Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Translations: How do they do it?

There is no reason here to get involved in all the discussions that
linguists and translation theorists get into today. Here are some
thoughts we need to consider when we talk about why there are a variety of
translations. Again, I recommend: How to Choose A Translation for All Its Worth

First, the context of translation is that those who do so believe they are translating the Word of God. So, the act itself becomes sacred.


Second, there is an absolute necessity to translate because
(1) cultures change, (2) languages change, and (3) as Christians move
into new areas there is a need for others to read the Bible in their
own language. In addition, (4) as we learn more about the earliest
manuscripts of the Bible, we are led to more refined translations.

Third, it seems to me that there are two poles, or
essential theories, to translations. Some strive for formal identity
and others for dynamic equivalence. The formal identity people like to
leave things alone — close verbal similarity to Hebrew and Greek so that the English comes off as wooden. The dynamic equivalent people prefer to evoke the same
response in modern readers that was evoked in the original readers by
transforming what something meant in its day to an equivalent in our
day. There is therefore more creativity in dynamic equivalence.


Example from 1 Peter 1: “gird up the loins of your mind” (formal identity) vs. “with minds that are fully alert” (TNIV).

There are some wonderful “Parallel” Bibles:

The Evangelical Parallel New Testament: English Standard Version Holman Christian Standard Bible The Message New Living Translation New International … Version Today’s New International Version


Fourth, here are some typical considerations translators use when they are at work translating.

1. Strive to reproduce the original message.
2. Find a natural dynamic equivalent instead of a formal identity. We
don’t have to use “bowels” in 1 John 3:17 but can use “pity.”
3. Shape the meanings of words to the particular context instead of
always using the same English word for the same Hebrew or Greek word.
4. Think of how a given translation will sound in public and not just how it reads.
5. Target an audience for your translation.
6. English style is important but not as important as fidelity to message.

Comments read comments(6)
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John W Frye

posted November 18, 2008 at 7:19 am

A brief story about creative dynamic equivalence: We have friends who were with JAARS (Jungle Aviation and Radio Service) who flew translators into tribal areas of Papua New Guinea. Our friends shared that Revelation 3:20 was translated into ?I stand at the window and cough.? The thatch huts had no doors to knock on. When a person arrived to visit and wanted in, they ?stood at the window and coughed.? Not true to the Greek text in words but exact in meaning.

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Andie Piehl

posted November 18, 2008 at 8:25 am

Scot, do you think people who have multiple translations generally use different types of translations for different purposes? For example, doing devotional reading, one might appreciate the a more dynamic equivalent translation, but if one were doing an in-depth inductive study to prepare for a teaching a class, one might want a Bible with a more word for word translation. I know I have many different translations and love them all, but there are only a couple that I use the most, and they are the more contemporary translations like NIV and NRSB.

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Scot McKnight

posted November 18, 2008 at 8:30 am

Good question. I suspect some do. The most common value of multiple translations that I hear from folks is to compare translations in order to enrich their understanding of a given verse or expression. It’s like hearing multiple angles on a specific point or idea.
The biggest problem with Bible readers today is reading the Bible — and I don’t mean to carp or to be cute. What I mean is this: we have learned to find verses that speak to us instead of being bathed in the Story that can direct our every action and thought.
That’s why I like The Books of the Bible version that is now out.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted November 18, 2008 at 11:11 pm

I couldn’t find anything on “The Books of the Bible” version you just mention.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted November 19, 2008 at 12:44 am

I guess this is a reader’s version of the TNIV, no verses or chapters. Sounds good. I know Gordon Fee was talking about that years ago, and glad at last that it has come out. I’ll have to take a look, and probably get my own copy soon.

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Chris Smith

posted November 29, 2008 at 12:46 pm

You can find out about The Books of The Bible at

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