Monday, 13 June 2016

About my new book on literal Bible translation

Many readers of my blog probably own more than one Bible translation, including at least one that would be known as a ‘literal’ translation. Have you ever wondered how there can be so many different literal translations of the Bible available in English? Does the publication of a new literal Bible translation mean that previous literal translations were incorrect or not really that literal? What exactly should we understand under the term ‘literal’ when referring to Bible translations?

My new book Translating the Bible Literally aims to provide some answers to these questions. By comparing the history and translation methods of three literal English Bible translations, the book helps understand what is meant by the term ‘literal’ and how it can be that literal translations can differ from one another. Please note that it is not the purpose of the book to show which of the Bible translations under consideration is the ‘most literal’ of the three.

The idea of comparing the history and translation of the King James Version, New American Standard Bible and English Standard Version came about during my studies in translation at Aston University in Birmingham, England. During that time, I had encountered different opinions in various Christian circles as to which was the ‘best’ or ‘most literal’ Bible version. I had my own opinions on each of these three different versions, but these were admittedly formed more by the opinions of others and not so much by my own study of the subject matter. Seeing my dissertation requirement as an opportunity to further my own knowledge and understanding of the history and translation of these three versions, I embarked on this project. I found both my research and my writing experience to be fascinating, enjoyable and rewarding. Some of my findings were more or less what I had expected, but others surprised me and made me re-evaluate my opinions about each of the three Bible versions.

Recently, I have revised and updated the contents of my dissertation so that it can be published as a book with the title Translating the Bible Literally. This is what you can expect from the book in terms of content:

Following a short foreword, the preface and acknowledgments, the book starts with an introduction to the topic (free sample below).

This is followed by individual chapters on the King James Version, the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version. For each of these versions, the following is considered: the historical background for the translations, the translators themselves, the translation principles and methods that were followed, the reception of the new translation at the time as well as more recent statistics about its popularity as seen in Bible sales and opinion polls.

The final chapter of the book considers and compares selected translation examples from the Gospel of John in each of the three versions, in particular how these versions have made use of italicised words and marginal notes in order to ensure that the translation reflects the original text as closely as possible. 

Following the conclusion, there are a total of fourteen appendices, which make up a large part of the book. The appendices provide the names of the translators of the different versions, the complete text of the prefaces to the Bibles (which all provide information regarding their translation methods and choices) as well as two larger charts providing a comparative listing of all italicised words and all marginal notes in the Gospel of John for each of the versions.

It is my hope and prayer that this book will further an interest in studying the history, the languages, the translations and – most importantly – the message of the Bible. May God receive all the glory.

Free excerpt from the introduction

The task of a Bible translator is certainly not an easy one. From the very beginning, Bible translators have been criticised and condemned for their efforts. Take St. Jerome, the translator of the famous Latin Vulgate Bible, as an example. He already feared the reactions of others even before he started working on his translation. When asked by Pope Damascus to undertake this task in the fourth century, Jerome replied,

The labor is one of love, but at the same time it is both perilous and presumptuous—for in judging others I must be content to be judged by all. … Is there anyone learned or unlearned, who, when he takes the volume in his hands and perceives that what he reads does not suit his settled tastes, will not break out immediately into violent language and call me a forger and profane person for having the audacity to add anything to the ancient books, or to make any changes or corrections in them?

Jerome did, however, take this risk and carry out the task of translating the Bible. And as expected, or maybe even more so than expected, his fears of being criticised for his translation of the Bible proved to be well founded. In AD 395, he felt compelled to write a letter defending his translation ‘against the accusation of ignorance and falsehood’. Later in history, however, Jerome’s Latin Vulgate became the Bible of choice for the Roman Catholic Church, and at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) it was declared the only ‘right and official’ Bible to the exclusion of all others.
Other Bible translators in history were similarly criticised and condemned for their efforts. In the 14th century, John Wycliffe, the translator of the first complete Bible in English, was denounced by Archbishop Arundel simply for the act of translating the Bible into English, without any consideration for the quality of his translation:

This pestilent and wretched John Wyclif, of cursed memory, that son of the old serpent … endeavoured by every means to attack the very faith and sacred doctrine of the Holy Church, devising – to fill up the measure of his malice – the expedient of a new translation of the Scriptures into the mother tongue.

At that time, the Roman Catholic Church, whose influence spread across Europe, insisted that the Bible be read only in Latin, and therefore a translation of the Bible into the mother tongue was viewed as an attack on the authority of the Church. Wycliffe died a natural death in 1384, but some forty-four years after his death ‘Pope Martin V insisted that Wycliffe’s body be exhumed, burned, and his ashes cast into the river’.
Two centuries later, during the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, Bible translators such as Martin Luther in Germany and William Tyndale in England were still being branded heretics by the Roman Catholic Church, partly also because Luther and Tyndale wanted the people to be able to read Bible in their own language. Tyndale suffered a martyr’s death. In 1536, strangled and burned at the stake for his convictions. Luther, on the other hand, was fortunate to receive protection Protestant prince-elector and live in one of the German states that supported translation of the Bible. Over time, the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church towards Bible translation changed, so that a translation of the Bible into the mother tongue became more and more accepted.
Today, the Bible is the most translated book in the world. By the end of the year 2015, the complete Bible had been made available in 563 languages and the New Testament or other Bible portions had been made available in a further 2,372 languages.
The English speaking world alone is flooded with a vast amount of Bible translations, and new translations of the Scriptures are continually being published. In this day and age, the question no longer seems to be ‘Should we translate the Bible?’, but rather ‘How should we translate the Bible?’. In answer to the second question, Bible translator and translation scholar Eugene Nida has distinguished between two different methods of translating the Bible – namely, to aim for either formal equivalence or dynamic equivalence. Formal equivalence translations are also referred to as literal or word-for-word translations. According to Nida, this kind of translation is ‘basically source-oriented; that is, it is designed to reveal as much as possible of the form and content of the original message’. A dynamic equivalence translation in contrast, directs its attention ‘not so much toward the source message, as toward the receptor response’. These kinds of translations are also called free or sense-for-sense translations. Both of these methods can be applied to Bible translation, but Nida tends to encourage the aim of dynamic equivalence to ensure that the focus is more on translating the message of the Bible rather than translating the actual words of the Bible.
It is quite understandable, therefore, that these two different methods also bring about different results in English Bible translations. It is also quite understandable how there may be a variety of dynamic equivalence translations, depending on the audience for which the translation is made. There are special English Bible translations geared towards children, youth, feminists, deaf people and people who speak Cockney or street slang, just to name a few.
At the same time, however, there are quite a number of English Bible translations which all claim to be literal. How can this be? Are literal translations not supposed to be an accurate reflection of the individual words of the original text? If this is the case, then why do literal translations differ from one another? Are some translations more literal than others? Are there different concepts and perceptions of what constitutes literalness in Bible translation? These are some of the questions that will be addressed in this book.

Links to different websites and formats where you can buy the book

WestBow Press 
hardcover     paperback     e-book (ePub, Mobi, PDF)
hardcover     paperback     e-book (Mobi)
hardcover     paperback     e-book (Mobi)
hardcover     paperback     e-book (Mobi)
hardcover     paperback     e-book (Mobi)

Barnes & Noble
hardcover     paperback     e-book (Nook)

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Struck by lightning

A factual account

Struck by lightning! Attendorn, Germany in April 2014. Two men are walking across a big meadow. It is 1:40 pm. A mild thunderstorm is approaching. All of a sudden, both men are struck by lightning. An emergency doctor and an ambulance quickly arrive at the scene. But 25-year-old Daniel died instantly. Dieter, age 46, sustained serious injuries and is rushed to hospital.

“Could this not have been avoided?” “What were those men doing in a meadow with a storm approaching?” It did not seem dramatic to either of them – all they heard was a slight thunder in the distance. Just as they were thinking about seeking shelter, lightning struck. An inconceivably great bolt of energy knocked the two men to the ground. But only one of them survived – the other one died. Why?

Many questions – but are there also answers? Many offered their condolences at the funeral. Yet the same tormenting questions remain: Why Daniel? The set phrase “at the wrong place at the wrong time” is not a satisfactory answer. Was it fate? Why did it kill the younger and healthier one of the two? Why this wretched coffin? Why did not both of them survive? One thing has certainly become clear: Our lives could end at any moment. The astounding thing about Daniel’s misfortune were his convictions. Daniel himself provided the fitting text for his own obituary: “But for me it is good to be near God” (The Bible, Psalm 73:28). This Bible verse was put up on his desk. It had been of great importance to him. And it showed us clearly that, although football had been his great passion, he had found his true, everlasting joy in God. At the age of 17, he started seeking his Creator. He found Him with the help of other Christians and through reading the Bible, God’s Word. This is where he also found the answers to the questions of purpose and meaning of life.

A great comfort! While cleaning up his room, his parents made a precious discovery: Daniel’s will, from which his family derived great comfort. It was not about distributing a few belongings; instead, Daniel had composed caring thoughts for his closest friends. He wanted them to learn something from his walk with God. He had even thought about his own funeral. His will shows us that he counted on God and anticipated life after death – in heaven! He had a clear goal in life. But God called him to Himself from this life. Daniel was a young man who was well prepared for that day. Even though it is very sad to say goodbye, believing Christians always have the wonderful prospect of seeing each other again in heaven!

Every person is invited to accept God’s invitation and receive eternal life.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, says:

“I am the resurrection and the life.
Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
(The Bible, John 11:25)

Do you believe that? Do you want to put your trust in Jesus Christ and get to know Him personally? Please do not hesitate to ask if you have any questions!

Translated from the German tract “Vom Blitz getroffen” with permission from Stiftung Missionswerk Werner Heukelbach (