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Functional Equivalence in Translation (2)

This is a continuation of the article. If you have not read the first part, you can read it here.

But the inherent problem with translating the meaning of the text is that it requires the translator to understand the meaning of the text. Unfortunately, perfection will not happen in human translation. This goes both directions, and we must be aware of that. The authors of this Powerpoint presentation use 1 Kings 2:10 as an excellent example.

“Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David” (ESV). The NASB, NRSV, NKJV, and KJV all read the same. But this is being too literal and not accurately reflecting the meaning. Thus, some can misunderstand the meaning. It has also led to some strange teachings about the afterlife and “soul sleep.” Other translations also drop the ball:

“So David rested with his fathers, and was buried in the City of David” (NKJV). The HCSB, NIV, and TNIV read similarly. But “resting with his fathers” is an idiomatic expression that does not communicate the meaning of the text. The NLT translates this accurately:

“Then David died and was buried with his ancestors in the City of David” (NLT). It may not be the “word-for-word” literal translation, but it is the most accurate.

So are translations like the NLT superior? No, because the NLT suffers from its translation philosophy. In attempting to capture the meaning of the text, there are places where it has arguably not captured the meaning of the text, or chose one meaning over many possible meanings. One example of this is found in the Acts 2:38 rendering of 2004 edition of the NLT.

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins, turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to show that you have received forgiveness for your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38; NLT 2004)

Now, an assumption about what this text means has been given. The NLT reads that baptism was to show that one had been forgiven. But that may not be what that verse means. In fact, that is not what Greek scholars say this text means. Thankfully, the NLT made the appropriate change in 2007:

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38; NLT 2007)

Though corrected, this illustrates the problem with functional translation. What if we do not capture the meaning correctly? The consequence is that we are causing people to misunderstand the scriptures, misleading people about the meaning of the text, or, worst of all, teaching an error and not the original meaning. So great care must be given, not just to functionally equivalent translations like the NLT, but all translations. Even formally equivalent translations can be misleading because the literal rendering has communicated something that the original did not mean. I am glad that their Powerpoint presentation ended with the advice to study the Bible with multiple translations. It really is the only answer to protect against misunderstanding the scriptures. Don’t put all your trust in just one translation. Get yourself the major versions and use them in your reading, devotions, and studies.