Monday, 26 January 2009

The destabilization of the biblical text - Romans 1:5

While not altogether appreciative of all the arguments Leland Ryken advances against what he describes as 'dynamic equivalent' translations in his book 'The Word of God in English', he certainly has a point in chapter 11. There he accuses modern translations of playing fast and loose with the original text to the extent that the same verse in different dynamic translations (e.g. NIV/TNIV, NLT, CEV)differ wildely with respect to meaning and so destabilize the biblical text. His argument is that the more formal translations (e.g. ESV, NASBU, NKJV) keep a stable text given that most formal renderings are, in many cases, almost identical.

I'll take a few posts to give examples of verses he has noticed which have been destabilized by dynamic translations. I'll let Leland do the talking from here:

"To get a handle on how the unidentified mixture of translation and interpretation destabilizes a text, I list below a range of how modern translations have rendered Romans 1:5. The question I would ask my readers to ponder as they read through the list is how they can differentiate what the original actually says from interpretation by a translation committee. In each case I have italicized the key phrase for purposes of the comparison.
  • 'Through him I received the privilege of an apostolic commission to bring people of all nations to faith and obedience in his name' (REB).
  • 'Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith' (NIV).
  • 'Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all teh Gentiles to faith and obedience for his name's sake' (TNIV).
  • 'Jesus was kind to me and chose me to be an apostle, so that people of all nations would obey and have faith' (CEV).
  • 'Through Christ, God has given us privilege and authority to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name' (NLT).
  • '... through who we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations' (ESV)." (p193, 194)

Even the most ardent critics of Ryken must concede he has a valid point here. Surely by resolving the ambiguity, the dynamic translations create even more ambiguity. What if Paul means (and I suspect he does) 'the obedience that consists in faith'? That option is completely out of the question unless the translation goes 'obedience of faith.'

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