The Science of Translation:There are two choices that a translator has to make; textual and linguistic. The first has to do with the actual wording of the original text. The second has to do with one’s theory of translation. Because translators use a variety of methods for translating a text it has become a fairly exact science but not perfect. There are too many human variables to be exact. In these cases when multiple translations could emerge from a specific passage it is good to look at other interpretations of the Bible, as well as other resource material to try and get a better idea of what the author intended.

The Question of Language: The following terms will help you become familiar with the theories of translation. It is important to think about how each of these ideas apply to the specific text you are reading and how that might affect the translation.

Original Language: The language that one is translating from; in the case of the bible Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Hebrew being used for most of the Old Testament, Arabic (a sister language to Hebrew) used in half of Daniel and two passages in Ezra. Greek used for all of the New Testament.

Receptor Language: The language that one is translating into.

Historical Distance: This has to do with the differences that exist between the original language and the receptor language, both in matters of words, grammar, and idioms (a peculiar mode of expression, the genius or peculiar cast of a language; colloquial speech; dialect), as well as in matters of culture and history.

Theory of Translation:

This has to do with the degree to which one is willing to go in order to bridge the gap between the two languages. Here are some terms that relate to certain aspects within someone’s theory of translation.

Literal: The attempt to translate by keeping as close as possible to the exact words and phrasing in the original language, yet still make sense in the receptor language. A literal translation will keep the historical distance intact at all points. Examples of Bibles translated with this theory are The King James Version (KJV), The New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the English Standard Version (ESV).

Dynamic Equivalent: The attempt to translate words, idioms, and grammatical constructions of the original language into precise equivalents in the receptor language. Such a translation keeps historical distance on all historical and most factual matters, but “updates” matters of language, grammar and style. Examples of Bibles translated with this theory are The New International Version (NIV), The New American Bible (NAB), and The New English Bible (NEB)

Free: The attempt to translate the ideas from one language to another, with less concern about using the exact words of the original. A free translation, sometimes also called a paraphrase, tries to eliminate as much of the historical distance as possible. Examples of Bibles translated with this theory are The Living Bible (LB), and The Good News Bible (GNB).

(This post is a summary and partial abridgement of Fee And Stuart’s book “Reading The Bible For All It’s Worth.” It is based solely on Fee And Stuart’s work and any help that this content gives should be credited to God’s grace through their effort. In other words, give God glory, thank Fee and Stuart and buy the book.)