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A User's Guide to Bible Translations [Paperback]

David Dewey

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Book Description

April 15 2005
What Bible should you use?

KJV. NIV. NASB. NRSV. ESV. TNIV. NLT. It's never been easier to find a Bible in English.

Still, it's never been harder to decide what Bible to use. Formal or conversational? Traditional or inclusive language? Word-for-word, meaning-for-meaning or paraphrase?

escorts you through the history of Bible versions in English from Wycliffe and Tyndale to the English Standard Version and Today's New International Version, with explanatory glances at the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and brief introductions to translation theories along the way. In straightforward language, David Dewey explains how we ended up with so many versions of the Bible, shedding light on the difference between word-for-word and meaning-for-meaning translations, the controversy over gender accuracy, and issues of theological bias.

Dewey also reminds us that it's not enough to ask, We need to ask, For personal study? For reading aloud? For leading a Bible study for inquirers? For lending to an international student struggling with English? Filled with charts comparing versions and diagrams showing translation difficulties, is just that--an easy-to-use handbook for digging through the mountain of translation options until you find the right Bible for the right purpose.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 239 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Books (April 15 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830832734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830832736
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 14.2 x 1.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 272 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #506,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
76 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A User's Guide that Should Be Used March 31 2005
By George P. Wood - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you want to purchase a translation of the Bible but don't know which one to pick, read David Dewey's A User's Guide to Bible Translations first. Dewey asks and answers two questions: "Why so many [translations]? Which is best?" Let's take a look at how he answers each question.

First, why are there so many translations?

Dewey's answer to this question revolves around the nature of translation. Dewey distinguishes between form-driven translations and meaning-driven translations. (He also discusses paraphrases, which are meaning-driven, although not technically translations.) Form-driven translations focus on the writer and seek to reproduce his or her words, images, and even sentence structure in their nearest English equivalent. They are also known as word-for-word translations. Meaning-driven translations, by contrast, focus on the reader and seek to reproduce the meaning of the writer's words in contemporary English. They are also known as meaning-for-meaning or thought-for-thought translations.

To understand the difference between these translation philosophies, consider how two recent translations translate Galatians 5.19. In the form-driven English Standard Version it reads, "Now the works of the flesh are evident." In the message-driven Today's New International Version it reads, "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious." In English, works and acts are functionally equivalent in meaning, as are evident and obvious. However, the ESV reproduces the Greek conjunction de ("now") while the TNIV does not. And the ESV provides a literal translation of the Greek noun sarkos ("of the flesh"), while the TNIV translates its probable meaning: "of the sinful nature." Neither translation follows the Greek word order, which is roughly: "Evident now are the works of the flesh," to rephrase the ESV. The basic difference here is between fidelity to the writer's word usage and intelligibility to the reader, with the ESV tending to the former and the TNIV to the latter.

The use of gender-inclusive or gender-accurate language also plays a role in the proliferation of Bible translations. For example, contrast the ESV translation of 1 Corinthians 1.10 with that of the TNIV: "I appeal to you, brothers..." vs. "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters...." Adelphoi is the Greek word for brothers, which is literally translated by the ESV. However, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to both men and women, so brother is meant inclusively. The TNIV makes this inclusiveness explicit by adding "and sisters" to its translation. Interestingly, some form-driven translations, such as the New Revised Standard Version, use gender-inclusive language; while some meaning driven translations, such as the New International Version, do not. (The TNIV is a substantial revision of the NIV.)

So, why are there so many translations? Basically, because of differences in translation philosophy. Since meaning-driven translations seek to make the biblical text intelligible to the modern reader, it is not surprising that the vast majority of recent translations are meaning-driven. The meaning of English words constantly changes over time, after all.

Second, which translation is best? Dewey quickly surveys scores of English translations from Wycliffe, Tyndale, and the King James Version to modern translations such as the RSV, NIV, NRSV, TNIV, and ESV. He explains the motivation underlying each translation, as well as its relative strengths and weaknesses. Following his survey, Dewey answers the second question with these words: "It boils down to two questions: Best for whom? And best for what? One prepared for adults may not be suitable for children. One that is appreciated by a university-educated person is not usually right for someone whose education finished at sixteen. Similarly, the translation that is suited to personal study may not be the best for reading aloud or for liturgical use. And the one that is good for devotional reading may not be ideal for group study." For the serious Bible student, Dewey recommends reading a Bible from within both the camps of both translation philosophies. And that is my recommendation as well. Currently, I am using the ESV and the TNIV.

I highly recommend A User's Guide to Bible Translations, for people who want to purchase a new Bible as well as for pastor's who need to explain to their parishioners the differences between and relative merits of various translations.
41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for the laymen to scholar April 28 2005
By Christian Book Previews - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
David Dewey's A User's Guide to Bible Translations is a comprehensive guide to the history of the Bible. Whatever your translation preference or reading level, you can find a Bible that will best suit your needs.

A Baptist minister in England, David Dewey provides critical evaluation of every conceivable Bible translation ever available, from traditional print, to eBibles, this reference can unpack the confusing and often daunting process of determining which Bible is best. Dewey ultimately asks, "Best for whom? And best for what?" These questions can guide a reader through the maze of form driven versus meaning driven translations. Before purchasing a Bible, Dewey recommends buyers read the preface to the translation they are considering, as it will provide valuable information on the translation style, notation usage, and reading level. Dewey encourages Bible students to have several translations employing the various translation methods and compare them, as no translation is without shortcomings. An issue Dewey raises is whether churning out new translations in the English language, essentially glutting the market-an American luxury-is the best way to spread the Good News. Perhaps translating it into other languages, which do not have a single copy of the Word, is a better use of mission funds.

Readers will encounter such words as neologism, biblish, functional equivalence, optimal equivalence, and tautological. However, Dewey is never highbrow, but explains his terminology and logically presents his arguments, often employing tables for the reader to see what he means. The gender inclusive language controversy has an entire chapter. The author's seeming initial bent toward gender inclusivity is refreshingly abandoned in the chapter discussion. In the end, all issues are laid objectively at the reader's feet.

This history of the Bible is enjoyable even for those committed to their current version. Deficits and merits of each translation are provided as well as the translation history, is it based on the Greek and Hebrew or Latin Vulgate? A basic description of each Bible's features is also included. I highly recommend this volume for laymen who may be in retail dealing with recommending Bibles to consumers, and to scholars for who this subject holds interest. It is an excellent read, well worth the effort. -- Suzanne Rae Deshchidn, Christian Book Previews.com
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most comprehensive & balanced Bible guide April 6 2005
By William A. Rose - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've read most of the major guides to different Bible translations. This one isn't in every dimension the most detailed, but it's the most comprehensive over all. Being the newest (2005), it's the most up-to-date. It's remarkably fairly balanced theologically and the scholarship is 99% accurate.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Balanced Approach Dec 2 2006
By David R. Bess - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Dewey presents an excellent, balanced approach to understanding the history and nature of Bible translations. In a Christian community increasingly polarized by dynamic versus formal technique, the author gives fair treatment to each camp. He begins his work by describing the differences between dynamic and formal equivalence. He continues in part two by describing each of the modern English translations, giving more attention to the versions of the last century. He concludes by offering his own balanced insights on the present translations available, stopping short of recommending any one of them in particular.

If you want a book advocating either a thought-for-thought or a word-for-word approach, this one isn't it. If you are looking for a balanced treatment of Bible translations however, then buy this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful at-a-glance summaries of major translations Oct. 18 2011
By Joel E. Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a decent popular level summary of how to pick the best English Bible translation. The author emphasizes that the "best" translation will vary depending on the individual and the situation, and I applaud him for that. He discusses basic translation theory; describes various versions; and summarizes some non-version-specific considerations such as study notes, cross references, and page layout.

The part of this book that I found most useful was the middle section which gave summaries of the history and characteristics of pretty much all major English translations up until the TNIV.

The one thing that I really did not appreciate was the author's minimizing of doctrinal controversy surrounding some translations (e.g. the RSV). While opposition on doctrinal grounds was sometimes exaggerated and overly bombastic, some translations have generated legitimate concerns in this regard. Most of these the author brushes off as American Evangelical overreaction. Overall: the book can give a useful at-a-glance summary of the English Bibles available, but I did not appreciate the author's treating doctrinal concerns so lightly.

(I also felt the author had a condescending tone toward American Evangelicals, but I am one so that may be over-sensitivity on my part)

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