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The Definitive Guide To Bible Translation Terms

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?


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7 replies on “The Definitive Guide To Bible Translation Terms”

There’s the “Theologically Determined” form of translation, where you just slightly nudge the meaning to support your liberal, evangelical or Catholic view rather than try to develop your view from the meaning.

Eddie, I’ve heard speakers of African languages describe new translations in their own languages (Chewa and Xhosa) as being “like The Message.” The idea being that the new translations are “too free” or “a paraphrase.”

I like the idea that you clearly infer that to call something a ‘paraphrase’ is to attach a value judgment to a term that I’m told linguists don’t really use; i.e. any time you do this, you are in essence (loosely) translating. Personally, I’ve always liked the concept behind the term “dynamic equivalence” (versus formal correspondence); we’ll just hope the guy who came up with it isn’t reading this.

“Paraphrase” only applies to a rewording of text in the same language, in my opinion. Otherwise, *all* translations are paraphrases.

In professional translation, there is no “dynamic” or “formal” equivalence. There is only good translation and bad translation. Good is the kind that tries to preserve as much of the original intent (usually the meaning, but style also counts) in the target language. Bad translation is charactered by excessive adherence to the vocabulary and grammar of the original.

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