Translation: How does it work?

There is no reason here to get involved in all the discussions that linguists and translation theorists get into today. Here are some thoughts we need to consider when we talk about why there are translations.
First, the context of translation is that those who do so believe they are translating the Word of God. So, the act itself becomes sacred.
Second, there is an absolute necessity to translate because (1) cultures change, (2) languages change, and (3) as Christians move into new areas there is a need for others to read the Bible in their own language. In addition, (4) as we learn more about the earliest manuscripts of the Bible, we are led to more refined translations.
Third, it seems to me that there are two poles, or essential theories, to translations. Some strive for formal identity and others for dynamic equivalence. The formal identity people like to leave things alone — close verbal similarity to Hebrew and Greek and the English. The dynamic equivalent people prefer to evoke the same response in modern readers that was evoked in the original readers by transforming what something meant in its day to an equivalent in our day.
Example: “gird up the loins of your mind” (formal identity) vs. “with minds that are fully alert” (TNIV).
Fourth, here are some further considerations translators use when they translate.
1. Strive to reproduce the original message.
2. Find a natural dynamic equivalent instead of a formal identity. We don’t have to use “bowels” in 1 John 3:17 but can use “pity.”
3. Shape the meanings of words to the particular context instead of always using the same English word for the same Hebrew or Greek word.
4. Think of how a given translation will sound in public and not just how it reads.
5. Target an audience for your translation.
6. English style is important but not as important as fidelity to message.


There is no reason here to get involved in all the discussions that linguists and translation theorists get into today. Here are some thoughts we need to consider when we talk about why there are translations.
First, the context of translation is that those who do so believe they are translating the Word of God. So, the act itself becomes sacred.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://englishbibles.blogspot.com Wayne Leman

    I have linked to this post, also, Scot. I tried pinging your Trackback URI, but there is some problem. Perhaps you could try pinging your own Trackback to see if the problem is on your new blog.

  • http://tishbyte.blogspot.com c.baruch

    I would like a translation that takes into account both formal identity and dynamic equivilant, sort of like what the Amplified Bible, or did (if we could have one based on more up to date research), or like a Targum. I realise such a translation would sacrifice public readability. I like to know, not only what was meant by an idium, but also where they used that particular idium to mean that.
    If Jesus, or someone used a play on words that would have made his hearers /readers chuckle, I want to catch it too, without having to learn Hebrew and Greek.

  • http://www.indychurch.org/archives/2005/08/bible-translation/ Anonymous

    Indy Church » Blog Archive » Bible Translation

    [...] Read the whole post. [...]


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