Thanks for joining us today as we finish up our interview with Leland Ryken:
Why is it important to preserve a metaphor instead of interpreting what it means?
Even with a “secular text,” it is objectionable to disregard authorial intention. Authors have a right to have their utterances respected as representing what they intended to say. But with the Bible a whole additional level of objection enters. As biblical scholar Raymond Van Leeuwen correctly states, to eliminate biblical metaphors from sight is to thwart the work of the Holy Spirit, who gave us the metaphors in the first place.
There is also a literary principle at work. It is a rare image or metaphor that embodies only one meaning. When dynamic equivalent translators reduce the range of meanings to one, they short-circuit the process of communication. What dynamic equivalent translators think of as helping a reader is really a process of robbing a reader.
Isn’t the goal of conveying the meaning of the biblical text commendable?
One of the clichés of the dynamic equivalent movement is “meaning based translation,” rather than “word-based translation.” But the dichotomy is a false one. Essentially literal translators believe that the meaning that the biblical authors intended us to grasp is embodied in the words that they used. The implication of “meaning-based” advocates is that essentially literal translations lack meaning!
What should we make of the fact that the New Testament was written in Koiné Greek—the everyday language of common people rather than the Greek of the philosophers and tragedians?
Strictly speaking, all that Koiné identifies is the language used by most New Testament writers. That still leaves open the stylistic level of what the authors wrote in that language. To cite a parallel, Shakespeare and Milton decided to write their literary works in native English rather than the Latin that was the international language of intellectual discourse in their day. The stylistic range of what they wrote in English runs the gamut, though it is predominantly toward the “high” end of the continuum. By itself, the fact that New Testament writers wrote in Koiné is a great deal less important than advocates of colloquial English Bibles have led us to believe.
What are the advantages of a church choosing an essentially literal translation?
The primary advantage is that preachers, teachers, and church people will have the confidence that their Bible gives them the equivalent English words for what the authors of the Bible actually wrote. They do not need to wonder at every point where translation ends and commentary begins. They do not need to worry that important material has been omitted from the original.
Additionally, we need to remember that the rival translation philosophies entail more than the question of literal vs. free. Church people who choose the ESV and the NKJV will also enjoy the advantages of a literarily powerful and beautiful Bible, a Bible with exaltation and dignity, a Bible that reads smoothly in oral utterance of it, and a translation that does not narrow down the legitimate range of meanings to what a translation committee decided to put before the reader.
For more information, check out Ryken’s new release, Understanding English Bible Translation: A Case for an Essentially Literal Approach.