The Philosophy of Translation

Definition of Terms

Dynamic Equivalence

The terms “dynamic equivalence” and “formal equivalence” are used to describe two entirely different methods of translating the Bible. Dynamic equivalence seeks to produce a more readable translation by not adhering to the lexical details and grammatical structure of the original text.

Formal Equivalence

Formal equivalence sacrifices readability in order to adhere more closely to the meaning of the original text. Hence, formal equivalence is insisted upon in diplomacy and sometimes in business.

Examples of Formal and Dynamic Equivalence

Formal Equivalence

The best known example of formal equivalence is the King James Version and its many revisions. Two of the latest revisions of that translation are the Revised Standard Version and the New American Standard Bible.

Dynamic Equivalence

The New Jerusalem Bible and the New English Bible are examples of translations based on the use of dynamic equivalence.

Moderate Dynamic Equivalence

The translators of both the New International Version and Today’s New International Version sought to find a balance between formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence.

Extreme Dynamic Equivalence (paraphrase)

The best known example of extreme dynamic equivalence is The Living Bible.

The Strength and Weakness of Formal and Dynamic Equivalence

The Primary Strength and Weakness of Formal Equivalence

The strength of the formally equivalent approach to translation is the production of a text that, in most cases, allows the reader to see the grammar and syntax of the original text. Its weakness is the production of a text that is not easily readable.

The Primary Strength and Weakness of Dynamic Equivalence

The strength of the dynamically equivalent approach to translation is the production of a text that is easily readable. Its weakness is the production of a text that not only prevents the reader from seeing the grammar and syntax of the original text, it also allows the translator to easily import his own interpretation of the original text into his translation.

The Basic Weakness in Both Approaches

Neither of these two approaches to translating the Bible take into account the fact that the message of the Bible is based on an understanding of the meaning of the Hebrew idioms that reference the imagery in the mythology of the era in which it was written. Consequently, neither approach allows the reader to see all of the instances in which these idioms occur, and they further obscure the meaning of the biblical text by not translating the constituent parts of the idioms consistently. An example of this can be seen in the following dynamic equivalence translations of 2 Samuel 7:8–13.

8“So now, say this to my servant David: ‘This is what the Lord of hosts says: I took you from the pasture and from your work as a shepherd to make you leader of my people Israel. 9I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have destroyed all your enemies before your eyes. Now I will make your name as famous as anyone who has ever lived on the earth! 10And I will provide a homeland for my people Israel, planting them in a secure place where they will never be disturbed. Evil nations won’t oppress them as they’ve done in the past,11starting from the time I appointed judges to rule my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Furthermore, the LORD declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! 12For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. 13He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever.’”
(2 Samuel 7:8–13) —New Living Translation
8“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.10And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you:12When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.’”
(2 Samuel 7:8–13) —New International Version

An accurate understanding of what God promised David in 2 Samuel 7 depends on the reader’s insight into the meaning of three Hebrew idioms and the fact that all three idioms are based on the imagery inherent in both the Old Testament practice of levirate marriage and the Canaanite mythology related to the worship of Baal.

The three idioms that Nathan used while speaking to David are “build/make a house,” “make/raise up a name,” and “raise up a seed.” All three idioms mean “engender a son/children.” That is obvious from the way they are used in Genesis 38, Deuteronomy 25, and Ruth 4. But if one does not know that, and one cannot see where those three idioms occur elsewhere in the biblical text, one has no way to see through the translators’ mistaken understanding of that passage.

God’s promise to David had nothing to do with Solomon, as the translators of the two excerpts above assume. His promise was that He would engender a Son for David—if David ever needed that—after David died; and God did that through the Virgin Mary. Here is the current HSSB interlinear translation of 2 Samuel 7:8–13:

8“[But now], [this is what] [You must say] [to My Slave], [to David], ‘[This is what] [His [Supreme] Majesty] [said]: “[I] [took You] [from] [The Habitat], [from following] [The Flock], [to be] [a Leader] [over] [My People], [over] [Israel]. 9[And I have been] [with You] [every] [where] [You have gone], [and I have cut off] [all] [Your Enemies] [from before You]. [And I will make] [a [great] Name] [for You], [like {the} Name] [{of} The Great Ones] [who] {are} [on {the} Earth]. 10[Then I will assign] [a Place] [for My People], [for Israel], [and I will plant Him]; [and He will reside] [in His place] [and [not] be disturbed] [again]. [And [{the} Sons] [{of} Deviance] will [not] continue] [to humiliate Him] [just as] [earlier]— 11[even from] [The Day] [when] [I gave a command to] [Judges] [over] [My People] [Israel]. [And I will give [You] rest] [from all] [Your Enemies]. [But [His Majesty] must tell] [You] [that] [His Majesty] [will make] [a House] [for You]. 12[When] [Your Days] [are fulfilled] [and You lie down] [with] [Your Fathers], [then I will raise up] [Your Seed] [after You]—[Who] [will come out] [from Your Abdomen]—[and I will prepare] [His Kingdom]. 13[He] [will build] [a House] [for My Name], [and I will prepare] [{the} Throne] [{of} His Kingdom] [as long as] [a Burning Eternity].”’”
(2 Samuel 7:8–13) —Harper’s Standardized Study Bible (with interlinear brackets and other indicators)