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A User's Guide to Bible Translations: Making the Most of Different Versions Paperback – Sep 2006
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"What makes a Bible translation good? For anyone wondering which Bible version to use, this is the book for you. David Dewey provides a clear, accurate, fair and balanced discussion of English Bible versions available today and the translation theories which lie behind them. This book should be essential reading for anyone who reads and studies the Bible--whether pastor, scholar, student or layperson."--Mark Strauss, Professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary, San Diego
"A User's Guide to Bible Translations provides information on the development of our English Bible, the various methods used for producing a translation, and factors for consideration in arriving at a proper choice of which translation to buy and use. It reads easily and answers many questions people might have on the subject."--William E. Paul, Bible Editions Versions, April-June 2008
About the Author
David Dewey is minister of Sutcliff Baptist Church. He is the author of Faith and Common Sense and The Bible Unwrapped. He has served previously as features editor of the British newspaper, Baptist Times.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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
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.
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)