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The debate as to where one should be in the spectrum of literal versus dynamic equivalent, i.e., their translation philosophy, has been going on since the first translation of the Hebrew (Aramaic) into Greek, i.e., the Septuagint (280-150 B.C.E.). However, if we were to look to the first printed English translation of 1526 by William Tyndale, we would find a literal translation philosophy that ran for almost four hundred years. It was not until the 20th century that we find the wholesale overthrow of the literal translation philosophy. There are dozens of dynamic equivalent translations for every literal English translation we have today. Just to name a few, we have the Contemporary Version, the Good News Translation, the Easy-to-Read Version, the New Life Version, the New Living Translation, God’s Word, the New Century Version, the New International Reader’s Version, and the like. Below, we will offer a deeper discussion of these translation philosophies than we had in the previous chapter, which had simply served as an introduction to the subject.
Interlinear Study Tool
The interlinear Bible page is set up with the left column where you will find the original language text, with the English word-for-word lexical gloss beneath each original language word; generally, the right column contains an English translation like the ESV, NASB, or the NIV. The interlinear translation in the left column and the modern-day English translation in the right column are parallel to each other. This allows the student to make immediate comparisons between the translation and the interlinear, helping one to determine the accuracy of the translation.
The interlinear and the English equivalent in the outside column are not generated by taking the English word(s) from the translation on the right and then placing them under the original language text. Whether we are dealing with Hebrew or Greek as our original language text, each word will have two or more English equivalents. What factors go into the choice of which word will go under the original language word? One factor is the period in which the book was written. As the New Testament was penned in the first century, during the era of Koine Greek, as opposed to classical Greek of centuries past, and then there is the context of what comes before and after the word under consideration.
Therefore, the translator will use his training in the original language or a lexicon to determine if he is working with a noun, verb, the definite article, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, participle, and the like. Further, say he is looking at the verb, it must be determined what mood it is in (indicative, subjunctive, imperative, etc.), what tense (present, future, aorist, etc.), what voice (active, middle, passive, etc.), and so forth. In addition, the English words under the original language text are generated from grammatical form, the alterations to the root, which affect its role within the sentence, for which he will look to the Hebrew or Greek grammar reference.
The best lexicon is the 3rd edition Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (BDAG) ten years in the making, this extensive revision of Bauer, the standard authority worldwide, features new entries, 15,000 additional references from ancient literature, clearer type, and extended definitions rather than one-word synonyms. Providing a more panoramic view of the world and language of the New Testament becomes the new indispensable guide for translators. The second best lexicon is the Greek-English Lexicon: With a Revised Supplement, 1996: Ninth Revised Edition – Edited By H.G. Liddell, R. Scott by H.G. Liddell & R. Scott. Each word is given in root form along with important variations, and an excellent representation of examples from classical, Koine and Attic Greek sources follows. This lexicon is appropriate for all classical Greek and general biblical studies. By far the best traditional Hebrew lexicon currently available is The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) (vols. 1-5; trans. M. E. J. Richardson; Brill, 1994-2000). However, the price is beyond most students and scholars. A more affordable edition, which I highly recommend, is available, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Unabridged 2-Volume Study Edition) (2 vols. trans. M. E. J. Richardson; Brill, 2002).
There are numerous lexicons on the market, which would be fine tools for the Bible student. Many scholars would concur that Biblical lexicons have four main weaknesses:
- They are geared toward the translations of the 20th century, as opposed to new translations.
- They primarily contain only information from the Bible itself instead of information from Greek literature overall.
- They are too narrow as to the words of say the New Testament, attempting to harmonize a word and its meaning. The problem with this agenda is that a word can have numerous meanings, some being quite different, depending on its context, even by the same author.
- Most Biblical lexicons have not escaped the etymological fallacy, determining the meaning of a word based on its origin and past meaning(s). Another aspect being that the meaning of a word is based on the internal structure of the word. A common English example of the latter is “butterfly.” The separate part of “butter” and “fly” do not define “butterfly.” Another example is “ladybird.”
John 3:7 The Greek-English New Testament Interlinear (GENTI)
7 μὴ θαυμάσῃς ὅτι εἶπόν σοι Δεῖ ὑμᾶς γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν.
John 3:7 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘It is necessary for you to be born again.’
As you can see, the interlinear translation reads very rough, as it follows the Greek sentence structure. The Updated American Standard Version rearranges the words according to English grammar and syntax. Do not be surprised that at times words may need to be left out of the English translation, as they are unnecessary. For example, The Greek language sometimes likes to put the definite article “the” before a personal name, so in the Greek, you may have “the Jesus said.” In English, it would be appropriate to drop the definite article. At other times, adding words to complete the sense in the English translation may be appropriate. For example, at John 4:26, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.” *The word “he” is not in the Greek text but is implied, so it is added to complete the sense. Please see the image on the next page.
John 4:26 The Greek-English New Testament Interlinear (GENTI)
26 λέγει αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ᾿Εγώ εἰμι, ὁ λαλῶν σοι.
John 4:26 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
Here in John chapter 4, you have Jesus being spoken to by a Samaritan woman. She is inquiring about the coming Messiah, and Jesus does something with the Samaritan woman that he has not done even with his disciples. He discloses who he really is, “I am the one [i.e., the Messiah]. Like the other translations that we have considered, the UASV is aware that there is an implied predicate pronoun in the sentence “I am [he] the one speaking to you.”
Once the interlinear level has taken place, it is now time to adjust our English lexical glosses into sentences. Each word will possess its own grammatical indicator. As the translator begins to construct his English sentence, he will adjust according to the context of the words surrounding his focus. As you will see shortly, in the examples below, the translator must transition the words from the Greek order, to correct English grammar and syntax. This is a delicate balance faced by the literal translation team. As they must determine how close they will cling to the Hebrew or Greek word order in their English translation. The reader will find that the KJV, ASV, NASB, ESV, and the UASV will allow a little roughness for the reader, for them an acceptable sacrifice as they believe that the word order conveys meaning at times. An overly simplified example might be Christ Jesus as opposed to Jesus Christ, with the former focusing on the office (“Christ” anointed one), while the latter focuses on the person.
Even though it is impossible to follow the word order of the original in an English translation, the translator will attempt to stay as close as possible to the effective and persuasive use that the style of the original language permits. In other words, what is stated in the original language is rendered into English, as well as the way that it is said, as far as possible? This is why the literal translation is known as a “formal equivalence.” As a literal translation, it “is designed so as to reveal as much of the original form as possible. (Ray 1982, p. 47)
It should be noted that this writer favors the literal translation over the dynamic equivalent, especially the paraphrase. The literal translation gives us what God said; there is no concealing this by going beyond into the realms of what a translator interprets these words as saying. It should be understood that God’s Word to man is not meant to be read like a John Grisham novel. It is meant to be meditated on, pondered over, and absorbed quite slowly, using many tools and helps along the way. There is a reason for this, it being that the Bible is a sifter of hearts. It separates out those who really want to know and understand God’s Word (based on their evident demonstration of buying out the opportune time for study and research) from those who have no real motivation, no interest, just going through life. Even though the literal translation method needs to be done balanced and should not be taken too far.
There are times when a literal word-for-word translation is not in the reader’s best interest and could convey a meaning contrary to the original. Even so, we will qualify this even more below.
- As we have established throughout this blog but have not stated directly, no two languages are precisely equivalent in grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure.
Ephesians 4:14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
14 So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of teaching, by the trickery [lit., dice playing] of men, by craftiness with regard to the scheming of deceit;
The Greek word kybeia that is usually rendered “craftiness” or “trickery,” is literally “dice-playing,” which refers to the practice of cheating others when playing dice. If it was rendered literally, “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery dice-playing of men,” the meaning would be lost. Therefore, the meaning of what the original author meant by his use of the Greek word kybeia, must be the translator’s choice.
Some may argue, “There are times when an overly literal translation can actually mislead the reader because figures of speech are not to be taken literally.”
Literal is the preferred choice. The primary purpose is to give the Bible readers what God said by way of his human authors, not what a translator thinks God meant in its place.—Truth Matters! The primary goal is to be accurate and faithful to the original text. The meaning of a word is the responsibility of the interpreter (i.e., reader), not the translator.—Translating Truth!
A literal translation sifts out persons who do not really want to know what the Bible authors meant by their words. These just need some basic Bible study tools and can discover what the author meant for themselves, making them accountable to God. However, if an interpretive translation replaces what God said with what the translator thinks God meant by what he said, he just cut the reader off from what God said. Deciding whether this man is greedy or envious or Jesus went out into the desert or wilderness is not a significant cutting the reader off but it still is up to the reader to make that determination for themselves.
Let’s use your verse …
Proverbs 28:22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
22 A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth
and does not know that poverty will come upon him.
 That is, an envious man or a greedy man
A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth. Eye: (Heb. עַיִן ayin; Gr. ὀφθαλμός ophthalmos) Both the Hebrew and the Greek can refer to the organ of sight. (Matt. 9:29; 20:34) Illustratively, the eye is essential to communicating with the mind, influencing our emotions and actions. When Satan tempted Eve, he motivated her through what she saw with her eyes. Eve had seen this tree many times now, “it was a delight to the eyes.” (Gen 3:6) Satan also tempted Jesus with the things seen by the eyes. (Lu 4:5-7) The apostle John spoke of “the lust of the eyes” as being “from the world.”(1 John 2:16-17) The Bible uses the “eyes” to express emotions, like “haughty eyes” (Pro. 6:17), “alluring eyes” (Pro. 6:25), “eyes full of adultery” (2 Pet. 2:14), “whose eye is evil [a selfish man]” (Pro. 23:6) or “an evil eye [a greedy man]” (Pro. 28:22). It can also refer to understanding. – Lu 19:42; Eph. 1:18.
The Hebrew (בָּהַל bahal) rendered hasten means to be in a hurry, i.e., make haste, hurry, with an implication of being impatient. The Hebrew (הוֹן hon) rendered wealth refers to an abundance of material possessions and resources. Wealth, riches, i.e., owning possessions desirable in a society, is not intrinsically evil. Spending your life chasing after this wealth because of your envy and greed makes it sinful.
And does not know that poverty will come upon him. The miserable future of the envious, greedy individual is outlined in the inspired proverb. The person with a greedy or envious eye is indeed heading for poverty. This man struggles to lift himself up out of poverty or from his station in life to the level of those he begrudges. He lowers himself morally, surrendering the correct principles. Even if he advances himself to the point of having wealth, his riches are brief and will be no more at death. Thus, he has labored and rushed through life impatiently, seeking more for nothing. Jesus included “an envious [literally, “wicked”] eye” among all these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.—Mark 7:22-23.
Envy is a disgusting work of the flesh that will block one from inheriting the Kingdom of God. (Ga 5:19-21) All who live their lives in it are “worthy of death.” (Rom. 1:29, 32) However, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the inclination to envy can be withstood.—Ga 5:16-18, 25, 26; Tit 3:3-5; 1Pe 2:1.
The point made above is understood but needs to be qualified. The slippery slope of literal translation can be challenging to understand or even “mislead the reader” is a false notion. What misleads the reader is laziness, not the translation. Yes, there are a few places in the text where literal rendering would not be the correct choice. But these are very few. Being difficult to understand and potentially misleading is NOT a deterrent to literal translation philosophy.
The Greek (κόσμος kosmos) is the usual term that is rendered “world” in all of its occurrences in the Greek NT except 1 Peter 3:3, where it is rendered “adorning.” Kosmos “world” can mean (1) universe, as an ordered structure (Ac 17:24); (2) earth, the surface of the earth, where mankind dwells (Mt 4:8); (3) world system, godless world standards (Gal 6:14); (4) people, those estranged from God (1Co 6:2); (5) adorning (1Pe 3:3) or adornment, an object which adorns (1Pe 3:3) (6) tremendous amount, figurative extension (Jas 3:6); (7) αἰὼν τοῦ κόσμου τούτου (aiōn tou kosmou toutou), supernatural power (Eph 2:2).
Again, the potential for distortion or being misleading because the reader has to do the work of an interpreter, which is their job, not the translator, is no excuse for abandoning literal translation philosophy.
Matthew 6:22-23. This, in fact, makes my point. If there is a figure of speech or a particular way of wording that is devised to have a double meaning, it IS UP TO THE READER to determine that. You even asked in your video, “what do these expressions mean?” In other words, the reader must make the determination, not the reader. If there are possibly two different meanings and the translator makes the choice for the reader, he cuts the reader off from the other choice. What if the translator is wrong? You leave ambiguity and let the reader sort it out. If the reader is too lazy, then that is his fault.
Matthew 6:22-23 Easy-to-Read Version
22 “The only source of light for the body is the eye. If you look at people and want to help them, you will be full of light. 23 But if you look at people in a selfish way, you will be full of darkness. And if the only light you have is really darkness, you have the worst kind of darkness.
MATTHEW 6:22-23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is simple, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
 The Greek word (ἁπλοῦς haplous) rendered “simple” is used in a moral sense (Matt. 6:22 and Luke 11:34), which is from a word that fundamentally means singleness of mind or singleness of purpose. This keeps us from being divided by storing up treasures on earth and in heaven; therefore, having a divided heart. What does this mean exactly? Jesus meant that we should keep our life simple, focusing on a singleness of purpose, which will prevent our eye from being distracted or sidetracked, that is, clear, sound, sincere, open, and focused on good.
 Or bad, wicked, i.e., envious
Romans 12:11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;
When Paul wrote the Romans, he used the Greek word zeontes, which literally means, “boil,” “seethe,” or “fiery hot.” Some serious Bible students may notice the thought of “boiling in spirit,” as being “fervent in spirit or better “aglow with the spirit,” or “keep your spiritual fervor.” Therefore, for the sake of making sense, it is best to take the literal “boiling in spirit,” determine what is meant by the author’s use of the Greek word zeontes, “keep your spiritual fervor”, and render it thus.
Matthew 5:3 New International Version, ©2011 (NIV)
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:3 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)
3“Blessed are those who [are poor in spirit] recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
This one is a tough call. The phrase “poor in spirit” carries so much history, and has been written as to what it means, for almost 2,000 years that, even the dynamic equivalent translations are unwilling to translate its meaning, not its words. Personally, this writer is in favor of the literal translation of “poor in spirit.” Those who claim to be literal translators should not back away because “poor in spirit” is ambiguous, and there is a variety of interpretations. The above dynamic equivalent translation, God’s Word, has come closest to what was meant. Actually, “poor” is even somewhat of an interpretation, because the Greek word ptochos means “beggar.” Therefore, “poor in spirit” is an interpretation of “beggar in spirit.” The extended interpretation is that the “beggar/poor in spirit” is aware of his or her spiritual needs as if a beggar or the poor would be aware of their physical needs.
- As we have also established in this blog, a word’s meaning can be different, depending on the context that it was used.
2 Samuel 8:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
3 Then David struck down Hadadezer, the son of Rehob king of Zobah, as he went to restore his authority [lit. hand] at the River.
1 Kings 10:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all her desire which she requested, besides what he gave her according to his royal bounty [li. hand]. Then she turned and went to her own land, she together with her servants.
Proverbs 18:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
21 Death and life are in the power [lit. hand] of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
The English word “hand” has no meaning outside of its context. It could mean, “end of the arm,” “pointer on a clock,” “card players,” “round in a card game,” “part in doing something,” “round of applause,” “member of a ship’s crew,” or “worker.” The Hebrew word “yad,” which means “hand,” has many meanings as well, depending on the context, as it can mean “control,” “bounty,” or “power.” Some translations translate this one word in more than forty different ways. Let us look at some English sentences, to see the literal way of using “hand,” and then add what it means, as a new sentence.
- Please give a big hand to our next contestant. Please give a big applause for our next contestant.
- Your future is in your own hands. Your future is in your own power. Your future is in your own possession.
- Attention, all hands! Attention, all ship’s crew!
- She has a good hand for gardening. She has a good ability or skill for gardening.
- Please give me a hand, I need some help.
- The copperplate writing was beautifully written; she has a nice hand.
At times, even a literal translation committee will not render a word the same every time it occurs because the sense is not the same every time. The only problem we have is that the reader must now be dependent on the judgment of the translator to select the right word(s) that reflect the meaning of the original language word accurately and understandably. Let us look at the above texts from the Hebrew Old Testament again, this time doing what we did with the English word “hand” in the above. It is debatable if any of these verses really needed to be more explicit, by giving the meaning in the translation, as opposed to the word itself.
2 Samuel 8:3: who went to restore his hand at the Euphrates River – who went to restore his control at the Euphrates River
1 Kings 10:13: she asked besides what was given her by the hand of King Solomon – she asked besides what was given her by the bounty of King Solomon
Proverbs 18:21: Death and life are in the hand of the tongue – Death and life are in the power of the tongue
We can look to one example translation, which touts the fact that it is a literal translation, i.e., the English Standard Version (ESV). In fact, it waters that concept down by qualifying its literalness, saying that it is an essentially literal translation. Essentially, it means being the most basic element or feature of something. In this case, the ESV is the most basic element or feature of a literal translation. Let’s use “essentially” another way by saying, the ESV is essentially the Word of God. Who wants essentially the Word of God? We want the Word of God. During 13 years of using the ESV, this author has discovered that it unnecessarily abandons its literal translation philosophy quite regularly. Dr. William Mounce was the head of the translation committee that produced the ESV, and he leans toward or favors the dynamic equivalent translation philosophy. He has since left the ESV committee and become the head of the New International Version committee, which is becoming more and more of a dynamic equivalent with each new edition. This is not to imply that the ESV is not a splendid translation because it is.
Dynamic Equivalent Translation
Translators, who produce what are frequently referred to as free translations, take liberties with the text as presented in the original languages. How so? They either insert their opinion of what the original text could mean or omit some of the information contained in the original text. Dynamic equivalent translations may be appealing because they are easy to read. However, their very freeness at times obscures or changes the meaning of the original text.
Ecclesiastes 9:8 (NLT)
8 Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!
Ecclesiastes 9:8 (CEV)
8 Dress up, comb your hair, and look your best.
Ecclesiastes 9:8 (GNT)
8 Always look happy and cheerful.
Ecclesiastes 9:8 (NCV)
8 Put on nice clothes
First, the above dynamic equivalents do not even agree with each other. What does Ecclesiastes 9:8 really say.
Ecclesiastes 9:8 (NASB)
8Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head.
Ecclesiastes 9:8 (ESV)
8 Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.
Ecclesiastes 9:8 (UASV)
8 Let your garments be always white, and let not your head lack oil.
|Ecclesiastes 9:8 (HCSB)
8 Let your clothes be white all the time, and never let oil be lacking on your head.
What does the metaphorical language of “white garments” and “oil on your head” symbolize? Does “white garments” mean to “wear fine clothes,” “dress up,” “look happy,” or “put on nice clothes”? In addition, does “oil on your head” mean “a splash of cologne,” “comb your hair” or “make yourself look good”? Duane Garrett says, “Wearing white clothes and anointing the hair (v. 8) symbolize joy and contrast with the familiar use of sackcloth and ashes as a sign of mourning or repentance.” Let us also look at an exegetical commentary as well as a book on Bible backgrounds.
John Peter Lange et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Ecclesiastes
White garments are the expression of festive joy and pure, calm feelings in the soul, comp. Rev. 3:4 f.; 7:9 ff. Koheleth could hardly have meant a literal observance of this precept, so that the conduct of Sisinnius, Novatian bishop of Constantinople, who, with reference to this passage, always went in white garments, was very properly censured by Chrysostom as Pharisaical and proud. Hengstenberg’s view is arbitrary, and in other respects scarcely corresponds to the sense of the author: “White garments are here to be put on as an expression of the confident hope of the future glory of the people of God, as Spener had himself buried in a white coffin as a sign of his hope in a better future of the Church.”
And let thy head lack no ointment. As in 2 Sam. 12:20; 14:2; Isa. 61:3; Amos 6:6; Prov. 27:9; Ps. 45:8, so here appears the anointing oil, which keeps the hair smooth and makes the face to shine, as a symbol of festive joy, and a contrast to a sorrowing disposition. There is no reason here for supposing fragrant spikenard (Mark 14:2), because the question is mainly about producing a good appearance by means of the ointment, comp. Ps. 133:2. Ver. 9.
James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible
In any area with strong sunlight, white clothing is preferred because white reflects the sunlight and so decreases the heating effect of it. In addition, white garments in the East were symbols of purity, and so were worn on certain special occasions. The symbols and custom were adopted by the West and is reflected especially in the wedding ceremony. The oil was symbolic of joy. Together they signified purity and the joy of festive occasions.
In the Bible there are several references to white garments symbolizing purity, righteousness, or holiness. In Daniel 7:9, the clothing worn by the “Ancient of Days … was as white as snow.” When Jesus was transfigured, “his clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). The angels appeared in white robes when they appeared to the soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb and when the women went to the tomb after He had risen (Matthew 28:3, Mark 16:5, Luke 24:4, and John 20:12), and also when Christ ascended into heaven (Acts 1:10). In the ages to come, the redeemed will be clothed in white (Revelation 7:13 and 19:14).
We can see that the three sources interpret the metaphorical language of “white garments” and “oil on your head” as purity and joy. Would we get this by way of the four dynamic equivalents in the above? Would “Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne” (NLT) get us to the correct meaning? We should not replace metaphorical language because we feel it is too difficult for the reader to understand. They should buy out the time, just as this writer has done, by going to commentaries, word study books, and Bible background books. Let us look at one more informative Bible background book,
9:8. clothed in white. Scholars have understood the color white to symbolize purity, festivity or elevated social status. In both Egypt Story of Sinuhe) and Mesopotamia (Epic of Gilgamesh) clean or bright garments conveyed a sense of well-being. Moreover, the hot Middle-Eastern climate favors the wearing of white clothes to reflect the heat.
9.8. anointed head. Oil preserved the complexion in the hot Middle Eastern climate. Both the Egyptian Song of the Harper and the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh described individuals clothed in fine linen and with myrrh on their head. (Walton, Matthews and Chavalas 2000, p. 574)
As we are about to take up the subject of the paraphrase, let us consider the above Ecclesiastes 9:8 and the surrounding verses in a paraphrase.
Ecclesiastes 9:8 (The Message)
7-10 Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,
Drink wine with a robust heart.
Oh yes, God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
Dress festively every morning.
Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.
Relish life with the spouse you love
Each and every day of your precarious life.
Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange
For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!
This is your last and only chance at it,
For there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think
In the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.
A paraphrase is “a restatement of a text, passage, or work giving the meaning in another form.” The highest priority and characteristic is the rephrasing and simplification. Whatever has been said in the above about the dynamic equivalent can be magnified a thousand fold herein. The best way to express the level this translation will be to go to a paraphrase and set it side-by-side with the dynamic equivalent and literal translations. Below we have done that, i.e., Isaiah 1:1-17. It is recommended that we read verses 1-4 in the Message Bible, then in the New Living Translation, and then in the English Standard Version. Thereafter, read verses 5-9 in the same manner, followed by verses 10-12, and 13-17. This way we will taste the flavor of each with just a small bit at a time, so you do not lose the sense of the previous one by too much reading.
Isaiah 1:1-17 The Message (MSG)
1The vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw regarding Judah and Jerusalem during the times of the kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. 2-4Heaven and earth, you’re the jury.
5-9“Why bother even trying to do anything with you
10“Listen to my Message,
11-12“Why this frenzy of sacrifices?”
13-17“Quit your worship charades.
Isaiah 1:1-17 New Living Translation (NLT)
1 These are the visions that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. He saw these visions during the years when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah.
2 Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth!
5 Why do you continue to invite punishment?
10 Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.”
Isaiah 1:1-17 English Standard Version (ESV)
1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
The Wickedness of Judah
2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
4 Woe to the sinful nation,
5 Where will you be stricken again,
7 Your land is desolate;
9 Unless Jehovah of armies
10 Hear the word of Jehovah,
12 “When you come to appear before me,
 Or teaching or instruction
 Isaiah’s use of (ʾāwen) may designate magic or idolatrous ritual, or evil caused by the misuse of power.
 Or covered with
Literal Contrasted With Dynamic Equivalent
In short, the dynamic equivalent translator seeks to render the biblical meaning of the original language text as accurately as possible into an English informal (conversational) equivalent. Alternatively, the literal translation seeks to render the original language words and style into a corresponding English word and style.
Again, there are two major divisions in translation philosophy. We have the word-for-word and the thought-for-thought. A literal translation is one-step removed from the original, and something is always lost or gained, because there will never be 100 percent equivalent transference from one language to the next. A thought-for-thought translation is one more step removed than the literal translation in many cases and can block the sense of the original entirely. A thought-for-thought translation slants the text in a particular direction, cutting off other options and nuances.
A literal word-for-word translation makes every effort to represent accurately the authority, power, vitality and directness of the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures and to transfer these characteristics in modern English. The literal translations aim to produce as literal a translation as possible where the modern-English idiom permits and where a literal rendering does not conceal the thought. Again, there are times when the literal rendering would be unintelligible, so one must interpret what the author meant by the words he used.
|Literal Translation||Dynamic Equivalent|
|Focuses on form||Focuses on meaning|
|Emphasizes source language||Emphasizes receptor language|
|Translates what was said||Translates what was meant|
|Presumes original context||Presumes contemporary context|
|Retains ambiguities||Removes ambiguities|
|Minimizes interpretative bias||Enhances interpretative bias|
|Valuable for serious Bible study||Valuable for commentary use|
|Awkward receptor language style||Natural receptor language style|
The alteration of one word can remove an enormous amount of meaning from the Word of God. Let us consider 1 Kings 2:10 as an example.
|Literal Translation||Dynamic Equivalent|
1 Kings 2:10 (ESV)
10 Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.
1 Kings 2:10 (GNT)
10 David died and was buried in David’s City.
1 Kings 2:10 (ASV)
10 And David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.
1 Kings 2:10 (NLT)
10 Then David died and was buried with his ancestors in the City of David.
1 Kings 2:10 (NASB)
10 Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.
1 Kings 2:10 (GW)
10 David lay down in death with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David.
1 Kings 2:10 (UASV)
10 Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.
1 Kings 2:10 (NIRV)
10 David joined the members of his family who had already died. His body was buried in the City of David.
1 Kings 2:10 (RSV)
10 Then David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.
1 Kings 2:10 (NCV)
10 Then David died and was buried with his ancestors in Jerusalem.
One could conclude that the (dynamic equivalent) thought-for-thought translations convey the idea in a clearer and more immediate way, but is this really the case? There are three points that are missing from the thought-for-thought translation:
In the scriptures, “sleep” is used metaphorically as death, also inferring a temporary state where one will wake again or be resurrected. That idea is lost in the thought-for-thought translation. (Ps 13:3; John 11:11-14; Ac 7:60; 1Co 7:39; 15:51; 1Th 4:13)
Sleeping with or lying down with his father also conveys the idea of having closed his life and having found favor in God’s eyes, as did his forefathers.
When we leave out some of the words from the original, we also leave out the possibility of more meaning being drawn from the text. Missing is the word shakab (“to lie down” or “to sleep”), ’im (“with”) and ‘ab in the plural (“forefathers”). Below are verses that enhance our understanding of death, by way of sleep, as being temporary for those who will be awakened by a resurrection.
Psalm 13:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
3 Consider and answer me, Jehovah my God;
give light to my eyes
lest I sleep the sleep of death,
John 11:11-14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died.
Acts 7:60 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.
1 Corinthians 7:39 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
39 A wife is bound for so long time as her husband is alive. But if her husband should fall asleep (koimethe) [in death], she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 But we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
Those who argue for a though-for-thought translation will say the literal translation “slept” or “lay down” is no longer a way of expressing death in the modern English-speaking world. While this may be true to some extent, the context of chapter two, verse 1: “when David was about to die” and the latter half of 2:10: “was buried in the city of David” resolves that issue. Moreover, while the reader may have to meditate a little longer or indulge him/herself in the culture of different Biblical times, they will not be deprived of the full potential that a verse has to convey. (Grudem, et al. 2005, pp. 20-21)
A Word of Caution
The dynamic equivalent and paraphrase can and does obscure things from the reader by overreaching in their translations. This can be demonstrated on the moral standards found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 The Message
9-10 Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men of passive homosexual acts, nor men of active homosexual acts, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
If you compare the MSG with the UASV, you will notice that the MSG does not even list the specifics defined by the apostle Paul on precisely what kind of conduct we should shun.
Matthew 7:13 Today’s English Version (TEV)
13“Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it.
Matthew 7:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.
The Greek word apōleian means “destruction,” “waste,” “annihilation,” “ruin.” Therefore, one has to ask, ‘why did the TEV translation committee render it “hell”? It has all the earmarks of theological bias. The translation committee is looking to promote the doctrine of eternal torment, not destruction. The objective of the translator is to render it the way that it should be rendered. If it supports a certain doctrine, this should be accepted, if not, then this should be accepted as well. The policy is that God does not need an overzealous translator to convey his doctrinal message.
|Literal||Dynamic Equivalent||Dynamic Equivalent|
1 Corinthians 11:10 (UASV)
10 This is why the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
1 Corinthians 11:10 (GNT)
10 On account of the angels, then, a woman should have a covering over her head to show that she is under her husband’s authority.
1 Corinthians 11:10 (CEV)
10 And so, because of this, and also because of the angels, a woman ought to wear something on her head, as a sign of her authority.
As we can see, the English lexical glosses of the interlinear are literally carried over into the Source Language word for word, keeping the exact form. This is called a gloss in the world of the Bible translator. While this does not convey much meaning to the average English reader, it does to one who has studied Biblical Greek. However, the Bible student would have a literal translation as a study Bible. The literal translation, as you can see, will keep the form as far as is possible, as well as the wording. The Dynamic Equivalent advocates will argue that this does not sound natural. Well, for those that want the Word of God in its undiluted form, as accurately as possible, we will accept a little unnatural sounding at times. Soon, we will see the danger of going beyond translation into interpretation.
Our literal translation contains ambiguity. Is the writer talking about women or wives? Is the woman to have her own authority, or is something or someone else to have authority over her? This is just fine, because it ambiguity has many benefits, as you will see. First, as a quick aside, the work of interpretation will weed out those pseudo-Christians, who do not want to put any effort into their relationship with God, who do not want to buy out the time to understand. Now, the reader has the right to determine for himself or herself which is the correct interpretation. The translator should not steal this right from them, for the translator or the translation committee, could be wrong, and life or death may be uncertain.
Seeing two dynamic equivalents side-by-side helps you to see that they have arrived at two different conclusions, and both cannot be right. The Today’s English Version believes that the “woman” here is really the “wife,” as it refers to the “husband.” It also believes that the wife is to be under the husband’s authority. On the other hand, the Contemporary English Version does not commit to the argument of “woman” versus “wife” but does understand the verse to mean the woman has her own authority. She has the authority to act as she feels she should, as long as she wears something as a sign of this.
A Good Translation Will do the Following:
- Accurately render the original language words and style into the corresponding English word and style that God inspired.
- Translate words’ meaning literally when the original text’s wording and construction allow for such a rendering in the target language.
- Transfer the correct meaning (sense) of a word or a phrase when a literal rendering of the original-language word or a phrase would garble or obscure the meaning.
- After considering the objectives of the first three points, as far as possible, use natural, easy-to-understand language that inspires reading.
Are there such translations available on the market? The author recommends using the Updated American Standard Version (UASV) by Christian Publishing House. Of course, you should consider other literal and semi-literal translations as time permits. In addition, use the dynamic equivalents as mini-commentaries, as that is what they are.
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BIBLE TRANSLATION AND TEXTUAL CRITICISM
BIBLICAL STUDIES / INTERPRETATION
CHRISTIAN APOLOGETIC EVANGELISM
CHURCH HEALTH, GROWTH, AND HISTORY
 Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993; 2006), Jn 3:7.
 Edward Andrews et al., The Updated American Standard Version (Christian Publishing House, 2014; 2018), Jn 3:7.
 Or diligent
 Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 14, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 331.
 John Peter Lange et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Ecclesiastes (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 126.
 James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 338.
 Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary., Eleventh ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
 I.e. died
 The ASV, ESV, NASB, and other literal translation do not hold true to their literal translation philosophy here. This does not bode well in their claim that literal is the best policy. We are speaking primarily to the ESV translators, who make this claim in numerous books.
 Or uninformed
 The two Greek terms refer to passive men partners and active men partners in consensual homosexual acts