Friday, May 9, 2008

Bible Translations and Paraphrases

Pastor John Carlson is a friend. He has written the following article about the importance of accuracy in the translation of the Word of God.

What Are We Teaching?
By John Paul Carlson

Do we compromise the Word of God with the indiscriminate use of multiple Bible translations? I believe that many, for seemingly good reasons, teach less than Scripture, and in the process, teach a view of Scripture that is wrong.

Today we are privy to many different styles and philosophies of Bible teaching and different translations available to make the Bible easy to understand. One of the benefits is that we no longer need to struggle with a translation’s archaic language. But what I am concerned about is the “word for word” vs. “thought for thought” debate.

When we teach Scripture, we must be careful to present the Bible, according to the doctrine of inspiration, as God’s Word revealed to man with precision and detail. We study the original languages in order to understand the text and to maintain accuracy in teaching. We insist on textual integrity, and rightly so!

Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Matt 5:17,18

Dynamic equivalent translations, if used properly, can be wonderful tools for study enhancement and understanding. But, by definition, dynamic translations must include a sense of commentary. To do that, translators must interject thoughts, not words, and therefore the translations cannot be literal. Words have meanings. Dynamic equivalents take liberties where liberties should not be taken. A case in point is Romans 6:4:

  • Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4 (NASB)
  • We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Romans 6:4 (NIV)

The word “walk” in the NASB certainly denotes living. But the word “walk” carries with it a progression of moving forward that simply does not accompany the word “live” in the same way.
That being the case, the dynamic equivalent does not convey the exact detail and accuracy of the literal translation. If that is true, should we even call anything but a literal translation a Bible at all? Perhaps dynamic equivalents fit more in a category of a translation/commentary versions, or expanded versions. Either way they are not pure translations of the Bible.

When memorizing Scripture, we should only incorporate a literal translation. If our purpose is to truly hide God’s Word in our hearts, we must make sure it is God’s Word in its purest form and not a translator’s thoughts..

An accompanying issue is that of proof-texting. A popular practice in preaching today is to provide printed outlines or display Power Point presentations with the corresponding Scriptures included. This is fine unless those references are all from different translations and paraphrases. It seems as if the translations are often chosen because of how it uses a particular English word that fits into the speakers outline. The agenda is then set by the speaker in order to make his point, and not necessarily God’s. Such misuse of Scripture is common, and alarming! What does that teach people concerning the Bible? Can Scripture be twisted to say whatever we want it to say? Can the message of the Bible be adjusted to fit the meaning of the speaker?

Finally, where did we ever get the idea that literal translations are too difficult to understand? Sure, there are some passages more difficult than others. Isn’t that what pastors, commentaries, Bible study, prayer and meditation are for? If we are not teaching and demonstrating the Bible as the pure, unchanging, infallible Word of God, we are teaching and demonstrating something far less. And that is very dangerous.

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