Brian D. Russell has written two medium-length blog entries that we think are worth your time.
First, he talks about Bible translation in his article Moving through the Maze: Understanding Bible Translation. He says of formal equivalence translations (an essentially literal translation like the ESV tends toward this pole):
A formal equivalence translation (better known as a literal translation) seeks as much as possible to translate word for word from the original language into the modern language. In other words, the ideal goal would be to use one English word for one Hebrew or Greek word. For example, Greek sarks “flesh” would be translated “flesh” consistently in a formal equivalence translation. It would be up to the reader to deduce the precise connotation of “flesh” within a given context.
The strengths of the formal equivalence side include consistency in translation and preservation of the sentence structure of the original. Its principal weakness is its readability. A formal equivalence translation expects more of its reader in the process of interpretation.
(Emphasis added.) He concludes with the following thoughts. Read the rest of his post for more background.
- No translation is perfect.
- Every translation, no matter how literal, is an interpretation of the original text and represents a commentary on it.
- Bible translation is an ongoing process.
- It is best to use a variety of translations for serious study.
- The best translation is the one that you will actually read regularly.
The second post we’d like to call to your attention to is Learning the Biblical Languages: Worth the Effort?. He says that yes, learning the original languages is worth the effort because it:
- Promotes careful reading.
- Explains contradictory translations.
- Serves as a hedge against misinterpretation.
- Allows for a more perceptive reading of context.
- Enables one to access the best and most up-to-date resources.
- Models a missiological principle.
Modeling a missiological principle requires some elaboration. He says:
Modern translations have certainly made the Scriptures accessible and readable. But they also to varying degrees have blurred the need for careful study because many translations diminish the cultural and historical distance between Iron-age Israel and the first century A.D. Mediterranean world on one hand and our own 21st century milieu on the other. Studying the text in the original language forces us to immerse ourselves in the cultural world of the Bible.
I would suggest that such reading rather than being pedantic and elitist in fact prepares us best to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world precisely because it teaches us to receive the Scriptures cross-culturally. If we are unwilling to come to the text on its own terms, how will we ever be able to connect others with the life-giving Word of God?
Again, read his whole post for more.
Note: we re-paragraphed the quotes for easier reading.