Friday, May 9, 2008

Book Review: Translating Truth.

I finally got some time to read this little book "Translating Truth, the Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation" published by Crossway (2005). It is basically five essays from five different scholars responding to and defending the essential literal (EL) translation method.

The work starts off with Wayne Grudem's1 entry, "Are only some words breathed out by God?". In this entry, Grudem makes a strong argument that the dynamic method of Biblical translation fails on the serious count of hamstringing theological exegesis from the text. Unjust omissions, wild paraphrasing, additions and the like leads to a poor at best, possibility of teaching theology from dynamic translations. Grudem presents many examples of the way dynamic theory disables the source language and in turn directly affects theology2. As far as what translations then should we follow, Grudem opts for either the ESV, NASB, NET, HCSB3.

Next up is Leland Ryken4 who debunks the "Five Myths about Essentially Literal Bible Translation". Ryken abolishes the strawman argument that claims "word worship" on the part of adherents to (EL). Secondly, Ryken displays why essentially literal method is far from "naivite" and on the contrary, the ignorance is mostly being exhibited from the dynamic camp. Thirdly, the accusation that (EL) amounts to transliteration is almost to ridiculous to merit a serious response but nonetheless Ryken exposes the specious reasoning behind this charge. Fourthly, Ryken responds to those that say (EL) method involves interpretive lexical decisions by stating the obvious, of course it does, however (EL) has a better guiding principle with fidelity to the source language rather than subjective paraphrasing. Finally, Ryken shows why (EL) is far from being "obscure and opague" but rather (EL) is transparent in it's renderings from the source language, much different than what can be said of dynamic translation which makes the source language disappear under subjective decisions.

C. John. Collins5 follows with his entry, "What the Reader wants and what the Translator can Give". In which he gives us an interesting test case on translation principles, namely the Greek text of 1 John. In contrast to (EL) which displays the repetitions and other nuances of the Greek, these important subtleties are lost in dynamic renderings.

V.S Poythress6 gives us his entry, "Truth and Fullness of Meaning" in which he gives us a historical overview of the field of linguistics and how this has influenced Eugene Nida7. Nida's model of translation theory is but one of many Poythress shows and to claim that it is the best method at the derision of (EL) is simply bombastic.

Bruce Winter8 gives us, "Revelation versus Rhetoric" a synopses showing that St. Paul consciously avoided the grand rhetorical sytle of his day for the humble words of the power of the gospel. However all sides grant this and it is not apparent how Winter ties this to translation principles.

All in all this short work (which I read in one sitting) is a strong introduction and defense of the esentially literal translation method. It exposes the fallacies that Nida and company have employed to deride the (EL) position and at the same time proves the inadequacies of dynamic translation theory.


1. Research professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix Seminary. Sometimes considered "controversial" among conservative Protestants for his distinctive views such as the belief that charismatic gifts continue in the church today, see his The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. Grudem was also exposed as holding Trinitarian subordinationism by Kevin Giles in Jesus and the Father (which I review below).

2. One example Grudem cites is John 12:27 which reads in the (EL) ESV, "Now is my soul troubled..." the key word being the rendering of ψυχή. For no apparent reason dynamic translations (such as the CEV) decline a literal rendering of ψυχή as "soul" (as most EL translations show) and translate instead as, "Now I am deeply troubled..." a rendering that does away with Jesus' soul (and can thus bolster an Apollinarian reading of the text).

3. Grudem then gives useful insights on why he does not like the otherwise (EL) translations KJV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV.

4. Professor of English at Wheaton College.

5. Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary at St. Louis.

6. Famed professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminister at Philadelphia.

7. The guru and main voice for the dynamic method of translation.

8. Warden at Tyndale House - Cambridge.


"αμαθεστατε και κακε, αφες τον παλαιον, μη μεταποιει"

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