Key #1: Concept behind the Translation

[This is part of the series: 5 Keys to Choosing The Right Bible for You.]

The old story goes that three blind men stumble across an elephant.  The first one finds his trunk and says to the others, “Oh, this must be a snake.  It wiggles around so easily and moves on it own.”  The second man falls against its side and says, “Oh this thing feels like a wall.  Its hardness and toughness does not give easily.”  The third man feels the elephant’s tusks and cannot figure out what they could be.  He remarked to the others, “These sharpened objects resemble spears.  The curves have a curious bent to them but could definitely gore a man.

The moral of the story is that often three heads alone cannot discover what the three can discover together.    What does this story have to do with bible translation?  Translations come together through groups of men who have trained to understand ancient languages.  They stumble around together like blind men trying to understand the phrasing of the Holy Spirit through men.

Why do translators pick certain words?  Why does a committee come up with a phrase here or a set of words there?   How do they choose when the meaning seems unclear?  Is there something that guides them as they try to complete their work?

The something that guides each group of translators develops into the concept behind the translation.  The concept behind translation matters most when choosing a Bible.   See each Bible translator or group of translators has an overriding principle in the way they weave words together.   This overriding thought process brings into focus the way the translation will go when the words seem too murky to fit together.

The process wouldn’t matter so much except that when you get five guys in a room the odds of them agreeing on something trivial is small.  So huge odds on a giant fight on the big stuff.  So having a guiding thought process allows some ground rules to exist in place before the major fights occur.

Imagine a line.

On one end of the line you have a word for word translation process.   This means that every word in the original language needs a corresponding word.  It also means that when the going gets tough the tough make sure that there is a word for word match.

On the other end of the line, the translation process concerns itself more with the idea or principle that the original language is trying to convey.   The words don’t mean as much the thoughts do.  So when the going gets tough, the tough try to make sure that they know the intent of the original writer and then try to convey the thought no matter how many or few it takes.

You have a question to answer.  Which end of the line is more important to you?  This answer will help you narrow down some of the choices for your Bible.

[This is part of the series: 5 Keys to Choosing The Right Bible for You.]

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One Comment

  1. Great blog. Interesting way to present this ‘line’ of translation, definitely takes a balancing act to translate. It’s clear from this illustration how easy it would be to have an agenda with an ax to grind.

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