English Bible Translations (5)

Dangerous Deficiencies of Dynamic Equivalence

Continuing the series, our brother details further concerns about Dynamic Equivalence (“DE”)

8. DE exalts the Reader Instead of the Author

The consumer-oriented Gallup-poll mentality of our culture has led translators and publishers to give readers what they want—rather than what they need. DE (Dynamic Equivalence) wrongly prioritizes the reaction of the reader instead of the intent of the Author. It’s all about you, the “target audience.” This exaltation of the reader is at the heart of the DE philosophy and is obvious in the endless number of “niche” Bibles.

  • “The NIV Adventure Bible. Kids can’t get into grown-up Bibles. But this revised edition is perfect for your 8-12 year old! Give kids the Bible that speaks their language!”
  • “The NIV Teen Devotional Bible. Why do young people make such a strong connection with this Bible? Because the 260 dynamite daily devotionals were written by teens—you can’t get any kid-friendlier than that!”
  • “The NIV Teen Study Bible. Cool and colorful, this Bible speaks clearly to the issues your 11 to 16-year olds face. ‘Dear Sam’ advice column, ‘Direct Line’ to God on various topics, ‘Jericho Joe,’ the cartoon character.”

These promotional pieces emphasize the egocentric response of the reader to the text—how it makes him feel—rather than the objective meaning of the words and phrases. Contrast this flippant and self-centered attitude with the words of the psalmist: “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory” (Ps 115:1 KJV).

9. DE Oversimplifies and Trivializes the Bible

According to a promotion piece for The Message, “Eugene Peterson’s fresh paraphrase is written in the informal rhythms and easy idiom of contemporary English—the way you’d talk to your friends, write an e-mail, or discuss the big football game.” DE translations make the Bible a casual book. These versions mesh nicely with a pervasive laziness that expects all pursuits in life to be easy. While essentially literal translations (e.g. KJV, ESV) require a high school reading level, DE translations patronize their readers by writing at a third or fourth grade level. They write as if their readers are incapable of serious thinking and impatient with any sentence that is not immediately understandable.

God’s Word demands our utmost, not our least. It is not a magazine. It contains things “hard to be understood” (2 Peter 3:16). In fact, the writers themselves did not always understand what they were writing (1 Peter 1:10-11). The Ethiopian eunuch could not grasp the meaning of Isaiah 53 without the help of Philip and the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:26-35).

A good translation elevates the people to the Bible, rather than lowering the Bible to the people. The Bible tells of events and reveals truths that are worth building a life on and staking eternity on; its words should convey gravitas—weight, authority, and power. Look at Genesis 22:1-2: “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, ‘Abraham’: and he said, ‘Behold, here I am.’ And he said, ‘Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah … ’” Compare the featherweight tone of the CEV: “Some years later God decided to test Abraham, so he spoke to him…The Lord said, ‘Go get Isaac…’”

1 Samuel 15:22 illustrates the same principle. First the KJV: “And Samuel said, ‘Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?’” Now the CEV: “‘Tell me,’ Samuel said, ‘Does the Lord really want sacrifices and offerings? No! He doesn’t want your sacrifices. He wants you to obey Him.’”

With the DE renditions, the awe is lost. The KJV is dignified not because it is archaic, but because it employs timeless wording and stately rhythms. Moreover, an archaic ring is not necessarily a flaw—it better fits the telling of events that occurred thousands of years ago, and helps to check what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”—our constant tendency to overvalue the events and beliefs of our own era, and to dismiss the significance of all that has preceded us.

10. DE Blurs the Gospel Message

While the gospel is in every version, and God has blessed His word in DE form, there is still a danger here. Consider Psalm 32:1-2 in the ESV: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” And now The Message: “Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be—you get a fresh start, your slate’s wiped clean. Count yourself lucky—God holds nothing against you and you’re holding nothing back from him.”

We face the same concern with John 3:5. ESV: “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” The Message: “Jesus said, ‘You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the “wind hovering over the water” creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.’” Does forgiveness of sins really come from getting “lucky” with God, or from submitting to “this original creation”?

E. Conclusion

DE translations clearly do not measure up and really should not be considered as proper Bibles. We may find a use for them as commentaries, because that is truly what they are. In contrast, Essentially Literal translations (KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, and the New Translation by John Darby) have carefully preserved the accuracy (2 Timothy 2:15), majesty (Psalm 29:4-5), sufficiency (Matthew 4:4), and power of the Bible (Psalm 119:11).

As the King James Version approaches its 400th birthday and its Elizabethan English becomes more obscure and misleading, we ought to consider what version might best replace it. I believe that the English Standard Version should be the heir-apparent, due to the quality of its original-language texts, its essentially literal translation method, its excellent English style, and its conscious attempt to stay connected with many of the familiar KJV words.

If we were suddenly transported into God’s immediate presence, and heard His voice, we would tremble. Should it be any different when we hear Him speak in Scripture? Do we revere His Word and treat it with the utmost respect? Consider Isaiah 66:2: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My word” (ESV).