Fifteen Myths about Bible Translation

by Daniel B. Wallace

bible translations1.) Perhaps the number one myth about Bible translation is that a word-for-word translation is the best kind. Jerome argued against this, noting that his translation of the Vulgate was not word-for-word, but sense-for-sense. And that’s as it should be. Anyone who is conversant in more than one language recognizes that a word-for-word translation is simply not possible if one is going to communicate in an understandable way in the receptor language. Yet, ironically, even some biblical scholars who should know better continue to tout word-for-word translations as though they were the best. Perhaps the most word-for-word translation of the Bible in English is Wycliffe’s, done in the 1380s. Although translated from the Latin Vulgate, it was a slavishly literal translation to that text. And precisely because of this, it was hardly English.

2.) Similar to the first point is that a literal translation is the best version. In fact, this is sometimes just a spin on the first notion. For example, the Greek New Testament has about 138,000–140,000 words, depending on which edition one is using. But no English translation has this few. Here are some examples:

RSV           173,293

NIV           175,037

ESV           175,599

NIV 2011   176,122

TNIV        176,267

NRSV       176,417

REB          176,705

NKJV      177,980

NET         178,929

RV           179,873

ASV        180,056

KJV        180,565

NASB 95   182,446

NASB      184,062

NLT, 2nd ed  186,596

TEV         192,784

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It’s no surprise that the TEV and NLT have the most words, since these are both paraphrases. But the translations perceived to be more literal are often near the bottom of this list (that is, farther away from the Greek NT word-count). These include the KJV (#12), ASV (#11), NASB (#14), NASB 95 (#13), and RV (#10). Indeed, when the RV came out (1881), one of its stated goals was to be quite literal and the translators were consciously trying to be much more literal than the KJV…

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The Poached Egg ApologeticsFifteen Myths about Bible Translation « Daniel B. Wallace

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED RESOURCES FOR FURTHER READING:

How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions

A User’s Guide to Bible Translations: Making the Most of Different Versions

 

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