Translation is not a pure science

Another interesting post in Scot McKnight’s “Translation Tribalism” series:

I’d like to contend today that most words are translated in all Bible translations with formal equivalence and that some words are translated more or less in a dynamic, or functional way. In other words, there isn’t really a radical commitment to dynamic equivalence — as if one can find some better way in English to the original languages “and” or “but” or “the” or “God.” Or a radical commitment to “formal equivalence,” as if the Greek word order can be maintained in English and make sense, though at times the NASB gave that a try (much to the consternation of English readers). No one translates “God’s nostrils got bigger” (formal equivalence) but we translate “God became angry.” There are some expressions that can’t be translated woodenly unless one prefers not to be understood.  (Link)

So translation is not a pure science.  While each translation aims for one philosophy of translation (e.g. formal equivalence, dynamic equivalence), inevitably various philosophies will need to be used.  I have read, incidentally, that the same goes for the notion of inclusive language, which is used in all translations to some degree or other (this is not always realized by the layperson or non-translator).  The issue under scrutiny these days then is not whether or not inclusive language in translation is appropriate, but when it should be used and how much.  This is not a new concept for many of us, of course, but I like the way that Scot expresses it.

2 thoughts on “Translation is not a pure science

  1. Ian H.

    I’d love to see all the idiomatic phrases translated literally. I think some already are – I read a passage about flinty foreheads recently – but I think it would be a good object lesson for people who insist that they have to read a literal translation.

  2. Toni

    I have quite enjoyed reading Greek interlinear on the odd occasion (and reading the Greek words aloud in my head in parallel). However it’s not ideal to get the gist of meaning, even if it helps with detailed specifics at times.

    Re gender inclusiveness, the danger is that can operate ENTIRELY from a cultural context.

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