Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Complete Guide to Bible Translations - A Review

With the proliferation of Bible translations it only seems appropriate to add yet another guide to those translations. This latest one, The Complete Guide to Bible Translations, comes from the pen of Ron Rhodes who is president of Reasoning Together from the Scriptures Ministries. Rhodes covers 20 different translations. He gives a brief history, a sample reading of the translation and the benefits and cautions of each translation treated. Included are two Catholic translations (New American Bible, NAB and New Jerusalem Bible, NJB) and one British (Revised English). The title can be a bit misleading by the word “complete.” It is certainly not complete in the sense that it covers all Bible translations. It does, however, cover a majority of the current Bible market. Noticeably missing are any Jewish translations. One might excuse this since the intended readership is probably conservative protestant Christians (note the comment on the NJB: “Hence, this is certainly not a Bible that conservative Christians would feel comfortable with.” 208) but then it begs the question why Catholic translations were included. The most important Jewish translation that perhaps should have been included is "The Complete Jewish Bible" by David Stern. The increased awareness of Christianity’s Jewish roots makes such an omission unfortunate.
Rhodes devotes three chapters to introductory matters: “The Difficulty of Bible Translation”, “Theories of Bible Translation” and “The Debate of Gender-Inclusive Language.” Rhodes does well in fleshing all of these issues out. He strives to be fair to all sides although his bias does come out here and there. In the chapter on “The Theories of Bible Translation” Rhodes covers “The Case Against the Formal Equivalence Philosophy” in just over one page. But “The Case Against the Dynamic Equivalence Philosophy” gets over four pages. Now Rhodes says repeatedly that one should compare several translations from both translation philosophies but his own preference for formal equivalence slips through here. He frequently states that dynamic equivalent translations are not well suited for detailed Bible study. He admits his “personal favorites when it comes to formal equivalence translations” are the ESV and the NASB (216). But he goes a bit over the top when he summarizes the section on the ESV with “Still, it is the general consensus of Christian scholars and church leaders that the English Standard Version is an excellent translation of the Bible.” (168) Are there many who think the ESV is an excellent translation? Sure. But a general consensus! That’s stretching it.
Sometimes Rhodes attempts “to be fair” seem to miss the point. One of the criticisms by David Dewey on the Amplified Bible is noted. Dewey says that “it is wrong to assume the Hebrew or Greek word in question will carry that full range of meaning in every context. Generally, a writer has one specific meaning in mind when using a particular word.” Rhodes replies, “Again, though, one should in fairness keep in mind that the translation was checked by a team of Hebrew and Greek scholars.” (88) This misses the point of Dewey’s criticism. The criticism is on the format of amplifying words in the text with multiple possible meanings. The litany of possible meanings opens the door to misunderstanding how words are defined by their given context. It doesn’t really matter if the text was checked by Greek and Hebrew scholars. The format of “amplification” is what is in question. I’ve seen this countless times from readers of The Amplified Bible. They read a passage and think a word which is amplified means all the words that are given in the parenthesis each and every time it occurs.
Rhodes concludes the book with a chapter on “Choosing the Best Translation and the Best Bible.” Here he clearly leads the readers to pick the best translation that fits their needs. He discusses a variety of other matters in selecting a Bible as well. He discusses the various covers (leather, hardcover, paperbacks), Bible paper, cross references, red letter editions, size of print, number of columns, study notes, concordance and margins. I was surprised that for all the discussion on the value of comparing translations he never mentioned parallel Bibles. The book includes five appendixes. A) The Textual Basis of Modern Translations, B) The Rendering of Divine Names, C) Does the Apocrypha Belong in the Bible?, D) Assessing the “King James Only” Controversy, and E) A Warning about Cultic Translations. This last appendix discusses the “Mormon Inspired Version” and the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Readers will benefit from Rhodes' book in spite of my occasional cautions.

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