The History of the English Bible Part 16: Translation Types

Before we move on to modern versions of the bible, let’s look at the types of translations and the different translation philosophies. You can have a translation, a revision, or a paraphrase. I’m going to include a definition of each with a list of some of the bibles that fall into each category.

Translation = A translation uses the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts as the basis for rendering the languages into English. Some examples of this would be NIV, NET, HCSB.

Revision = A revision takes a previous translation and updates the rendering to reflect contemporary language and scholarly research. (A revision may also look at original languages, but it compares it with a previous version.) Examples are the KJV, ASV, RSV, ESV,TNIV.

Paraphrase = A paraphrase takes the text and adapts the wording to contemporary jargon and interpretation of what the scripture says. Examples are The Living Bible and The Message.

There are pros and cons to each of these. A translation, not looking at previous version may state the text in a way that is unfamiliar to the reader. A revision may change words that some feel hold a special reverence. An example of this would be thine and thy. A paraphrase is the translator taking the text and putting it in his own words. There is always the danger of the translator giving an interpretation that goes with his opinions, but does not show that the verse could be interpreted in other ways.

On the flip end of these negatives, a fresh translation in contemporary language may help a verse that is hard to understand due to Hebrew Idioms easier for the modern reader to grasp. (An idiom is basically a figure of speech such as…”It’s raining cat’s and dogs.) A revision allows a favorite version to be updated in language that is more common today. A paraphrase makes reading really easy, as the text will read like a modern day story with hard to understand text stated in a way that makes it easy to understand.

There are basically two types of translation philosophies with most translations falling somewhere in the middle.

Formal Equivalence = renders text word – for – word (also called literal)

Dynamic Equivalence = renders text thought – for – thought

The good thing about formal equivalence is that it uses one English word for each word in another language. It also uses the same English word each time the same Greek word comes up. It will put the verse as it is without interpreting it. This makes this type of translation great for word studies. The negative is it often creates stilted language, with odd sentence structure to what we normally use.

Dynamic Equivalence makes the text really easy to understand and easy to read. The negative to this is that for serious study some words may not be used the same everywhere and some times thought for thought can lead to interpretation instead of translation.

While many bibles claim to be literal, it is impossible for a translation to be 100% literal word for word. 

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