The Problems faced by Bible Translators – 1 Timothy 3:2

Jul 10, 2008

How do Bible translators come up with some of the varying translations? I have been involved in quite an interesting discussion at (reproduced below) on the various translations and have got involved in quite a debate concerning how certain verses should be translated.

I would like to know what you think. Read through the debate. Feel free to add comments that might help our understanding of the issues, especially if you have some aptitude in the original languages or you have done some translation work.

Then, based on what you have read, answer the poll.

Here then, is the interchange of ideas that has occurred so far:

Adam wrote:

Ummm…ever come across people in a conversation and find yourself in way, way, way over your head? Kinda like walking on on a conversation between Stephen Hawking and John Polkinghorne….and the only thing you can contribute is something you heard on NOVA. ‘Bout how I feel after reading the comments…..”dynamic equivalance”…huh?….I couldn’t seem to find it in my concordance :). I stumbled across this blog from Steve Brown’s site.

I was never quite aware of the polarity involved in my choice of Bible (e.g. conservative, liberal, independent?). Sure, I’d heard stories of folks who touted the KJV only, but I never really met any of them. To be honest, I wouldn’t know any of the names of any of the translators. I usually just read the first one I happen to grab…sometimes NIV…other times NLT……when I’m curious about what a particular word might have been, I click over to Strong’s KJV.

Keep in mind, my simple-minded approach comes from someone who has never been to seminary, never preached a sermon, and never taught a Sunday school class. So maybe I’m just not as sensitive to these “battles’ that rage within Christendom. Perhaps this ‘controversy’ is really more notieceable to those that do the studying(in seminary), teaching, and preaching. I see similar ‘battles’ in about any field of study…to those within the particular field they folks seem to enjoy the debating and arguing with their colleagues. To those outside the more academic nature of any given field-of-study the ‘battles’ and debates remain largely unseen.

But what do I know, I’ll just keep reading anyway.

Eclectic Christian responded:

Great post, and great comments too!

To Adam who was wondering about “dynamic equivalence”, here is an example that I always liked.

Let’s say that you are translating the Bible for a fairly primitive tribe, like my Grandfather did some 50 years ago. You come to the verse “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” Wait a minute, you have a problem, the culture to which you are communicating has no doors. What do you do? Try and explain the concept of door in your translation or use the dynamic equivalent, “Look, I am standing outside your hut and calling loudly!” This is the sort of the issue faced by the translator.

But then you have a further problem. A subset of the group that you are translating for does not use the word for “hut” that the majority does. They use a different word, lets call it “home”, which the majority also understand but in a slightly different way that is intended in the original Greek. So do you go with “hut”, a word not understood by some of your readers, or “home” a word understood by all, but some will have a slightly different understanding of it.

These are not easy choices for the translators to make. My Grandfather, using a manual typewriter, ended up having to type out the entire Bible seven times before he had a version of the Bible that understandable by all of his intended audience, and was able to be published!

A couple of unrelated comments on the NRSV. It has been unfairly called a liberal translation because of its use of gender inclusive language. I would like to note that the gender inclusive language is only used of humans, and never of God. Also the gender inclusive language is only used when the audience is clearly both men and women. If that makes a translation liberal then I guess I am a liberal. Boy is my wife going to be surprised!

I should also note that the NRSV is popular among Greek and Hebrew professors as it tends to be low on the dynamic equivalence scale and as such is closer to the original languages. (This at least has been my experience.)

Finally I will leave you with this thought. If Hermeneutics is the science of Biblical interpretation, would a gender inclusive science of Biblical interpretation be called Hiswomeneutics??? :)

David A. Booth joined the debate. He wrote:

Michael Bell,

It isn’t true that the NRSV uses gender inclusive language only when the audience is clearly both men and women.

For example, in 1 Timothy 3:2 the NRSV reads “married only once” where the Greek says “husband of one wife”. Whether or not someone thinks that this is what 1 Timothy 3:2 “means” – it is by no means self-evident that Paul could not be referring to male only Bishops.


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Which Bible Version is Best?

Jul 9, 2008

Michael SpencerWondering what Bible translation you should use. Michael Spencer has a great post with a lot of good responses talking about Bible versions. Seems like Michael is partial to a whole bunch! You can read it at

As an eclectic Christian I am always on the lookout for posts that take an objective look at subjects of interests to Christians, and generally favour those which speak in positive terms. If you aware of other posts like this, please let me know, by adding a comment.


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