Tag Archives: how to choose a translation for all its worth

Book Review – Choosing a Translation for All Its Worth

How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Mark L. Strauss

This book is a helpful introduction to the subject of Bible Translation, the difficulties involved in translating 2,000 year old manuscripts into understandable English, and the philosophies behind various translations. While this is technically a reference book, it is clear that the authors favor a “dynamic equivalent” translation philosophy. The authors remind the reader, throughout the book, that all translation is interpretation. This fact will have some bearing on the translation one chooses.

The authors of this book do an excellent job explaining the concepts behind translation – whether formal or functional (dynamic). Formal equivalent translations focus on retaining the form of the original language. As the authors say, when the Greek uses a prepositional phrase, so will the English. Formal equivalent versions also try to translate words as consistently as possible. The result is a word-for-word (or “literal”) translation that may not always be the most readable.

Function equivalent (or dynamic equivalent) versions focus on the meaning of the original text. Such versions are freer with wording and grammar in order to convey the meaning of the text. The result is a very readable translation that is highly dependent on the interpretation of the translators.*

The book spends a great deal of time discussing the difficulties in translation such as translating idioms, metaphors, and euphemisms. The writers cover these difficulties in various chapters. Extensive examples are provided for each. These issues alone could explain the need for multiple translations. Some of the examples provided to support the authors’ preference for functional versions are a bit inflated – they try to make a bigger issue than is there. Many such examples would be classified under “clarity”. However, for most English speaking, Bible readers these examples would be non-issues. But to the authors’ credit, they do address the issue of reading levels and the fact that some Bibles might be better suited for children or for those who is English is a second language. It just seems that in certain cases, the authors prefer versions that simply “dumb down” the text.

The book is an appropriate length and covers the needed subjects with quality examples. One negative might be the amount of examples, but one could simply move to the next section. As stated earlier, the authors are clear supporters of dynamic equivalent versions and this plays into their comments of formal equivalent versions. As with my stated biases, this got old.

For those who have never considered the differences between various translations, this book would be very helpful. There is also a chapter that deals with textual criticism. Textual criticism plays a part in the discussion of the KJV/NKJV versus other translations. The book ends with a short history of the English Bible. This history does a good job of showing the relationship between various translations and the impact of the King James Version.

*To be clear about my biases, I am a proponent of formal equivalent versions. I understand the need for and use of functional equivalent versions, but for Bible study, one will do better with a formal equivalent translation. In my opinion, dynamic equivalent versions rely too much on the interpretation of the translators. For the student, it seems more beneficial to stay as close to the words, grammar, and form of the original text. This enables readers/students to work out the meaning for themselves.

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Posted by on October 11, 2010 in Book Review


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