- they are transparent to the original, i.e., we can see the original text via the translation except for places '... where it completely literal translation would have been unintelligible to an English reader...';
- they keep to the essential task of translation;
- they preserve the full interpretive potential of the original;
- they do not mix commentary with translation;
- they preserve theological precision;
- preachers do not need to correct the translation when they use them in preaching;
- they preserve what the biblical writers actually wrote;
- they preserve the literary qualities of the Bible;
- they preserve the dignity and beauty of the Bible;
- they are consistent with the doctrine of inspiration.
In his conclusion, Ryken suggests that 'English Bible translation stands at a watershed moment. For half a century, dynamic equivalence has been the guiding translation philosophy behind most new translations. Each successive wave of these translations has tended to be increasingly bold in departing from the words of the original text. Stated another way, we can trace an arc of increasingly aggressive changing, adding too, and subtracting from the words that the biblical authors wrote. The issues that are at stake in the current debate about Bible translations are immense.'
What should we make of this claim? In my view, Ryken overstates the case against dynamic equivalent translations. His point of view is largely determined by the beginning assumptions he makes about the nature of inspiration. Ryken believes in plenary verbal inspiration -- the idea that the very words of the Bible were inspired by God and should not be altered anyway. I do not hold to his view of inspiration. In my view, God inspired the ideas in Scripture but left it to the authors to work out the best way of describing those ideas.
Ryken also ignores the positive aspects of dynamic equivalent translation. Nor does he deal with the problems of literal word-for-word translation -- and there are some. And some of his reasons for supporting literal translations are quite subjective. For example, suggesting that literal translations preserve the dignity and beauty of the Bible completely ignores the fact that New Testament Greek was written in the common language of the day for ordinary people. Not only that, The King James Version was written in the English of the common person and contains street colloquialisms of the day. And yet people constantly point to the King James Version as being a translation of great beauty and dignity. Notions of dignity and beauty are subjective ones and are hardly any reason to reject a particular translation of the Bible.
Ryken also seems to ignore the role of interpretation even in literal translations of the Bible (although he does provide implicit hints of these). All translation involves interpretation and can even be seen in the most literal of translations.
Ryken also completely ignores the incredible benefit of having so many translations of the Bible available, both literal, dynamically equivalent, and paraphrased (strictly, not a translation). Instead of trying to convince people to reject certain types of translations, we need to be educating people in the different types -- their purposes, advantages and disadvantages, and how to use them effectively. The main piece of advice we need to be telling people is not to restrict reading or study to just one translation. All translation have their problems and the only safeguard is to read more than one and compare them. By doing so, it will raise questions of translation where they disagree. This should lead a person to resources that will take them behind the text and the discussions about what constitutes better or worse translations of particular passages Scripture.
Overall, then, Ryken's book is a one-sided argument in favour of his point of view. He does not engage with the actual arguments of proponents of dynamic equivalence, nor does he acknowledge the very definite advantages that Christians now possess as a result of a vast array of translations available. The book is worth reading to understand Ryken's point of view. But for a broad introduction to the issues related to translation of the Bible one will need to look elsewhere.
- Bible Resource Centre: Translation Centre
- Issues in Bible Translation
- Bible Translation
- Bible Gateway (many online Bible translations available)
- Bibles.net (more online Bible translations)
- All-in-One Bible Versions and Translations
- Bible Versions Comparison
- Bible Versions Controversy
- Translation Theory and Methods
- Why So Many Versions?
- Why is Bible translation so hard?
- We Really Do Need Another Bible Translation
- A Translation Fit for a King
- The TNIV Debate
- Translation Wars
- Getting the TNIV Debate Straight