Sunday, October 23, 2005

Literal or Non-Literal Translations

I used to be a fan of the more literal translations and dislike the paraphrased translations of the bible. I used to think that with literal translations you got more accuracy, and less of the translator's own bias.

I have now come to hold the opposite opinion. Why? Because even a literal translation has to engage in interpretation. Many Greek words have more than one meaning, you have to decide which meaning is being used. The particular English grammar used can imply things about what the sentence can and cannot mean. Thus even to perform even the process of simply changing the words in English and putting them into a coherent English sentence you have to have already decided the overall meaning of the words. Even the simplest most basic literal translations are going to have this problem. In order to translate you have to first interpret.

In other words, the translators have to do interpretation. But if they have to do interpretation, what really is the point of leaving you with something relatively difficult to understand and follow (like literal translations of the Bible often are)? They might as well be a bit less stilted and convey as clearly and unambiguously as possible what they think the author's meaning is. I don't mean they should be like the Message and pack a sermon into each verse, but rather that they should recognise that what they are writing their interpretation of the words, and write that interpretation as clear and simply as possible.

Sure, often their interpretations will be wrong, but so what? Just as often the literal interpretations are wrong too. At least the readers of paraphrase translations know that what they are reading is the translator's interpretation, whereas the readers of literal translations are often mislead into thinking they are reading now the translator's opinions but rather the direct and accurate truth. So move over the NASB, NRSV etc, and bring on the Good News, New Living Translation etc!


Blogger Scott said...

So really, the problem is not in the literal-equivalent translation, but in how the people read them.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

or perhaps we could all learn Greek and Hebrew and then go out and get some manuscripts?


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