Saturday 31 March 2012

Textual transubstantiation

"Why All the Translations?" is the question Denny Burk asks in the title of chapter 44 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God. It's a good question; it seems likely that we have more translations of the Bible than of any other ancient text (Beowulf, say, or the works of Chaucer, Homer, Plato, Omar Khayyám...). The only reason for this I can come up with is that many people have been dissatisfied with the extant translations and thought they could do better — and believed it was important to do better.

Burk points out that there are three approaches to translating the Bible: formal equivalence, dynamic equivalence, and paraphrase. The King James Version is apparently a formal equivalence or word-for-word translation, while the New International Version is a dynamic equivalence translation, which Burk describes as a thought-for-thought rendering. This gives a clue as to why there are so many ways one can interpret scripture. The version I see cited most often is the New International Version, which according to Burk is not a word-for-word translation but one where the translators have endeavoured to get inside the heads of the original authors. This in itself requires a degree of interpretation, so it's not surprising that when Biblical scholars are engaged in exegesis they feel free to contribute their own interpretations.

The third option — a paraphrase translation — isn't really a translation at all. Burk quotes Paul D. Wegner in The Bible in Translation, describing a paraphrase as a "free rendering or amplification of a passage, expression of its sense in other words."

All this concern over different translations cannot help but raise the suspicion that the real reason there are so many is that no-one knows for sure what the original really said, let alone what it meant.