Richness of the Word(s)

by Michael Potemra

Our age is fortunate to have so many Bible translations to choose from; I am regularly surprised at how even the freest of them convey a great deal of the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek originals. But Leland Ryken, who worked on the recent ESV translation, has just written a fascinating book arguing against the freer, “dynamic equivalence” versions. In Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach, he points out that the more literal a version is, the more of the interpretive possibilities of the original are preserved. If the translator chooses a phrase that conveys what he considers to be the meaning of the original, while not remaining close to its form, he is actually foreclosing the reader’s options in understanding the text. I have often had moments with the freer translations in which I’ve thought, Aha, so that’s what the author meant! Ryken’s book says, in essence, that what I receive in those instances may be one of the author’s possible meanings — but that it belongs more in a commentary or a sermon than in the text of the English translation. I remain more appreciative of the dynamic-equivalence translations than Ryken appear to be, but his book is an excellent introduction to the issues involved in Bible translation – and, even more important, a great reminder of the richness of meaning in the Bible text.

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