Three Recent Bible Translations: An Old Testament Perspective

By Lyons, Michael A.; Tooman, William A. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Three Recent Bible Translations: An Old Testament Perspective


Lyons, Michael A., Tooman, William A., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


THREE RECENT BIBLE TRANSLATIONS: AN OLD TESTAMENT PERSPECTIVE

I. INTRODUCTION

A glance at a book distributor's catalog or a publisher's website is enough to confirm that the proliferation of English translations and study editions has reached Brobdingnagian proportions. On the one hand, the seemingly endless marketing of Bibles targeting niche groups based on age, race, gender, marital status, denomination, and addiction can create the dangerous illusion that the people of God do not in fact share the same Word. On the other hand, the Bible has always been accompanied by a variety of translations-at an early date by multiple Greek translations, followed shortly by translations in Aramaic, Syriac and Latin. In our opinion, the multiplicity of translations can be a sign of a healthy interest in the Bible and is to be expected where there is diversity in reading habits and abilities.

Historically, motives for producing new translations or editions of the Bible have been numerous: the need to account for a change in language usage (semantic shift, obsolescence, a change in the use of gendered language), a desire to improve readability or accuracy (usually by emphasizing a dynamic or formal equivalence theory of translation), a desire to provide explanation, or the desire to address a perceived lack of biblical literacy or availability. Finally, some translations and study editions may be encouraged by publishers seeking to market a product to a particular target audience. Both doctrinal and cultural differences create an environment ripe for exploitation by those who would have readers believe that "finally there is a Bible that is just for you!"1

In the last century, most translations have been a response to a combination of these concerns. The three Bibles reviewed here are no exception. The desire to represent current language usage and follow a particular translation technique is addressed in different ways by all three Bibles. Concerns about biblical availability and literacy are addressed in different ways by two of the Bibles (The Message and the NET Bible).

This review will focus on the stated goals of each translation, paying particular attention to translation technique and accuracy. While the slogan that "all translation is interpretation" seems to be increasingly used to justify the acceptability of various translations, we believe that this claim is incorrect. Interpretation presumes a choice, whether conscious or unconscious, between alternatives; where there are no possible alternatives, a translational equivalent is not an interpretation. It is obvious that no translation is ever perfectly synonymous with its source text, but this does not mean that all equivalents are interpretive, or that accuracy in translation is unattainable. Even when there is a choice between semantic equivalents (or syntactic equivalents, which constitute a rather different category), the nature of the equivalent selected may be due to the demands of the target language rather than to a desire to explain the text, or to an unconscious ideological position.

When confronted with the question, "Which of these Bibles is best?" or "What translation should I use?" neither of us would give an unqualified recommendation of any translation over another. For reasons that will be apparent below, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which we would recommend The Message for regular reading or study. However, the ESV and NET Bible-when viewed in their entirety-are in our opinion as good as other widely used translations (e.g. NRSV, NASB, NIV). However, as we shall demonstrate, their strengths, weaknesses, goals, techniques, and target audiences are all quite different from each other.

II. THE ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION

1. The ESV project. The English Standard Version (ESV) was prepared by a 14-member translation oversight committee in consultation with 50 translation review scholars and more than 50 members of an advisory council. …

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