
  • Part Two: The Story of English Bible Translation
  • 3. Laying the Foundation
  • 4. Building on the Foundation
  • 5. Building on Another Foundation
  • Part Three: The Two Main Genres of Modern English Bible Translation
  • 6. Divergent Goals for Bible Translation
  • 7. Divergent Views of the Bible
  • 8. Divergent Views of the Bible's Authors, Readers, and Translators
  • 9. Divergent Methods of Translation
  • 10. Divergent Styles of Translation
  • Part Four: The Ideal English Bible Translation
  • 11. Fullness Rather Than Reductionism
  • 12. Transparency to the Original Text
  • 13. Preserving the Literary Qualities of the Bible
  • Part Five: The Bible in the Church
  • 14. Oral Reading of the Bible
  • 15. The Need for a Translation that People Can Trust and Respect
  • 16. Teaching and Preaching from the Bible

I loved this one. I just loved it. At first I thought it might be a little boring. I mean a book about translation philosophies? It might be important stuff, but exciting, well, I had my doubts. How does it really make a difference in my life?! But I found almost all of it to be fascinating. And while some chapters are certainly more practical than others, I found it all to be insightful and important. In particular, I loved part three.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible


hopeinbrazil said...

Thank you for reviewing this book. This is a subject I've been wanting to explore and this book sounds like a good place to start.

Annette said...

Thank you for reviewing this book. I've grown to love this author.