Lost (and found) in translation: Installment #1: Principles for good Bible translation

Whenever we translate the Bible, there are five principles or five goals that we try to keep in mind. When we translate, what we translated must be:

  1. Clear: we want the reader or listener to understand the meaning of the passage.
  2. Accurate: we must be faithful to the Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic original and communicate correctly what the verse says, without changing, adding to, or leaving out anything.
  3. Natural: we want to use language which sounds normal to the listener, and not stilted or awkward.
  4. Acceptable: we want to use terms that are appropriate for public reading in church.
  5. *Stylistically/Rhetorically equivalent: we want the translation to impact today’s listeners in the same way it impacted the original audience. We want it to have the same force from a persuasive and emotive standpoint and reflect a style equivalent to the style of the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic original.

All five of these principles are important. Unfortunately, sometimes they compete with each other. It is very challenging to meet all five goals in every phrase, so when it is not possible to do that in the language into which we are translating, we sometimes must emphasize one or more of these principles over the others. I think you will see what I mean as we discuss specific verses in future installments on this blog.

(*Not all Bible translators see this as a legitimate or realistic goal in Bible translation.)

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