While the idea of formal and dynamic Bible translations is useful, there are many nuances in translations that don’t fit neatly into the spectrum. In fact, you can even find details where translations that are considered more formal agree more with translations that are viewed as more dynamic than their formal counterparts. So today, I’m looking at five examples of formal and dynamic translations to inspect some of these issues.
The text 2 Timothy 3:16-17
The text I chose to examine was 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as I had recently looked at it in my studies and I was aware that it touched on a few translation issues. Although, many text also have differences in translation.
For the translations, I chose
- An interlinear
- the NASB (2020)
- the ESV
- the NIV
- the NLT
- and The Message
Which provides a sample of different types of translation styles and cross the spectrum of those considered more formal to those considered more dynamic
Three Bible translation issues
In this passage, there are some classic examples of the decisions and debates that translators have to consider. While there are many more issues and individual cases can look different from others, there are some great examples in these verses.
1. Translating a single word
The Greek word theopneustos (θεόπνευστος) is translated three different ways across these translations.
- All scripture is inspired
- All scripture is breathed out by God
- All scripture is God-breathed
Each is an attempt to reflect the original meaning (which comes from the Greek words for God and breath) and implications based on Genesis. Some of these decisions, however, make it easier to come to certain theological perspectives. Phrases like “breathed out by God” assist a view that God dictated and the writers took notes. In contrast, inspired could mean that, or could mean someone was merely prompted.
Admittedly, you could (and people do) come to very different understandings of this verse even when looking at the same translation. And inspired comes from the same root word as respire, so it is also staying true to the idea of breath.
2. Sticking to the original grammar?
The NASB follows the original Greek by including a preposition (for) before each of it’s list of purposes. All the other translations take some decisions to make it sounds either more natural to modern ears, or to clarify more complex terms.
The ESV only includes the first preposition, meanwhile the NLT decides to explain what each other the list means.
This is perhaps the clearest example of a classic formal to functional debate.
3. Gender pronouns
One of the issues across translations is how to translate various gender pronouns. In some cases it is clear the writer is only addressing one group, in others, it’s not so clear. Even when a male pronoun has been used, it may be used to be inclusive of the whole church community; men and women.
Some of the more dynamic translations decided to use different phrases to avoid this issue, but the most interesting is the NASB. As a translation that is often put on the far end of the formal side, it has recently switched to translating male pronouns and groupings as men and women.
What can we learn from these examples of formal and dynamic translations?
I’ve deliberately tried to not input my theological beliefs or opinions in this text (although I discussed them in the video a bit). I believe that the main thing is to be aware of the issues and type of decisions being made.
As English speakers, we are really blessed to have a variety of options that can be useful for different purposes and people.