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The greatest story ever repeatedly retranslated
penrose orange
I spent some Christmas money today and picked up an English Standard Version translation of the Bible.

For the past ten years or so, I've been using the New Century translation; initially just the Bible alone, but more recently alongside the InterVarsity Press commentary. I liked the New Century version from the first moment I flicked through one in a Christian bookshop, due to its contemporary English and gender-inclusive language. It does tend to oversimplify though. I nicknamed it "Baby's First Translation" a while ago.

The ESV is a new Bible version, a revision of the Revised Standard Version published in the 1950s. Although it's a new version, it's already gained a lot of momentum among evangelical Christians. The translators aimed for a "formal equivalence" style of translation, as close to word-for-word as possible without sacrificing readability; this is in contrast to the "dynamic equivalence" style of the NCV, which attempts to translate thought-for-thought. The popular New International Version, the pulpit Bible used by English-speaking churches all around the world, falls somewhere in the middle.

The aim of a "formal equivalence" translation is to present the original text as faithfully as possible, without the theological bias that can creep in if the text is translated thought-for-thought. This can never be completely successful, of course, due to subtleties in the original language being lost. For example, Greek has at least four different words, with subtly different meanings, that are translated as "love" in English. So the translators have a choice: do they go for the most accurate word, and risk losing some subtlety; or do they rephrase the sentence, and risk obscuring the original text? Inclusive language is also a minefield; St. Paul often addressed his audience by calling them "brothers", even though his words were read by women as well as men. Translating the Greek word as "brothers" preserves the original, but loses the cultural context. Saying "brothers and sisters" preserves the context, but loses accuracy. One way around the problem is to translate the word precisely, and add an explanation of the context in a footnote.

I think it sensible for Bible study groups to use both "formal" and "dynamic" translations. The "formal" translations show us what the original writers wrote; the "dynamic" translations add context and clarity. My study group is quite eclectic in its choice of translations. A lot of people use the NIV, since it's the version preached from the pulpit at our church. One of our leaders uses the New American Standard version, which is probably the most "formal" of all the currently-used English translations. I take my NCV and my commentary; and starting next week, I'll have my ESV as well. One chap likes the Authorized Version. A translation of the Latin Vulgate has even seen some use in our group.