Summary: Highly recommended book about biblical translations.
I do not have a lot of patience for bible version arguments. But we continue to see large and divisive fights over English translations of scripture.
I think one of the biggest reasons for those arguments is the wealth of options that we have. No other language has literally scores of options. There have been 19 new translations or major revisions of English language bibles just since 2000 (and 80 complete translations in the last century). As far as I know, no other language has even 19 different translations.
The biggest fight in the English Bible translation world is between ‘word for word’ or literal bibles (like ESV or NASB) and ‘dynamic equivalence translations (like NIV or NLT) and paraphrase versions (like The Message).
Brunn’s primary purpose is to show that the way that the argument is usually framed is not honest to the reality of biblical translation. One of the strengths of the book is that Brunn has been a bible translator for Wycliffe and tries to focus primarily on real examples and not just theory of translation.
The biggest conclusion of book to me is that all biblical translations used both literal and dynamic translation methods. All sometimes translate word for word and sometimes thought for thought. All sometimes use gender neutral words in place of words that are clearly gendered (and vise versa). All translations convert some idioms, all involve some measure of interpretation. The differences is in the rate of use of different methods, not whether a particular method is ever used.
Brunn calls out some proponents of particular translations for advocating an ideal, but then ignoring the reality that their preferred translation does not hold to that ideal. So Young (behind Young’s Literal Translation) railed against the KJV for dropping articles (a, the) that were present in Greek or Hebrew but are not present in the KJV. But in Young’s own translation he dropped the definitive article 41 times in just the first 16 verses of Matthew. Young used more definitive articles in his translation than the KJV did, but he did not use them all (as he suggested was the appropriate way to translate in his introduction to his translation and in other places.)
Brunn’s overall point is that there are good uses for bibles that are more word for word oriented and others that are more thought for though and others that are generally a paraphrase. We should use multiple translations because each have their own strengths and weaknesses. It is simply not possible to have a perfect translation, because the very nature of translation is imperfect.
There are many examples in the book. In one chapter he actually works through the issues of translation for a single phrase. This is particularly important for those of us that are primarily monolingual. He also uses many examples of his own translation work of a language in Papua New Guinea. Many of the arguments about translation in English are particular to English. Greek and English are linguistically related. But thousands of languages in the World are not linguistically related to Greek or Hebrew. So a word for word translation of scripture is not possible in the vast majority of the world’s languages.
I highly recommend this book. It is very readable. It attempts to minimize arguments and shows not the problems of particular translations but strengths of different types of translations and why it is irresponsible to not use the variety of translations available.
A digital copy of the book was provided by the publisher for purposes of review.