Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A few more reasons why we should disavow the Dynamic Equivalence versions

Here is an excellent article by Tim Challies on the problems with the NLT, CEV, Message and basically with all dynamic equivalence (hereafter short formed D-E) versions of the Bible. It is truly amazing that there are people who are so blind as to say that there is nothing wrong with tampering with God's Word.

Let's just take one example — Rom. 13:4. The presence of Rom. 13:4 allows the reader/ preacher to make a case for capital punishment since the sword is meant for killing. Yet, as Tim has succinctly put it, such D-E versions have made it such that "there is nothing to discuss", and no case for capital punishment can be made from them. Furthermore, this is NOT because the underlying Greek text do not teach it (because if that was the case, then we must accept it since we should not add to God's Word), but because some "translator(s)" decides that the sword imagery is too literal and thus interpret it in various ways without any reference to capital punishment. This shows the error of the D-E versions which subtract from God's Word on this matter as their interpretation causes an unwarranted narrowing of the exegetical possibilities due to the removal of the word "sword".

Our critic seems to have problems comprehending what it means to be accurate in terms of translations. In his article, he states that the "goal of any translation is to render accurately the meaning of the original language in its receptor language". But exactly WHO decides what is the "accurate meaning of the original language in its receptor language"? For example, the DE translators translates Rom. 13:4 as omitting all mention whatsoever of the possibility of capital punishment in these verses, while I contend that the accurate meaning of the original language does include the teaching of capital punishment. So, IF it is indeed true that Rom. 13:4 through the use of the word "sword" is intended to convey the idea of capital punishment, then all the D-E versions shown as examples (NLT, CEV, Msg) do not convey the "accurate meaning of the original language in its receptor language".

In a journal article by Professor Robert L. Thomas by the Master's Seminary pointed out to me by my brother-in-Christ Vincent Chia, the issue and fallacies of the translational philosophy of D-E have been addressed as follows:

The traditional method of translation adopted the source message as its control and sought to bring the contemporary reader back to that point. Most recent preferences in translation [D-E] express the opposite goal, that of bringing the source message into the twentieth century to the contemporary reader. The new aim is to relate the text to the receptor and his modes of behavior relevant within the context of his own culture, a controlling factor called "the principle of equivalent effect." The traditional method of taking the receptor to the text seeks to help the reader identify himself with a person in the source-language context as fully as possible, teaching him the customs, manner of thought, and means of expression of the earlier time. With D-E, comprehension of the patterns of the source-language culture is unnecessary


Such a release from restraints of the original text coincides with varying degrees of subjectivism that characterize contemporary hermeneutical systems. These recent schemes dismiss the traditional system of letting the author be the determining factor in interpretation. In so doing, of necessity they force a judgment of the Bible's meaning through the eyes of something or someone contemporary. Hirsch notes that the text has to represent someone's meaning; if it is not the author's, then it must be the modern critic's meaning that is drawn from the text. Hirsch's terminology distinguishes the author's meaning from the critic's by calling what the author intended "meaning" and by using the term "significance" to refer to a relationship between that meaning and a person, concept, situation, or anything else. (Bold added)

As for the serious questions created by the D-E philosophy:

A Linguistic Question

Nida and other linguistic authorities are quite specific in telling translators to abide by the referential meanings of words, meanings they identify with those found in standard dictionaries. In Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary the relevant definition of the word "translation" is, "an act, process, or instance of translating: as a: a rendering from one language into another; also the product of such a rendering." There is little doubt that, in the minds of most people who use the English language, the term "translation" used in a cross-cultural connection suggests the simple idea of changing from one language into another. Yet this is only one-third of the process of dynamic equivalence, the step that is called "transfer." The question is then, "Is it proper linguistic practice to use the word `translation' to describe the product of a D-E exercise?"

More recently, de Waard and Nida use "associative meaning" in lieu of "referential meaning" to describe lexical definitions. They point out, for example, the hesitancy of most translations to use "Yahweh" because in the minds of many Christians, it has become associated with a modernistic attitude toward the Bible and God.

Should not the same precision be shown in use of the word "translation"? The use of "translation" to include implementation of all the principles of hermeneutics and exegesis reflects an insensitivity to the associative meaning of that word in the minds of most English-speaking people. Perhaps "commentary" is too strong a word to describe a D-E product, but it seems that something such as "cultural translation" or "interpretive translation" would be more in keeping with principles espoused by linguistic authorities.

An Ethical Question

A closely related ethical question may also be raised: Is it honest to give people what purports to be the closest representation of the inspired text in their own language, something that intentionally maximizes rather than minimizes the personal interpretations of the translator or translators?

Graves has observed that every translation is a lie in the sense that there are no identical equivalents between languages. This problem is alleviated by an understanding in the minds of most that translation is done by means of near equivalents rather than exact equivalents. But if a translator goes one step further and intentionally incorporates his personal interpretations when he could have left many passages with the same ambiguity as the original, has he done right by those who will use his translation?

It is not our purpose to pursue this ethical question further, but simply to raise it as a matter for possible discussion.

A Practical Question

A last question for consideration relates to the use of a D-E product in ministry: How shall I deal with the problem that the high degree of interpretation in a D-E work makes it unsuitable for close study by those who do not know the original languages? The answer to this question will depend on the type of preaching and teaching one does. If his approach is general, dealing only with broad subjects, he perhaps will not be too bothered by this characteristic.

But if he at times treats specific doctrinal issues and wants to stress this or that detail of the text, the presence of a large interpretive element in his basic text will pose problems. He will inevitably encounter renderings that differ from the view he wants to represent in his message`a problem that is largely precluded in using a formal-equivalence translation. If a preacher has to correct his translation too often, people will soon look upon it as unreliable and reflect doubts about either the translation itself or the larger issue of biblical inspiration.

These are only three questions that emerge because of an intentional incorporation of hermeneutics into the translation process. Others could be proposed. It seems that precision in discussing English versions of the Bible has been largely lost. If more exact terminology is not adopted, the church may some day incur the besetting ailment of a confusion of tongues that is self-inflicted.

(Bold added)


To round off this discussion, it is simply amazing to see a pro-TNIV-er attacks those who are against D-E as "ESV-only" folks, while all the while using KJVO style argumentation to attack the ESV. It seems that certain people simply cannot comprehend the issues at stake in this TNIV controversy. [Hint: the fundamental issue is not just the TNIV, but the entire issue of D-E. The TNIV is only the flashpoint]. Not to mention that I have no problems with people using the NKJV, NASB, HCSB, and minor problems with the KJV and NIV.

Oh well, judging by the devolution of culture, I would be waiting NOT for the D-E philosophy to run its logical end into creating the "Soft Porn Sex Outreach version", featuring a graphically and vocabulary-enhanced Songs of Songs version which properly give us the "accurate meaning of the original language in its receptor language", and thus shows forth the sexual overtones in Solomon's love song to his lover.

Or how about the Hokkien Beng version. Maybe we can translate Mt. 23:13 this way:

F--- you, scribes and Pharisees, wayang-kings! You b-----ds stop people from going to heaven. You m-----f---ers dun wan go in still stop others from coming in.

I apologize for those who are offended, but this is the type of logical end of the D-E methodology of "render[ing] accurately the meaning of the original language in its receptor language". So if the receptor language is the degenerate street language peppered with at least one vulgarity per sentence, then the "bible version" should be made so that we can "render accurately the meaning of the original language" in THAT particular receptor language as well. A "bible" peppered with vulgarities? Probably not that far off if the visible Church continues to degenerate.


Daniel C said...

NOTE: I have tried not to put too much vulgarity into my example, plus censor them using dashes. I have heard much more colorful and pervase language from such people that would more reflect the style of language such "bibles" should have but I do not even want to think about them; they pollute the mind.

Anonymous said...

Hokkien Beng version... hmm... can I use it at my new seeker-sensitive movement in order to be hip so as to reach out at Far East Plaza? ;-)

vincit omnia veritas said...

The Hokkien Beng version will sell!

Isn't that the "main" thing for publishers?

And what's more, I know at least one person who would order the new version. And you know who he is :P (you googled his blog for the four-letter word).

Daniel C said...


haha, first you need to find the publisher, and it ain't me.


=P. Yup, he and his 'frens' will get a few copies each, I think. Then if anyone objects to their usage of vulgarities, they will have a legitimate reason for using them...

Anonymous said...

What about the Cotton Patch Version is that a good one :P:P

Daniel C said...


Cotton Patch version? Perhaps as good as the Cotton Candy version, I guess... ;)

Anonymous said...

Daniel, You state:
It seems that certain people simply cannot comprehend the issues at stake in this TNIV controversy.

I comprehend it. I just completely disagree with you.

Daniel C said...


all of my interaction with you have proven to me that you do not understand the issue, protests notwithstanding. Perhaps you can try articulating our objections, and we will see whether we can see ourselves holding them.