October 15, 2003, Vol.3,
Two new articles every two weeks.
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THIS ISSUE: "Translations:
Dynamic Equivalence or
Essentially Literal" (see
and "The Names of God"
by Keith Sharp
or Essentially Literal
English translations of the Bible follow one of two philosophies
of translation: "essentially literal" or "dynamic
Briefly stated, the theory of dynamic equivalence in Bible
translation emphasizes the reaction of the reader to
the translated text, rather than the translation of the
words and phrases themselves. In simplest terms, dynamic
equivalence is often referred to as thought for thought, translation
as compared to essentially literal, translation.... (Ryken
An "essentially literal" translation strives to
render the original Hebrew and Greek words with their English
counterparts while adapting the original grammar to English grammar.
1 Corinthians 4:9 exemplifies the differences. The New
King James Version, an essentially literal translation, reads,
"For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last,
as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle
to the world, both to angels and to men." Literally translated,
both as to words and word order, the passage reads, "For
I think that God us the apostles last set forth as appointed
to death. For a spectacle we became to the world, both to angels
and to men." (Berry). The essentially literal NKJV
gives us the Greek words in English but in readable English order.
But The New International Version, a dynamic equivalence
translation, renders the verse thus:
"For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display
at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the
arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to
angels as well as to men."
The verse is longer because explanatory words and phrases
have been added: "of the procession," "in the
arena," and "whole." These added words are not
italicized to indicate to readers that they are interpolations,
words added by the translators that have no Greek words in the
original behind them. The NIV translators as a matter
of stated policy add to the divine text without indicating to
the reader when they have done so.
This illustrates one major problem with dynamic equivalence
versions. The NIV may well be right that the apostle is
using the conquered prisoners in Roman victory processions as
an illustration of the plight of the apostles, but it is still
commentary rather than just translation. The student has no way
of knowing just by reading his Bible what is the inspired text
and what is uninspired comment.
The NIV is probably the most conservative and least
offensive of the dynamic equivalence translations. But here is
a statement from the preface to The New International
The first concern of the translators has been the accuracy
of the translation and its fidelity to the thought of the biblical
writers. They have weighed the significance of the lexical and
grammatical details of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. At
the same time, they have striven for more than a word-for-word
Please carefully note that the translators made a deliberate
differentiation between the "words" of the original
text and the thoughts of its writers. This is crucial.
In the nineteenth century biblical liberals made this distinction
concerning the inspiration of the text. They contended for thought
inspiration. Isaac Errett, a nineteenth century leader in the
Christian Church, claimed, "... God did not purpose, in
inspiration, anything beyond a transmission of His thoughts
in the words of men." (Lectures. 148) The
context will confirm that Errett was denying verbal inspiration,
the belief that the Holy spirit gave the biblical writers the
very words they wrote, and affirming thought inspiration, the
belief that the Holy Spirit revealed God's thoughts to the writers
and left them to express these thoughts in their own words. It
is obvious that this would deny the authority of any and all
words of Scripture. Why can I not truthfully say that dynamic
equivalence translators, while affirming verbal inspiration,
translate as though they only believed thought inspiration?
The fact is God gave the writers of Scripture the very words
Moses and Aaron well illustrate the nature of divine inspiration.
When the Lord first sent Moses to Pharaoh, He explained to Moses
concerning Aaron, "Now you shall speak to him and put the
words in his mouth...." (Exodus 4:15) When God repeated
this commission, He told Moses, "Aaron your brother shall
be your prophet." (Exodus 7:1) A prophet speaks the very
words God puts in His mouth.
When Moses gave the law to Israel, He "told the people
all the words of the Lord...." (Exodus 24:3) "And Moses
wrote all the words of the Lord." (Verse 4) The Lord didn't
give Moses thoughts for the man of God to put in His own words.
He gave Moses the very words.
Balaam called his revelation the "utterance of him who
hears the words of God...." (Numbers 24:4)
Speaking for the Lord and prophesying of Christ, Moses declared:
I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among
their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall
speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever
will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require
it of him. (Deuteronomy 18:18-19)
The Psalmist praises, not just the thoughts of God, but the
words that reveal them. (Psalm 12:6; 119:103,130,139,160; 138:4).
When the Lord commissioned Jeremiah to be a prophet, He informed
him, "Behold, I have put my words in your mouth." (Jeremiah
1:9, et al). Jeremiah even gave a vivid picture of the
inspiration of Scripture: "Then Jeremiah called Baruch the
son of Neriah; and Baruch wrote on a scroll of a book, at the
instruction of Jeremiah, all the words of the Lord which He had
spoken to him." (36:4)
The Lord commanded Ezekiel, "You shall speak My words
to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are
rebellious." (Ezekiel 2:7)
The Son of God decreed, ""Heaven and earth will
pass away, but My words will by no means pass away." (Matthew
24:35) He spoke "the words of God." (John 3:34; 17:8)
His "words ... are spirit and they are life." (John
In one of the most significant passages in Scripture concerning
inspiration, Paul thus described the inspiration of the apostles:
For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit
of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of
God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit
of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know
the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things
we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which
the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
(1 Corinthians 2:11-13)
The Holy Spirit gave the apostles both the "things"
(thoughts) of God and the words of God in which to express these
Paul constructed an argument on the fact that one word in
the Old Testament is singular rather than plural (Galatians 3:16).
The apostle commanded Timothy, "Hold fast the pattern
of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love
which are in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 1:13)
Jude enjoined, "But you, beloved, remember the words
which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ...."
Finally, the beloved John drew the book of inspiration to
a close by writing, "Then He who sat on the throne said,
Behold, I make all things new., And He said to me, Write, for
these words are true and faithful.," (Revelation 21:5; cf.
22:6-7,10) He then solemnly warned:
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy
of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to
him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone
takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall
take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city,
and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation
We must not add to or subtract from even so much as one word
of the divine revelation!
God gave us the very words that express His thoughts. When
we study an English translation of the Scriptures, we should
have, not what scholars think the Lord meant, but what the Lord
actually said. If we don't understand what He said, we can consult
commentaries. But the only thing that is authoritative is what
He actually said - the very words. Use as your primary study
Bible one that is essentially literal.
Berry, George Ricker, The Interlinear Literal Translation
of the Greek New Testament.
~ ~ ~
Missouri Christian Lectures 1883.
Ryken, Leland, The Word of God in English.