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In one respect, today's English-reading believers are the most privileged Christians of all time. Available to us are more vernacular versions of Holy Scripture than any generation before us had, and all the mainline ones are good. (I am not considering here such renderings as the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Version. ) It is important, however, to grasp that they are good in different ways, according to how each seeks to impact its targeted readership. The goal is still Luther's and Tyndale's goal, that ordinary people might clearly understand the Word of God, but it is pursued by different routes.

Versions is an umbrella word that covers all the products of the two main translation methods currently in use. Some versions opt for grammatical equivalence, that is, a word-for-word and clause-for-clause correspondence with the original as far as possible. The risk here is stiffness of style, unnatural English, and consequent obscurity. Other versions aim at dynamic equivalence, that is, a rendering that conveys the substance and force of the original, though at the cost of periodic paraphrase. The risk here is a woolly superficiality that keeps readers from deep and exact understanding. The ideal would be an equivalence that was fully literal and fully dynamic too, but that is not always possible, because the usage of pre-Christian Hebrew and first-century Greek does not always match that of modern English. So tradeoffs are inescapable in the translation process, and here the versions fan out into three main types.

Some prefer verbal equivalence, even if awkward, over punchy vividness in places where you cannot have both. Examples of this are the New King James Version (NKJV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Instances ...

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In the Magazine

October 27, 1997

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