Dave Brunn recently gave a gift to the English-speaking church in his book One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? (IVP, 2013). Dave Brunn is a professional translator and trainer of translator-wannabes within New Tribes Mission. To the best of my knowledge, he has never worked on an English-language translation project. His translational claim to fame is a translation of the Bible (done alongside dedicated national co-translators) into Lamogai, one of the multitude of languages in Papua New Guinea. Consequently, Dave Brunn brings an outsider’s perspective to our recent English translation battles. (You know what I’m talking about, the “mine is the best translation and all others are suspect” battles.) And his outsider’s perspective is clarifying and challenging.
Here is a summary of the book, in the author’s own words (from pages 189-190), focusing on what translations share, rather than how they differ:
Throughout this book, I have tried to avoid overemphasizing the ideals of translation. My aim has been to let the real translational renderings speak for themselves. As we looked at these real examples from Scripture, we saw that there are indeed differences between every English version, but we also saw that there are many similarities. Here are a few of the similarities we identified in previous chapters.
· Every version translates thought for thought rather than word for word in many contexts (chap. 1).
· Every version gives priority to meaning over form (chap. 2).
· Every version gives priority to the meaning of idioms and figures of speech over the actual words (chap. 2).
· Every version gives priority to the dynamics of meaning in many contexts (chap. 2).
· Every version uses many renderings that are outside of its ideal range (chap. 3).
· Every version allows the context to dictate many of its renderings (chap. 4).
· Every version steps away from the original form in order to be grammatically correct in English (chap. 5).
· Every version steps away from the form to avoid wrong meaning or zero meaning (chap. 5).
· Every version steps away from the form to add further clarity to the meaning (chap. 5).
· Every version steps away from the form to enhance naturalness in English (chap. 5).
· Every version translates some Hebrew or Greek words many different ways (chap. 6).
· Every version changes some of the original words to nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs or multiple-word phrases (chap. 6).
· Every version sometimes translates an assortment of different Hebrew or Greek words all the same way in English (chap. 6).
· Every version leaves some Hebrew and Greek words untranslated (chap. 6).
· Every version adds English words that do not represent any particular word in the Hebrew or Greek text (chap. 6).
· Every version changes single words into phrases, even when it is not required (chap. 6).
· Every version translates concepts in place of words in many contexts (chap. 6).
· Every version sometimes gives priority to naturalness and appropriateness over the ideal of seeking to be transparent to the original text (chap. 6).
· Every version substitutes present-day terms in place of some biblical terms (chap. 6).
· Every version paraphrases in some contexts (chap. 6).
· Every version uses interpretation when translating ambiguities (chap. 7).
· Every version makes thousands of changes that amount to much more than dropping a “jot” or a “tittle” (chap. 8).
· Every version adds interpretation, even when it is not absolutely necessary (chap. 9).
· Every version replaces some masculine forms with gender neutral forms (chap. 9).
· Every version often sets aside the goal of reflecting each inspired word in order to better reflect the inspired naturalness and readability of the original (chap. 9).