Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Case for Literal Bible Translations and the Excellence of the ESV

The Bible is a literary book filled with poetry, metaphor and flowing prose. Ryland makes the case that these qualities should be maintained in translation and that a literal translation does this best. The Bible is a book to be read aloud and savored , as we savor good poetry. It shouldn't be treated as a throwaway dime novel and the poetry and prose relegated to the standard of informal communication.

Ryland traces the evolution of the literal translation philosophy of the Bible from Tyndale through the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version. I found the history of translation fascinating. Translation isn't easy under any circumstances, particularly when the translators try to be true to the exact meaning and wording of the original author and also try to make the text accessible to a modern audience. I think he does an excellent job of showing how the ESV committee tried to maintain this standard.

At the other end of the spectrum from literal translation is dynamic equivalence. Ryland's examples make a good case for how much of the literary quality of the Bible is lost in this style of translation. No matter how good the editor or interpreter, it's very difficult to maintain the quality of the original if too many additions and substitutions are made. Personally, I find it degrading and arrogant to assume that a translation must be aimed at the lowest common denominator, in this case a sixth grade reading level, and that the general public can't be trusted to interpret poetry or prose metaphors.

I highly recommend this book. I learned a great deal about the history of English Bible translation and came to appreciate the qualities of the King James Bible and it's successor, the ESV. If you have any interest in the history and quality of the Bible you're using, this book is a must read.

I reviewed this book as part of the Crossway Reviewer Program.