What Constitutes an Accurate Translation?

by William D. Mounce

Bible TranslationsI had a fascinating experience this summer. I spent my first three weeks on the NIV translation committee, the CBT. We were locked away in Whistler, Canada, discussing, agreeing, and sometimes disagreeing on the nuances of the meaning of words and the meaning of biblical passages. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Well, perhaps a week in Switzerland would be better.

It was a really good time. Some of the committee members I had only known from a distance. Some I had known through my dad since his Bethel days. One I lived with in graduate school (Craig Blomberg). And others were brand new friends.

What was most educational was to see how dynamic translation works, first hand. From my years on the ESV I had gained an appreciation for formal equivalent translation, but to actually be part of a dynamic translation (okay, "functional equivalence") was a great teacher. I watched godly men and women struggle, sometimes agonize, over just the right wording so the NIV would faithfully convey the same meaning as intended by the biblical author. Whoever says dynamic translators have a lower view of Scripture needs to sit behind the veil and watch this group work.

So this brings me to the topic today: what constitutes an "accurate" translation?

Obviously I can’t settle the debate in one blog, and I am in process of thinking about it myself; but I would like to encourage all of us to start thinking about this.

I think most of our gut reactions would be: "word for word." An accurate translation is one that is as least interpretive as possible, one that reflects the grammar of the Greek and Hebrew. The basis of this claim is structural. We have been trained to think that if we stick as close to the form of the foreign language as possible, then we are being more accurate…


Koinonia: What Constitutes an Accurate Translation?

The Poached Egg

Recommended Resources: A User’s Guide to Bible Translations: Making the Most of Different Versions  |  How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth