Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe the Bible?– Part Five

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The chapter on translations is in some ways the most useful one for those lost in the sea of different versions, different editions, etc. Yet despite the many many different Protestant translations of the Bible available (and the vast majority of them are done by Protestants), really only four have been able to capture more than 10% of the market in the last decade or so— they are the NIV (despite all the unnecessary polemics against it), the New Living Translation, the NKJV, and the old KJV. There is in addition one other version which may soon top 10% of the market, and that is the ESV. As Craig points out (p.92), about 92% of the ESV is nothing new at all. It is the unrevised RSV (not to be confused with the more recent NRSV) which went out of print, the rights to which were bought up by Crossway books, lightly revised, and then republished as the ESV. It, like the old RSV, is not a literal translation, despite advertising to the contrary (see the two reviews cited on p. 93, one by my fellow doctoral student at Durham in the 70s, Allan Chapple). It is a more idiomatic translation which strives for accuracy of meaning while preserving elegance of style. In the translation wars, it is perhaps best known for preserving non-inclusive language in the text (compare the NRSV revision of the same translation!) even where in various cases it would be appropriate to have it.

One of the most useful aspects to this chapter is that Craig carefully delineates the three major philosophies of translation that stand behind the many translations we have. To use the technical language they are ‘formal equivalence’, ‘dynamic or functional equivalence’ and optimal equivalence. Some translations prioritize accuracy (formal equivalence), some fluency and intelligibility (dynamic equivalence), and some strive for a balance of both (optimal equivalence). Blomberg puts the NASB, the ESV, and the NRSV basically in category a, putting meaning ahead of clarity; the NLT, CEV, GNB as representing category b, and finally the NAB,NET,HCSB,CEB, and NIV in the last category.

Blomberg easily debunks the myth that the more literal a translation the more accurate and better it will be by using the example of a literal rendering of Phil. 2.6-8 (p. 95). There are lots of excellent examples of how translation philosophy affects these translations, and he points out very good examples where not to use inclusive language actually distorts the real meaning of a text where clearly both men and women are being addressed (see pp. 98ff.). In addition he gives apt warnings about overly paraphrastic renderings of the Bible, like the Living Bible or the Message, and about heterodox translations like the Jehovah’s witness version (New World Translation) or the Joseph Smith translation (which I have never really considered or studied, but the examples he cites shows how much Smith simply padded what the Bible says in various passages).

Sadly also Blomberg chronicles all the propaganda and dis-information given against the NIV by ultra conservative critics, criticism largely inaccurate and unfair (see pp. 110-14), especially as applied to the most recent version of the NIV. Clearly, Blomberg has good reasons to favor translations that are not based on bad text criticism, and do give strong consideration to utilizing common English, all the more so in an increasingly Biblically illiterate culture. His conclusion is that the updated NIV has the best combo of accuracy and clarity with a balanced approach to gender inclusive language where appropriate (p.118). If you thought translations were a contentious issue, the next chapter and post is about inerrancy. Yikes!


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