2018 Bible Translation Guide
How does the GOD’S WORD Translation compare to other Bibles?
Here are some of the major differences between the clear, natural English of GOD’S WORD and other translations.
GOD’S WORD is in a Category All Its Own
GOD’S WORD was produced using a theory of translation that combines accuracy with understandability. This theory is called closest natural equivalence. In short, closest natural equivalence concentrates on accurately translating the meaning of the original languages into natural English. At the same time, closest natural equivalence retains as many of the unique characteristics of the original text as possible without making the English translation unnatural or harder to understand than the text was in the original languages.
Contrasting Closest Natural Equivalence to Form Equivalence
Most well-known English Bible translations were produced using the traditional approach to translation which is called form equivalence. Most translations of the Bible available in bookstores today use some variation of form equivalent translation. These specific form-equivalent translations are noted in the graphic above:
- New American Standard Bible
- English Standard Version
- New English Translation
- King James Version
- New King James Version
Strict form equivalence translates word-by-word, matching each Hebrew or Greek word with one or more English words. However, strict form equivalence would produce very difficult English. For instance, John 3:16 would read:
This way for loved the God the world so that the son the only he gave so that all those believing in him would not perish but have life eternal.
However, using closest natural equivalent translation, John 3:16 in the GOD’S WORD Translation reads this way:
Since grammar and syntax vary from one language to the next, adjustments have to be made when moving from the source language to English. If adjustments are not made, the resulting translation would be difficult, if not impossible, for most readers to understand. For this reason, no translation is strictly form-equivalent.
In essence, form-equivalent translations adjust the grammar and syntax of the source language text only enough to produce a reasonably recognizable and understandable English translation. They do not adjust the English any more than necessary. Form-equivalent translation results in an English text that is a combination of English words, some English syntax, and some Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek syntax. For instance, one Bible’s translation of Numbers 35:18 is:
Or anyone who strikes another with a weapon of wood in hand that could cause death, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.
At other times form equivalence produces translations that appear to be natural English and that make sense in English. However, the meaning of some form-equivalent translations in English does not match the meaning of the source language because an idiom or figure of speech in the source language means something different in English. While form-equivalent translation is often called literal translation, it can present a text whose meaning is literally wrong for English readers.
For instance, the beginning of Psalm 1 in one Bible translation reads:
Blessed is the man who does not… stand in the way of sinners.
In English this says that someone who avoids stopping sinners from sinning is blessed. However, the Hebrew text means that a person who does not join sinners in sinning is blessed.
Using form equivalence can make the translation harder to read than the source text was.
Contrasting Closest Natural Equivalence to Function Equivalence
Because of the problems associated with form-equivalent translation, another translation theory was developed. It is called function-equivalent translation. (An older name for this theory is dynamic-equivalent translation.) Function equivalence takes the differences between the source language and the target language seriously. The function equivalent theory is not concerned with preserving the maximum number of characteristics (e.g., word order, grammar, syntax, idioms, etc.) of the source language text. It recognizes that if a translation preserves the maximum number of these characteristics, it is often unnatural in the target language.
Function equivalence is a great advance in translation theory. It helps the translator to focus on the goal of translation and not merely on technical matters concerning the source language. Function equivalence avoids producing translations that would convey the wrong meaning, no meaning, ambiguous meaning, or that would contain bad grammar or style. It conveys the meaning of the text in ways that are natural and meaningful in the target language, thought-for-thought.
While the function equivalence theory of translation has the proper focus, in practice it has produced English translations that have lost some of the source text’s meaning. One reason for this is that translators using function equivalence have often attempted to translate the Bible so that all passages can be understood on a common, predefined conceptual level.
Some specific function equivalence translations are noted in the graphic above:
- Christian Standard Bible
- New International Version
- New Living Translation
For instance, one Bible translation available today is marketed in an edition specifically translated for children. While many parts of the Bible are appropriate for children, other parts were never intended for children. Certainly, Song of Songs is not for children. Job is a complicated and difficult book in Hebrew. In trying to make these books function on levels for which they were not intended, the translators risk miscommunication by oversimplifying or destroying the literary or artistic integrity of the text they are translating .
In printed texts meaning is conveyed not only by words and sentences, but also by the author’s choice of literary devices based on his assumptions about his readers’ concerns and their ability to think abstractly, and by his skill in using language. In the Bible these factors vary from book to book. A translation must take into account not only how meaning is communicated in the target language, but also on what level that meaning was intended to be communicated by the original author in the source text.
One function-equivalent translation states in its preface that it is intended to “be read with ease and understanding by readers of all ages.” That is, every book of the Bible is intended to be clear to children as well as adults. However, Paul probably never envisioned his letter to the Ephesians as being read by children. To make Ephesians understandable for children, this function equivalent translation from Ephesians 1:19 says:
I want you to know about the great and mighty power that God has for us followers.
The phrase great and mighty power translates the Greek words υπερβάλλον μέγεθος της δυνάμεως. In this translation most of the meaning of the Greek word υπερβάλλον has been lost. It does not merely mean mighty, but means surpassing, extraordinary, perhaps even limitless. However, since these more abstract concepts are difficult for children, this function-equivalent translation has simplified the language-but with a loss in meaning.
Some of the books of the Bible contain material that is very difficult to understand. Others contain relatively easy-to-understand material. Translators should not make the text more difficult to understand in the target language than the source text was (as form equivalence can do). However, translators should also not assume the responsibility for making the text simpler than the source text was (as function equivalence can do).
Paraphrases Retell the Thought Using Different Words
Three specific paraphrases are noted in the graphic above:
- New International Reader’s Version
- The Message
- Good News Translation (a.k.a. Today’s English Version)
Simply stated, a paraphrase is not a translation; it is a retelling of Scripture using an individual person’s words, in an attempt to make the meaning clearer.
Closest Natural Equivalence Maintains the Balance
Closest natural equivalence shares some of the concerns of function equivalent translation: It focuses upon meaning and naturalness in the target language. However, closest natural equivalence does not attempt to make all books or passages function on the same level. The more difficult books of the Bible (e.g., Job, Ephesians) are translated to be on the same level of difficulty as they are in the original languages (but no more difficult).
Closest natural equivalence also shares some of the concerns of form equivalent translation. For example, abstract concepts in Greek and Hebrew are translated into abstract concepts in English, and concrete concepts remain concrete in translation. Figures of speech are translated by figures of speech in English when possible. Poetry is not prose with a special layout on the page. Instead, poetry is translated as poetry.
The goal of closest natural equivalence is to communicate as much of the source text as possible in a way that is usable for the type of readers that the original author targeted. At the same time, closest natural equivalence recognizes that not every book of the Bible was intended for every reader.
Closest natural equivalence recognizes that translation should not obscure meaning and make the Bible more difficult to read than it ought to be (as form equivalence may do). But closest natural equivalence also recognizes that Scripture allows for growth and maturity. Therefore, closest natural equivalence does not simplify concepts or run roughshod over the literary artistry of the Scriptures (as function equivalence may do).
Because many factors call for balance and judgment, every translation (even those produced using closest natural equivalence) can be improved. However, one major reason for the high quality of GOD’S WORD is that closest natural equivalence was the theory used in its production. Moreover, the translators of GOD’S WORD understood that natural, readable English was not merely a matter of writing simplified English. A number of factors contribute to making an English text readable and these factors also must be balanced.