Throwback: Bible Translation Terms

The definitive guide to the terminology surrounding Bible Translation

I’ve probably posted this more than once, which just goes to show that my memory is as bad as my sense of humour.

One of the problems with the whole issue of Bible translation is that people use such confusing terms. For someone who just wants to understand the merits of a particular translation or who is perhaps looking to buy a Bible, the geekish terminology that surrounds the subject can be a real stumbling block. So, in order to help those who have not been initiated into the secrets of translation terminology, I would like to present this definitive guide.

  • Meaning Based: “a translation which prioritizes the meaning rather than the form of the original language.”
  • Form-Based: “a translation which prioritizes the form of the original language rather than the meaning.”
  • Literal Translation “a form-based translation”
  • Word for Word: “a form-based translation and I don’t know much about languages.”
  • Free Translation: “I don’t like this meaning-based translation.”
  • Paraphrase: “I really don’t like this meaning-based translation.”
  • Accurate: I like it.
  • The Most Accurate: means either
    • as an opinion (I believe this is the most accurate translation) “I really like it.”
    • as a statement of fact (this is the most accurate translation) “I know nothing about translation theory or languages.”
  • Dynamic Equivalence “I read a blog post about translation once.”

I hope this is helpful. There are undoubtedly other terms which could be added. Please feel free to make your own contributions in the comments.

Meanwhile, as we argue about all of the different translations we have in English, there are millions of people around the world who don’t have a single word of Scripture in their own language. Is there anything you can do to change this?