Methods of Bible Translation

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Translation is essentially bringing information from one language into an other as accurately as possible, and must pay attention not only the translation of the words themselves but also of their setting, or context. A poem that has its words translated accurately but is no longer in poetic form is not accurately translated. Effective Bible translation would therefore bring the work of the original writers into a modern form that is both readable and intelligible.

In a sense, the process of translation is an ongoing one. The KJV was the most modern and accurate English version of the Bible available in 1611 and it has undergone several revisions over the centuries. Currently, the English Standard Version (ESV) which is one of the most up to date and accurate English versions of the Bible. Years from now there may be an even more modern translation made so that the text of the Bible can be reliably understood by the readers of that day.

All translations of the Bible fall into one of three categories, each of which determines the value of the translation for a given use and each of which has its own advantages and drawbacks. It is a good idea, especially if you have reason to be concerned about the translation of a given passage, to compare the translation of your preferred study Bible to that of an other translation in order to determine how other scholars have dealt with the text. Although there is today a great deal of dialogue concerning the value and integrity of the translations replacing the King James Version it is a fact that no modern translation disagrees with any other on any significant doctrinal issues of Christianity. Feel free during your study to compare the English Standard Version to versions such as the New International Version, American Standard Version, the King James Version or others, in so doing you will at the very least satisfy yourself that the passage being studied has been handled accurately and perhaps enhance your understanding of what is being said.

Following sections will briefly discuss the three major schools of thought with regard Bible translation:

1.Complete Equivalence
2.Dynamic Equivalence
3.Paraphrase

But even within the various categories of translation there are differing viewpoints as to how the translating should be done. Some will translate all measures into their modern counterparts and refer to all geographic locations by their modern names, while others will make no attempt to modernize these expressions. There are problems to be found in both schools. If we are to modernize the ancient monetary terms to their modern counterparts then we may find that we have devalued what was a not unreasonable sum of money in ancient times. Likewise when we modernize locations we will find that on occasion we are operating on assumption and local custom that may be incorrect. Yet if the archaic terms are retained we will have difficulty putting what we read into its proper context. Until it is interpreted for us into its roughly equivalent modern terms we will have no idea what a shekel is. Yet, once we assign a modern value to the shekel we link the ancient currency to our current problems of inflation and monetary devaluation. By the same token if we tie ancient locations to their modern counterparts we may actually relocate some of them by great distances due to the difficulty in certainly identifying geographic locations that are at least several thousand years in the past.

It is also difficult to place a definite meaning on some terms such as the cubit. There are at least three different lengths assigned to the cubit (eighteen, twenty-one, and thirty-six inches) which makes it almost impossible to understand how big Noah built the Ark or how large was Solomon's Temple until we determine which cubit was in use at the time or referred to in the narrative. Once we are aware which methods the translators of our favourite study Bible have used in their work we can begin to better understand what that translation is telling us.