We Translate On Time

The risky business of bible translation

July 3rd, 2019

Where religion is involved, strong emotions will follow, and bible translations are no exception. Although the concept of translating the bible into languages other than Latin to make it accessible for everyone is no longer the main issue faced by bible translators, the nuances and specific vocabulary used by a translator can have a major impact on the mindset of religious communities. Many approaches have been used, and a large problem faced by translators is deciding whether a word for word translation is best, or whether comparable idioms in the target language should be used instead, particularly as Greek and Hebrew, the two original bible languages, include concepts and idioms that are not easily translated. These approaches are divided into Formal Equivalence (a literal translation), Dynamic Equivalence (focuses more on context and subtext), and Functional Equivalence (using comparable idioms to make the translation more accessible to a modern-day audience), and different translators choose different techniques with varied results.

The most recent translation of the English Standard Version Bible, for example, received criticism for parts of its revised translation, such as Genesis 3:16, which was changed from 'Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you' to 'Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you'. Some critics argued that the change was a "sad and potentially dangerous interpretation", giving males a ready-made excuse for domination, and proposing that women were the reason for marital conflict. Subconsciously, this could impact the way that its readers think about the role of women in marriage, showing just how important the translator's choice of wording can be. In today's society, it is clear that the way in which translators work with religious texts may have to change in order to fit in with current values and beliefs. Politically correct translations of the bible may be the way forward in this, seeking to make the text both understandable and inoffensive to a modern audience, such as the New International Version, which uses 'people' instead of the traditional 'men' to refer to a group, and refers to Mary as a 'young woman' rather than a 'virgin'. However, these translations are not wholly popular within the religious community, and translators must continue to tread the fine line between pleasing traditionalists and translating in a way that does not offend modern audiences. 

Throughout history, the task of translating the bible has not been a light one, and even today it carries a lot of responsibility. It is, after all, the most read book in the world. 




by Nicola Spruyt