Against the Theory of ‘Dynamic Equivalence’
Among Bible scholars there is a school which is always inquiring into the genres or rhetorical forms of speech represented in any given passage of the Bible, and also the social settings which are supposed to be connected with these forms. This approach is called form criticism, and it was developed largely by German scholars in the early twentieth century. Among these scholars, whether they be German or English-speaking, one constantly hears German phrases. The social setting is called the Sitz im Leben. The “oracle of salvation” introduced by “Fear not” is the Heilszusage, and so on. When I was in the seminary learning about all this, I at first wondered why it should be necessary to use these German words; but then I learned that the German words are used because they are recognized as technical terms, and the English equivalents are not. Students were expected to learn the terminology of the field, just as in any other field of study.
Likewise, there were many Greek and Hebrew words to be learned. These were the “technical terms” of the Bible itself. The professors often warned us students about the important semantic differences between various Greek and Hebrew words and their closest English equivalents. The Hebrew word תורה (torah), for instance, was not always equivalent to the Greek νομος (nomos) or the English law, and the Hebrew נֶפֶש (nephesh) did not always refer to the soul, etc. Anyone who has been to a theological school knows very well how often points like this are emphasized by scholars.
I mention this at the beginning of this book on Bible translation because I want the reader who has not been exposed to this kind of study to know how much is made of words and their precise usage in theological schools. Ministers in training cannot go through three years of seminary without being impressed with the undeniable differences between Hebrew, Greek, and English, and with the delicate problems of translating many key words of the Bible into our language. It is not a simple and easy task. Indeed, it is not fully possible, and that is why ministers are taught the biblical languages in seminary.
It is easy to get carried away with fine distinctions. Scholars are often accused of losing their common sense in a multitude of hair-splitting distinctions, and of using foreign words and difficult terminology merely to impress the unlearned. In some cases this undoubtedly happens. We also must be on guard against the elitist attitude taken by many in the Roman Catholic tradition, which in its extreme form caused the Roman Catholic Church to oppose the translation of the Bible into English in the first place. But I want to suggest here that those who are not used to careful study of the Bible may easily fall into an opposite error: the error of despising many distinctions which really do make an important difference in our understanding of the Bible, despising the role of trained teachers in the Church, and generally failing to recognize the bad effects that arise from vague and loose words on any important subject. The Bible is a very important book, and it deserves our utmost care. And if we believe that every word of the Bible is inspired by God, how can we be careless of these words?
I also mention form criticism, with its emphasis on the text’s situation in life, for another reason: I believe that a translation of the Bible must take account of the “sociological setting” in which the Bible came to be, and in which it belongs: namely, the Church of Jesus Christ. The translator must remember that this book was given to the Church and it belongs to her. And this fact, this Sitz im Leben of the Bible as a whole, is not without some consequences for our methods of translation.
1. The Bible in the Church
And all the people gathered as one man into the square … and Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform … and Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, Amen, Amen, lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the law of God, clearly 1 and they gave the sense, 2 so that the people understood the reading. — Nehemiah 8:1-8 (ESV).
Original published on BIBLE-RESEARCHER.COM
Read also: Bibelübersetzung – Bible Translation
1. German Language
- “Unanstößige” Bibelübersetzungen für Moslems? (1)
- Bibelübersetzungen in islam. Ländern (2) – SIL, Wycliff, Frontiers etc.
- Pakistan – Wirbel wegen liberaler SIL/Wycliff-Übersetzung
- Bibelübersetzungen – Andere Worte für “Vater” und “Sohn”
2. English Language
- Is “Allah” identical with the God of our Bible?
- The Word of God and Bible Translation Principles
- Bible Translation Principles – “Essentially Literal Translation”
- Bible Translation – Against the Theory of “Dynamic Equivalence”
- WEA – Independent Bible Translation Report concerning contextualized SIL/Wycliff translation practices
- Biblical Missiology’s Statement on the WEA’s review of SIL/Wycliff
- The Word of God in English, Leland Ryken (free PDF-book)