In part four of the Our Beliefs series, we discussed how God has promised to keep his very words in the mouth of his people. He promised not just to preserve his written words, but to preserve them in a form that his people can speak and understand. Through his Spirit within his servants, he guides the process of translation so that the result is perfectly verbally equivalent to the original, and every word is exactly as he would have it.
Isaiah 59:21 As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.
In this post I lay out some general principles to aid in identifying translations that are pure and faithful.
The Process #
First, let’s consider the different aspects of the translation process itself, as they relate to faithfully transmitting God’s words from one language to the next.
Source Text #
The first prerequisite for a pure translation is that it must start with a pure source text. As previously discussed in part 3 of the Our Beliefs series, the only Greek text that passes the test when it comes to preservation and purity is the Received Text. Therefore any translation which is based on the minority texts will by nature be impure, since those texts themselves are corrupted.
Verbal Equivalence #
Next it is necessary to discuss the concept of equivalence.
The monologuist may suppose that during translation each word in one language is replaced by a word with the same meaning in the other language. The result would be a word-for-word substitution from one language to the next. This is formal equivalence in its strictest sense.
While it is usually formal equivalence for which most translators strive, it is impossible to achieve it perfectly in practice. The reason for this being that sentence structure differs greatly from one language to the next. Thus, the result of strict formal equivalence is that the translation is lacking in emotion at best, and unintelligible at worst. For example, consider a word-for-word translation of John 3:16 from Koine Greek to English:
For so loved the God the world that the his Son the only begotten he gave that every one the believes into him may not perish but may have life eternal.
As you can see, there is a reason that we don’t all have it memorized this way. We thus find it necessary to balance strict formal equivalence with something else. Of course, this has to be done with the greatest of care, especially where the scriptures are concerned, since God inspired each and every word.
A translator must therefore strive to respect each word that God chose to inspire, while still producing an intelligible result. The translated sentence must form a meaningful whole, while at the same time still transmit the literal sense of each of those original words.
This has been called verbal equivalence, for want of a better term. It means that the two translations, when read, will say exactly the same thing. The word and clause order is maintained as much as possible; a verb, for example, is not converted to a noun; ambiguities are left unresolved. Idioms also remain intact, so that “the apple of his eye” doesn’t become “something very dear to him”. It is the literal/grammatical sense of each of the words themselves that are translated, not a generic meaning of the clause or sentence as a whole.
This is certainly what is required when each word being translated was chosen by God himself.
However, it is not the only method of translation currently in use. Enter functional, or dynamic equivalence.
Dynamic equivalence? That might sound like an oxymoron. And that’s because, well… it is. It is dynamic equivalence because the result is considered by the translator to be equivalent, even though it can really be different. Proponents of dynamic equivalence seek to translate not the words, but the meaning of each verse. This might seem harmless enough, since the ultimate point of translation is so that we can understand the Bible’s meaning. However, we want to know and understand what God actually said, we don’t want the translator interpreting for us what they personally think that he meant! That is what commentaries, or perhaps paraphrases, are for. But what dynamic equivalence produces essentially is a paraphrase, representing the translator’s private interpretation.
Thus, if we want to find the pure words of God, faithfully translated from one language to the next without being corrupted by the words of men, we have to carefully consider the methods employed by the translators. Did they translate God’s very words, or just their own interpretation of their message?
Multiple Translations #
Another thing to consider is that we should only expect to find just one perfectly faithful translation per language.
Producing such a translation requires a work of God, and after he has brought it to perfection that work is complete. What reason could there be for him to produce a second pure translation, when a perfectly faithful one already exists? It would not just be a duplicate effort for no added value, it would actually be detrimental. The natural result of a disunity of his words could only be the confusion, disunity, and division of his people. There is only one set of words in Hebrew or Greek which are the pure words of God, and we should not expect it to be different for any other language. Unless an older form of a language has completely died and a new language evolved, making a new translation necessary, we would not expect a second faithful translation to be produced. Any effort to produce a translation after a pure one already exists should thus be doubly suspect, and requires a strong defense of the action on the part of the translators.
The Translators #
In addition to assessing the methods employed by the translators, it is also important to consider their motives and objectives, both stated and otherwise. Translation provides an opportune time for the corruption of the scriptures with bias and false doctrine, intentionally or unintentionally.
We must also keep in mind that God is not the only one who has an interest in guiding the translation of His word. The Bible tells us that Satan seeks to fill the church with false doctrine, until it is wholly leavened (Luke 13:21). What better way to accomplish that but by placing false doctrine into our very Bibles?! We should expect that Satan will always seek for his ministers to influence the translation of God’s word. So much so that we should assume conspiracy by default—but trust that God will intervene when he works to produce a pure translation.
It is necessary therefore to consider whether the translators had as their objective producing as faithful a translation as possible, or not. Were they hoping to promote a particular doctrine, or set of doctrines? Or were they seeking to place God’s pure words into the tongue of his people? Any attempt to conceal the processes and methods used in the production of a translation is disqualifying. Those in service to the One True Light, Jesus Christ, need not hide in the dark.
Also, when a translation is produced by a single person, or a group of people belonging to a single sect, it is more likely that bias will creep in. That doesn’t mean that such a translation couldn’t be pure, but that we should give extra diligence when trying its purity.
Likewise, we should also consider the ability of the translators, and that there again is safety in numbers. The translators should be quite fluent in each of the languages concerned, and should ideally have a deep understanding of them linguistically.
Of course, no translator is perfect, which is why it is better when several or many translators work together. Ultimately though, we trust that God will ensure that a faithful translation is produced according to his promise, when the translators seek him for this after the due order.
The Translation #
Having considered the elements of the process of translation that are prerequisite to producing a faithful result, let us consider what attributes such a faithful translation should have.
First, and most obvious, is purity. A faithful translation must be no less pure than the text from which it is translated. This means that a faithful translation of God’s words will not contain contradictions. It must form a unified whole, just as the words that God originally inspired do.
The purity of a translation also implies that it will not need to be subjected to further revision; once pure, it cannot be improved upon. We thus expect a pure translation to come to full form, and then remain a constant and sure foundation from there forward.
A faithful translation of God’s words must also produce faithful fruit. It must be pure, and a purifier of God’s people.
Christ exhorted his disciples, saying:
Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
This is an admonition which we would do well to take heed to when trying a translation. Just like a prophet, a translation claims to have the words of God. But does it really? How do we know for sure? In the same way that we should know a false prophet: by their fruits.
An impure translation can no more purify the saints, and bring forth fruit in them, than a false prophet can. Thus in the end, time is the ultimate test of a translation: will it produce fruit in season, and out of season, or not? It must be profitable in fulfilling the charge that Paul gave to Timothy:
2 Timothy 4:1 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
Which leads us to our final point, that of preservation. In part 2 of the Our Beliefs series, we considered God’s promise to preserve his words to all generations. We should thus expect a faithful translation to be preserved to every generation of people who speak that language, once it has been produced. God has promised to keep his words in the mouth and heart of his people, and once he has placed it there, he will not allow it to pass away.
We have thus outlined some important considerations when trying the faithfulness of a translation in the search for God’s pure words in our own tongue. In future posts, we will consider the available translations in various languages, and discover which ones are pure.