As mentioned in my last post, I read through Grudem’s essay “Are Only Some of the Words of Scripture Breathed Out by God?” this week. The essay can be found in the book Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation. Thanks to Dr. Jim Hamilton and Crossway for uploading this chapter online.
As a budding Bible translator I found his article to be very thought-provoking and helpful. It is also not overly academic and quite understandable. The article is written in defense of Bible translation that focuses on translating “every word” (the essentially literal translation method) over and against what is called “dynamic equivalence” which seeks to translate “thoughts.”If you are a pastor or a layman that loves the Bible, it is very helpful in thinking through the Bible translations you have on your shelves. That said, I would like to discuss some aspects of this essay that I agree with as well as a couple of disagreements.
1. The Goal of Translation
Contrary to the goal that put forward by Eugene Nida, Grudem says, “Our goal rather should be to produce a translation that brings over into English as much of the meaning of the original text as possible within the constraints of good English today” (p 55). Nida’s perspective (as presented by Grudem) is that unbelievers should be able to understand the Scripture and therefore his goal was to make the Bible understandable to unbelievers. This is extremely misguided. Both the testimony of the Scriptures and my own experience point to the fact that the only one who can make the Bible understandable is the Holy Spirit. A translator’s job is not to make the Bible understandable, but to make the Bible accessible in in the target language. Understanding only comes when the Spirit opens our eyes as we study the Word, are taught the Word, and beg God for understanding.
2. The Strengths of Essentially Literal Bible Translations in English
Grudem comments that he would not be able to teach his classes, preach sermons or memorize Scripture with dynamic-equivalent translations such as the The Message or the New Living Translation. However, he goes on to say, “I could readily use any modern essentially literal translation (especially the ESV, NASB, NET Bible, and HCSB) to teach, study, preach from and memorize” (p 49, 50). Throughout all of our Bible training at Master’s and SBTS we have been consistently impressed by the reliability of these translations. In fact, I would say that one of the main things I have learned through studying the biblical languages is that (what Grudem calls the ‘essentially literal’) Bible translations do a much better job translating the text of Scripture into English than I could. They are faithful to the text of Scripture and I could not recommend them more highly.
3. The Usefulness of Paraphrases (in the Right Context)
In dialoging with a friend about this article before I read it all the way through I tried to communicate what I later found already communicated by Grudem:
What then can I do with dynamic equivalence translations like the New Living Translation or The Message? I can read them like I read a commentary, not thinking of them as exactly the Word of God, but as a fresh and creative way to convey an explanation of the verse or an interpretation of the verse as understood by some very competent evangelical scholars. I think of these versions as skillful free interpretations of Scripture, but not strictly as translations (p 50).