For 20 years, missionary and translator Dave Brunn labored to provide the Lamogai people of Papua New Guinea with Scripture in their own language. Meanwhile, a debate broke out among Western Christians about the merits of translating the Bible into different versions of English: Are "dynamic equivalent" translations (which aim to reproduce the basic meaning of original biblical texts) as faithful to the original biblical text as "literal" (word-for-word) ones? In One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? (IVP Academic), Brunn, dean of academics for New Tribes Mission's USA Missionary Training Center, explains the choices faced by Bible translators and exposes the limits of English-language conventions in understanding the translation process. Lindsay Olesberg, Scripture engagement director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and author of The Bible Study Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to an Essential Practice (InterVarsity Press), spoke with Brunn about the judgment calls that translators inevitably face, no matter which translation theories they espouse.
Why do English-speaking evangelicals face so much tension around this issue?
Part of the tension is due to a limited, incomplete view of translation. I don't question anyone's motives. They are all driven by a desire to protect the faithfulness and accuracy of God's Word as it is translated into English or another language.
But it is a little bit dangerous to raise discussion of Bible translation to the level of doctrine. Obviously, there are key doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth and the deity of Christ, that we must protect very carefully. But the Bible does not give instructions on how to translate a message from one language into another.1