“Loaded Words”…and Dr. McKnight’s Overview of Biblical Translations

44041-oh-my-god-despicable-me-gif-fj5tI don't count Dr. Scot McKnight as a personal friend because we've only spent a grand total of 1.5 hours together in the past 10 years.  But he is a brother in Jesus, fellow scholar and one of my biblical studies "mentors" throughout the years.  We've exchanged emails, I've posted many of his blog entries and we've had informal conversations regrading all things Kingdom oriented.  I own almost all of his books and many of the courses I teach utilize one or another of the texts that Scot has penned.  

This morning, Scot posted a provocative but, from my humble opinion, helpful paradigm from which to view the plethora of biblical translations.  He's taking a peek at the "politics" of biblical translation…I take that to be this, that everyone is subjective in translating the original text.  To proclaim that there is such a thing as an unbiased, objective textual translation is not only naive but also presumptuous.  There are choices, hard choices I contend, that each translation "team" has to make when translating from ancient languages.  To assert that anyone can do that task without bringing denominational, theological, or life experience "baggage" into the actual translation act is, truthfully, absurd.  Now, as Scot makes comment in his article, that you can access here and below, there is nothing inherently "wrong" with assertion.  What it does call to our attention is how "loaded" some words are in the biblical text and also how key decisions in translations can vary to the point where the reader is not (to quote NT Wright, "well served).

So for those of you who have an interest in biblical translations (as I do), take a gander at this post. Scot, I commend you for your obvious courage in even taking a shot at this issue.  By the way, note a few "conclusions" from the article…how important it is to have, read publicly, and study a variety of translations and how The Message edition (Eugene Peterson's splendid take on the bible) can actually enhance a broader and more faithful hermeneutic and application.  


The Politics of Bible Translations

The Bible you carry is a political act. By “Bible” I mean the Translation of the Bible you carry is a political act. Because the Bible you carry is a political act the rhetoric about other translations is more politics than it is reality. The reality is that the major Bible translations in use today are all good, and beyond good, translations. There is no longer a “best” translation but instead a basket full of exceptional translations.

The world in which we live, however, has turned the Bible you carry into politics. So here goes for my politics of translation at the general, stereotypical level, and it goes without having to say it that there are exceptions for each:

The NIV 2011 is the Bible of white conservative evangelicals.
The NLT is the Bible of white conservative evangelicals.
The TNIV is the Bible of white egalitarian evangelicals.
The ESV is the Bible of white complementarian conservative evangelicals.
The NASB is the Bible of white conservative evangelical serious Bible students.
The NRSV is the Bible of white Protestant mainliners.
The RSV is the Bible of aged white Protestant mainliners.
The CEB is the Bible of not as white Protestant mainliners.
The KJV is the Bible of African Americans.
The Message is the Bible of those who are tired of the politics (and like something fresh).

Now the big one: each of these translations is a very good translation. The rhetoric that “our Bible” is better than your Bible — masked as “word for word” or “accurate” — is political rhetoric and not translation theory.

The politics of Bible translation is a sad case of colonizing the Bible for one’s agenda. Each group has its Bible, has its translation, and you declare your allegiance to your tribe by carrying and citing the Bible of your tribe. Show your cards by exposing the Bible you use and you will be telling us which tribe is yours. Anyone with knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek knows that these Bibles are solid, both in theory and execution, translations.

When I visit a new church I can walk into the sanctuary (or auditorium) and know which tribe the church belongs to by the pew Bible: the translation tells the story because Bible translations have become ecclesial politics.

Why say this? To say this: Each of these Bibles is a good translation. We need to teach our church people that and knock off the politics of translation. Maybe you should vary from week to week which translation you use, announce your translation, and then affirm the value of that translation.
A year of confusing the politics out Bible translations might bring the most clarity!

Another point being made in the recent dustup about the TNIV and the NIV 2011 (and the NIVI) has to do with “translation theory.” I hear it like this all the time: I prefer “dynamic equivalence” (functional equivalence) or I prefer “formal equivalence.” Sometimes it gets expressed by such words as “paraphrase” or “literal” and sometimes by “bad” and “good.” Or “loose” and “tight.”

I’d like to contend today that most words are translated in all Bible translations with formal equivalence and that some words are translated more or less in a dynamic, or functional way. In other words, there isn’t really a radical commitment to dynamic equivalence — as if one can find some better way in English to the original languages “and” or “but” or “the” or “God.” Or a radical commitment to “formal equivalence,” as if the Greek word order can be maintained in English and make sense, though at times the NASB gave that a try (much to the consternation of English readers). No one translates “God’s nostrils got bigger” (formal equivalence) but we translate “God became angry.” There are some expressions that can’t be translated woodenly unless one prefers not to be understood.

(See Dan Wallace.)

The result of this is that all translations are on a spectrum of more or less formal and more or less dynamic. Now one more complication: each translation will vary for individual words or phrases or clauses. Each of these Bibles is good. Let’s use them all, and rejoice that we have such wonderful access to the Bible.

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