Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Paul Helm on dynamic equivalence (or not)

Over at Helm's Deep, Paul Helm has been ruminating on the question, Dynamic Equivalence - Is there such a thing? He makes some excellent points on the impossibility of dynamic equivalence in and argues in favour of an essentially literal approach to Bible translation such as is found in the KJV, NKJV and ESV. The prof also raises the matter of whether it is an "unquestionably good strategy for new translations to be parachuted into cultures that are totally lacking in churches or ministers of the gospel trained to ‘give the sense’ to the Bible." He suggests that important biblical terms like as 'righteousness' and 'atonement' should be retained even when a receiving language lacks the equivalent words. In that case the meaning may given in marginal notes.
The English language is blessed with a well established theological vocabulary. But some contemporary Bible translations avoid using words that may not be immediately intelligible to the modern day reader. Famously the NIV substitutes 'sacrifice of atonement' for 'propitiation' - eg. Romans 3:25, and something very important is lost in translation. The Bible is to be read in the context of church life. The task of preachers is to explain and apply the teaching of Scripture in culturally relevant language.
When it comes to personal Bible reading, Helm makes a good case for the use of Study Bibles that can help us get to grips with the meaning of the biblical text. A decent Study Bible can almost do for the reader what Philip the evangelist did forthe Ethiopian Eunuch, Acts 8:30-35. I've been using the ESV Study Bible, for my own personal Bible reading for some months. While the notes are too brief for sermon prep, they give the basic sense of the passage in a clear and concise way. Anyway, have a look at Paul Helm's thought provoking article on this subject.


Family Blogs said...

Hi Guy,

Thanks for pointing out this article. The issue of Bible versions has been a big one for me in recent days. I read the NIV in English, but have been challenged through studying Spanish to see some of the attendant dangers of dynamic equivalence.

As always, Guy, you provoke thought. Not quite as much as David Sky used to, but not everyone can be a genius!


Sam said...


And Halden:

Take issue, rightly it seems to me, with Helm's logic.

Larry McCallister, Jr. said...

I, a Wesleyan, preach from the ESV. Here in the States there is a perception that it's a Reformed person's translation. However, my Greek professor was an old RSV man (NOT a NRSV advocate) and I learned to appreciate the essentially literal approach. My second translation choice would be the NASB.