Archive for August 14th, 2009

Kept in translation – a case against dynamic equivalence

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Few contemporary Bible translators translate word-for-word.  They instead often operate on the theory of “dynamic equivalence,” summed up by one of its advocates as the effort to find “in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent to the message of the source language, first in meaning and secondly in style.”

The theory is a bold expression of modern hubris.  Most obvious is the assumption that we know the “message of the source language” accurately enough to reproduce that message in the receptor language.  Armed with the tools of modern research, we can stitch together tatters of texts, bones and buildings into a three-dimensional model of the ancient world.

The subtler hubris is the more dangerous.  Older translators settled for word-for-word translations, often mangling the style and syntax of the receptor language to reproduce the source language (cf. the doubled Hebraisms – “dying you shall die” – of the Authorized Version) because they believed they were handling mysteries beyond their understanding.  As Stephen Prickett has pointed out, they rendered the “original in all its starkness and oddity” because they knew they didn’t have mastery of the text.

- Peter J. Leithart (in Touchstone)

Awhile back I posted about my experience of reading through an eight-version parallel New Testament.  I still like the NLT and some other dynamic equivalent versions for their readability, but I think Leithart’s argument for word-for-word translation has merit.  I’ll stick with a combination of the two.