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Anyone who’s ever been in a living-room Bible study knows that there may be up to half a dozen different Bible translations in use. Sometimes lively arguments develop over which version is “better” or “more accurate.”
I used to think this was a bad thing. I even had my opinions on which translations were preferable. But I generally think now that the variety is good, because multiple versions, when read together, give a more nuanced, even multi-dimensional look at passages. They also offer opportunities to dig deeper into God’s Word to discover why translators used the words they did and to thereby uncover hidden jewels.
Dave Brunn’s One Bible, Many Versions increases my appreciation for the work, and art, of Bible translators. As Brunn notes, there has grown quite a schism in some Christian circles, with lines most generally drawn between the so-called word-for-word translations and the thought-for-thought translations.
“Increased literalness does not necessarily equate to increased faithfulness and accuracy,” Brunn writes. Instead, he advocates that thought-for-thought translations can sometimes be the most accurate.
As a Bible translator himself, Brunn offers a behind-the-scenes peek at the translator’s art, including the difficulty of translating idioms and making sense of cultural references. He also tackles some of the controversies surrounding modern translations, including how to translate gender.
Bottom line: Brunn points out that God’s Word was given to us to reveal God more clearly, and to draw us closer to Him and thereby to each other. Attacking translators’ honest efforts to faithfully and accurately translate God’s Word doesn’t seem like something we should be fighting over. If it was, who could survive a home Bible study?
Dan Benson is a journalist and a member of Friedens Evangelical Church (EFCA) in Port Washington, Wis.
When I received my copy of One Bible, Many Versions, I was hoping that this might be a book I could hand off to my questioning parishioners (“Pastor, what version of the Bible should I use?”). Sadly, this is not the book for them. But I discovered that this book is for me.
Within its pages I was led down the arduous path of Bible translation work, and who better to write such a book than someone with more than 20 years of front-line Bible translation in the jungles of Papua New Guinea?
As soon as I read the preface, I was struck to the heart with the vital reminder that to handle the Word of God is to handle The Word of God. It is not a book to be taken lightly, whether translated in a steamy jungle hut or preached in a modern, air-conditioned sanctuary.
This book is written from the mind of a trained linguist and with the heart of a pastor. It has enough charts and lists to make the most serious student of the Scriptures smile with glee, and it contains plenty of down-to-earth truth to make any lover of God’s Word feel more secure with the wonder that is the Word of God handed-down through the centuries.
I read this book in two days, not because it was small or easy, but because it was truly captivating and humbling. Much like the Word of God itself.
Randal Kay is pastor of Felton (Calif.) Bible Church (EFCA).
A quick flip through One Bible, Many Versions reveals numerous tables, flowcharts andnsome technical words like morpheme and dynamic equivalence. Yet from the beginning, the author is a warm, experienced guide.
Along the way, Brunn discusses many facets of Bible translation: form and meaning, idioms and literalness, words and thoughts, inspiration and communication, and the quirkiness of language itself. His examples from his translation work in Papua New Guinea help the average English speaker appreciate the difficulty of translating from one language to another. He even examines how New Testament authors translated from the Old Testament.
Brunn’s critique of certain versions is, at times, overdone. Yet he successfully makes the case that the nature of language means that translators must make interpretive decisions at times and forgo literalness.
As it turns out, the real question is not about which version is “best.” Brunn leaves the reader with a better question: “Is my study of the Bible producing any real change in my thinking and the way I live my life?” Having multiple versions leaves the English speaker with a great opportunity to know God’s Word better so that this can happen.
Michael Herrington is senior pastor of Christ Community Church, Cherokee County (EFCA) in Andrews, N.C.