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INTRODUCTION the Bible Translation Process

What is the process of making a Bible translation? In short, it is the rendering of something written or spoken in one language in words of a different language. However, there are two basic philosophies or methods on how this is to be accomplished. There is the literal translation, i.e., lexical or linguistic translation, whose translator or translation committee is determining what English word or phrase in the Hebrew-English or Greek-English lexicon (technical term for dictionary) corresponds best to the original language word. For example, the Greek word phronema can be translated differently as the corresponding English terms is “mind” or “mindset.” Therefore, the American Standard Version (ASV), English Standard Version (ESV), and New American Standard Bible (NASB) render phronema in Romans 8:27 as “he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit.” However, the Lexham English Bible (LEB) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) render phronema as “the one who searches our hearts knows what the mindset of the Spirit is” and “He who searches the hearts knows the Spirit’s mind-set” respectively. Both of these renderings are literal.

The literal translation committee is focused on the original language term, with the goal of determining which English word(s) in the lexicon correspond best. The other translation method is known as the dynamic or functional equivalent method (Defined below). Their committee is interested in the reader, and the end goal is to take the corresponding English term and find the sense of what is meant, which replaces the literal rendering. Therefore, the Common English Bible (CEB) and the New Life Version (NLV) render phronema in Romans 8:27 as “knows how the Spirit thinks,”[1] while the Easy to Read Version (ERV) and the New Living Translation (NLT) render it, “understands what the Spirit is saying.” Below is phronema in Romans 8:6-7 in three literal translations, followed by three dynamic equivalents. The sense of phronema is “what one has in the mind, the thought” (the content of the process expressed in phroneo, “to have in mind, to think”); or “an object of thought” (Vine 1996, Volume 2, Page 409) Logos Bible Software has “mindset n. – a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations.” (Bible Sense Lexicon)

Literal (What God Said In English)

Romans 8:6-7 English Standard Version (ESV)

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.

Romans 8:6-7 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,

Romans 8:6-7 American Standard Version (ASV)

6 For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace: 7 because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be:

Dynamic Equivalent (Interpretive Translations)

Romans 8:6-7 Common English Bible (CEB)

The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace. So the attitude that comes from selfishness is hostile to God. It doesn’t submit to God’s Law, because it can’t.

Romans 8:6-7 Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

If your thinking is controlled by your sinful self, there is spiritual death. But if your thinking is controlled by the Spirit, there is life and peace. Why is this true? Because anyone whose thinking is controlled by their sinful self is against God. They refuse to obey God’s law. And really they are not able to obey it.

Romans 8:6-7 New Century Version (NCV)

If people’s thinking is controlled by the sinful self, there is death. But if their thinking is controlled by the Spirit, there is life and peace. When people’s thinking is controlled by the sinful self, they are against God, because they refuse to obey God’s law and really are not even able to obey God’s law.
Technical Terms Defined

Time is in one direction and cannot be repeated. B.C.E. means “Before the Common Era,” which is more accurate than B.C. (“before Christ”). C.E. denotes “Common Era,” often called A.D., for anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord.” It should be noted that the Romans did not have a zero, so time goes from 1 B.C.E. to 1 C.E.

4026 1000 760 406 B.C.E. | C.E. 29 33 36 100

Original Language (OL) is the Hebrew and Aramaic for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament.

Source Language (SL) is the language from which a translation is being produced in another. Therefore, if one is translating from Hebrew into English, then Hebrew is the SL.

Receptor Language (RL) is just the opposite; it is the language into which the translation is being produced. Therefore, if one is translating from Greek into English, then English is the RL.

As you can see from the above, the terms Source and Receptor Language have the acronym SL and RL respectively. In addition, keep in mind that the text that the translator is rendering into another language is the source text. Please do not confuse the Source Language with the Original Language. True, the Source Language can be the Original Language of say Hebrew or Greek. However, if there is a case of a translator making a Chinese translation of the New Testament, but has chosen to make it from English, the Source Language would be English. The Original language of the Old Testament is Hebrew, and the New Testament is Greek.

Dynamic Equivalent (DE) is taking the meaning of the original language text in the receptor language of say English, and focusing on the sense of the word. For example at Exodus 35:21, the English Standard Version (ESV) literally reads “And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him,” while the Common English Bible (CEB) committee deemed the figurative use of the “heart” as too difficult, so they rendered it, “Everyone who was excited and eager.” The objective of the dynamic equivalent is to translate meaning not words.

Dynamic Equivalence is a method of translation, which is also known as a sense-for-sense or thought-for-thought translation, whose objective is to translate the meaning of phrases or whole sentences. The objective is to take technical terms, idiomatic expressions, figurative language, and so on, and render them in easy to understand terms that they feel reflect the sense of the OL terms.

Functional Equivalence (FE) is a method of translation that goes beyond the corresponding English word or phrase of the original language, with what is known as a functional equivalent. Again, when the literal rendering is determined to be too difficult for the modern day reader, the committee will like for a word or phrase that they feel captures the sense of what was meant. For example the literal NASB at Proverbs 4:15, reads “Drink water from your own cistern,” while the functional equivalents ERV reads, “Now, about sex and marriage,” and the NCV reads, “Be faithful to your own wife.” The FE is attempting to explain the imagery that is found in the literal Translation.

Formal Equivalence (FE) is a word-for-word translation, where the committee gives the reader the corresponding English word, attempting to follow the same word order as the OL. The emphasis is on the OL and the lexical or linguistic interpretation, as well as the grammatical construction.

Literal Translation (LT) gives you what God said, so there is no concealing this by going beyond into the realms of what a translator interprets the sense of these words.

Target Audience (TA) is the audience that the publisher is focusing to reach with their translation. Once that target audience has been chosen; then, the committee will translation with them in mind. For example, the Common English Bible target audience is a seventh-grade reading level, “to make the Bible accessible to a broad range of people; it’s written at a comfortable level for over half of all English readers.”[2]

Portions of scripture were assigned to each of the 120 translators. Each produced a draft translation which was then reviewed and modified by a co-translator. The resulting text was then sent to one of 77 "reading groups", teams of five to ten non-specialists that read it out loud and noted awkward translations. The rendering, along with suggestions for improvement, was then sent to a readability editor to check style and grammar, followed by a complete review by the editor for that section of the Bible. The text was then put before the entire editorial board which resolved any lingering controversies and ensured consistency throughout the entire Bible translation.[3]

Mark 6:12 English Standard Version (ESV)

12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent.

Mark 6:12 Common English Bible (CEB)

12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives.

Romans 12:2 English Standard Version (ESV)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2 Common English Bible (CEB)

2 Don't be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God's will is--what is good and pleasing and mature.
The Search for the Best Translation

It is a daunting task for the new Bible student to walk into a Christian bookstore to purchase a Bible. Immediately, he is met with shelves upon shelves of more than 50 to 100 different English translation choices: NIV, TNIV, ESV, NASB, NRSV, CEV, HCSB, NLT, and on and on. He is even further bewildered when he realizes that there are different formats within each translation: a standard format, a reference Bible, a study Bible, a life application Bible, an archaeology Bible, a woman's Bible, an apologetic Bible to name just a few. He further notices that some translations claim to be literal (word-for-word) while others claim to be dynamic or functional equivalent (thought for thought), which has only served to increase his confusion.

God has chosen to convey an extremely important message to the human family, one that is a matter of life and death. In the Bible of 66 smaller books, we find God’s will and purpose for us, as well as what role we need to play, in order to receive the gift of life. Sir Matthew Hale, Lord Chief Justice of England, once said, “The Bible is the only source of all Christian truth; the only rule for the Christian life; the only book that unfolds to us the realities of eternity.” (Edwards 1908, p. 40)

If we are to know God, it only makes sense that we must know his Word, the Bible. Jesus Christ makes this all too clear to us when he said in prayer to his Father: “This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3, HCSB) Here we see that “eternal life” is closely related to our knowing (having a relationship with) God and his Son, Jesus Christ. It is the apostle John who answers the why: “And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God's will remain forever.” 1 John 2:17, ESV.

In order to know “the will of God,” we must recognize that the Bible is our only guide in this matter. Each Christian should “be filled with the knowledge [Gr. epignosis, accurate or full knowledge] of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge [Gr. epignosis, accurate or full knowledge] of God." (Col. 1:9, 10, NASB) Is it possible to “walk worthily” of God without fully knowing his will? Is it possible to know his will without first understanding the Bible?

Psalm 119:165 Lexham English Bible (LEB)

Great peace is for those who love your law, and they do not have a cause for stumbling.

At times, it must be difficult for us to contemplate the idea of finding any measure of peace in the world we now know. It is our love for God’s law and the application of that law, which will give us a righteous standing before our Creator (being justified in his eyes) and a measure of peace and happiness now. Thus, the incentive to know our Bible is far greater than one might have thought, meaning we are seeking approval in God’s eyes as well as peace and happiness and the hope of a future everlasting life.

Looking Behind the Curtain 

Have you ever wondered how the actual translation process works? Why is the same Hebrew Old Testament or Greek New Testament word translated differently in the same translation, and even interpreted in others? Christians, who have never worked in the field of translation, have long thought that words are codes. In other words, the translator has the Hebrew or Greek text on one side, to which he simply plugs in an English word for each Greek word, resulting in the English translation. What we will discover in CPH articles on Translating Truth is that far more is involved in the translation process. However, we will also discover that one translation method goes beyond the Word of God, becoming, in essence, an interpretive translation, namely, a mini commentary, something we need not even call a Bible.

[1] It should be admitted that “thinking” is actually a literal rendering of phronema, but the more literal of the three would be “mind” and “mindset.”



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