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Can We Trust Our Translations?

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Unless you can read Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, you need a translation. But why are there so many, and why are they so often different? Can they be trusted? Bill Mounce, chair of the ESV translation for 10 years and currently on the Committee on Bible Translation that is responsible for the NIV, shares his answer to these questions.


1. Challenge

2. Three Problems

a. Bible written in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic

b. Languages are not codes

1) Word level

2) Phrase level

c. “Literal”

“In accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word” (Webster)

3. Solution: Translation philosophy

a. Focus on words or meaning?

b. Example of hilastērion

4. “Formal Equivalence” (ESV)

a. Definition: translate word for word

b. Good points

c. Problem #1: terrible English

d. Problem #2: Can obscure meaning

e. Problem #3: Not always possible

1) 1 Timothy 3:11 (gunaikas)

2) John 2:4

“All translators are traitors”

5. Functional (Dynamic) Equivalence (NIV)

a. Definition: translate meaning, not form

b. Good points

c. Problem: more interpretive (1 Timothy 3:2)

6. Paraphrase (NLT; Phillips)

a. Good: understandable (Romans 12:2)

b. Bad: untrustworthy (Acts 27:17)

7. Running commentary (Living; Message)

Cannot trust to study

8. Test case — Romans 16:16

a. NIV: “Greet one another with a holy kiss”

b. Good News (TEV): “Greet one another with a brotherly kiss”

c. Later: “Greet one another with the kiss of peace”

d. Original Living: “Shake hands warmly with each other”

e. NLT (2): “Greet each other in Christian love.”

f. Phillips: “Give each other a hearty handshake all round.”

g. Ideas? Kiss on the cheek. Hug.

9. Agnosticism

Someone once told me that we can’t know what the words of the Greek and Hebrew really mean since we do not live in the same cultural context, and therefore we can’t make any definitive statement about the meaning of anything in the Bible

a. Unrealistically negative view of how we know meaning in another language

b. My view of what a German is saying may not be perfect, but I certainly can understand the gist of what he is saying

c. Hyper agnostic view of meaning

10. Conclusion

a. Recognize the limitations of a translation

b. Trust your Bible

c. Better if read two (of different philosophies)

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