Saturday, May 4, 2013

So Many Translations – Argggggh

It’s been quite a while since I wrote a book review. But for this blog I’m going to review two. They both deal with the same subject:  modern biblical translations. This is a subject that stirs quite a bit of controversy, from the “King James Only” groups to concerns over paraphrases and “gender neutral” translations.

Back in the mid-nineties one of the best books on biblical texts was The King James Only Controversy by James R. White. I’ll say right from the start that, while I grew up with the King James Bible and love it,  there was never a question for me as to it being the only legitimate translation. It clearly isn’t.

Consequently the primary reason I appreciate White’s book is because in the midst of dealing with the “controversy”, it serves as an “introduction to the history and background of the biblical text, the primary area of attack by secularists in our world today.” [1]

It is because of this material I recommend the book, even if the reader isn’t interested in or concerned with the KJV battle per se. James White is not interested in undermining the KJV translation. Instead he speaks to the questions …

“Is your Bible translation reliable? Is it the real Bible? Answering those who claim that only the King James Version is the Word of God, James R. White examines allegations that modern translators conspired to corrupt Scripture and led believers away from true Christian faith. First published in 1995, and revised and expanded in 2009, The King James Only Controversy traces the development of Bible translations old and new and investigates the differences between newer versions and the Authorized Version of 1611. White’s teaching clearly shows why we can trust the accuracy of the Bible as God’s Word.” [2]

But it isn’t this book that drove me to write this review, it is a brand new book by Dave Brunn, One Bible, Many Versions. The book subtitled “Are All Translations Created Equal?” expands on the concepts of White’s book, providing a greater understanding of English translations. Here the author speaks to the broader area of how translators work.

“Dave Brunn is director of education for New Tribes Mission Missionary Training Center and was phonetics instructor at the NTM Language and Linguistics Institute (1978-1980). [3] He did extensive work for New Tribes Mission in Papua New Guinea, translating the Bible into the language of the Lamogai people.

This translating work created an interesting perspective because of the unique aspects of the Lamogai language and the related difficulties in translating the Bible. The factors involved with this work are what caused him to begin his analysis of the choices made in the numerous English translations of the Bible.

Mr. Brunn’s primary focus is on asking questions related to the distinctions between the English translations being used today. He is especially concerned with what he describes as “real world of translation practice.” [4]

The distinctions many translators make about the translations they are involved with are in describing them as essentially a word-for-word equivalence versus the dynamic equivalence. This forces a discussion of original language versus original meaning.

What made this book absolutely fascinating was how often the “word-for-word” translations resorted to dynamic equivalence and visa versa. The book has numerous charts analyzing individual words and passages in each referred-to translation and how the translation was different than one might expect.

As with White’s book, Brunn doesn’t have an agenda other than to help the reader understand a very complicated subject and how decisions are made in the translation process. As for myself, the conclusion I’ve come to is that believing any one translation is better than any other by cherry picking verses is not going to lead to a reliable decision. In fact, I believe Brunn’s book demonstrates the benefit of working in multiple translations.

“Dave Brunn has been involved in Bible translation work around the world for many years. From the perspective of this on-the-ground experience in different cultures, he helps us sort out the many competing claims for various English Bible translations. By giving us a better understanding of the process of translation, he demonstrates how the variety of translations enables us to more fully grasp the meaning of the biblical text. Meticulously researched, this clear, readable and informative work is poised to transform the conversation about Bible translation.” [5]

Because these two books give such a comprehensive understanding of the numerous aspects involved in bringing us English translations and written in such an accessible way I recommend them for both clergy and the people in the pews. I suggest as pastors we all have them in our library, read them, and if you find them helpful, recommend them to others.

[1] White, James, The King James Only Controversy, Bethany House, Minneapolis, MN, 1995, 2009, p.  19.
[2] Ibid, Back Cover.
[3] Brunn, Dave, One Bible, Many Versions, IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL, 2013, Back Cover.
[4] Ibid, p. 16
[5] Ibid., Back Cover.

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