Books on Translation

So, uhm, why is Dr. Leland Ryken still writing books about subjects he’s not qualified to discuss?

Last time he did it quite poorly.

I do hope that since he’s last book, he’s done some more background reading, perhaps studied how language and meaning function, and perhaps audited a class or something from an SIL school.

In any case, He should stick to talking about English literature. He’s much better at that – actually I’ve read some of his literary studies. They are excellent.

35 thoughts on “Books on Translation

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    1. Last time I checked he was an English professor at Wheaton. He doesn’t know Greek & Hebrew nor has he studied translation. He just happens to be the English professor who work as the English style consultant for the ESV.

    1. I’m not sure if I’m more frustrated with Grudem because he knows the languages and uses them poorly or with Ryken because he doesn’t know the languages and talks anyway!

  1. Don’t forget the literary study bible, I did some skimming through the sample and was disappointed with what I saw. It was neither poetics nor text-linguistics, and it assumed you had the background to understand his jargon. It is mostly comments about the text, not much actual analysis of it. Good idea, but I think a lot more could have been done.

    1. I hadn’t seen that before. On the terminology: he’s probably assuming that people have read his _Literary Guide to the bible_ written with Tremper Longman III & _Words of Delight_, both of which came out in the 90’s. I’ve read a couple of his articles on English literature & philosophy which were quite good – as was his _Words of Delight_. It’s been the most recent work that has been frustrating.

  2. I’m familiar with a church in my area which had some ESV fans and was on the verge of switching the pew bibles from NIV to ESV . . . that is, until a bible translator in the church got wind of it and talked the senior pastor out of the change.

    What I do not understand is what has made the ESV, of all options, so popular at the moment? Is it just the celebrity endorsements?

    1. “What I do not understand is what has made the ESV, of all options, so popular at the moment?”

      That is simple. A lot of people find dynamic equivalence somewhat repulsive, a bad theory. I have no place in arguments about English Translations, haven’t used them since the 1970s.

      I understand the ESV is a revision of the RSV which was a widely respected academic text book when I was in college.

      1. That is simple. A lot of people find dynamic equivalence somewhat repulsive, a bad theory. I have no place in arguments about English Translations, haven’t used them since the 1970s.

        Granted. DE/FE isn’t the best theory. And great work has been done since the 60’s & 70’s when it was developed.

        But to switch from an inadequate theory to no theory whatsoever??? That’s what the ESV is. “Essentially Literal” is a theory of exceptions that cares more about individual words separated from their context than it does the actual historical situation to which those words refer. That’s my theoretical complaint about the ESV.

        I understand the ESV is a revision of the RSV which was a widely respected academic text book when I was in college.

        Indeed. And the only things good about the ESV were already in the RSV. There’s little to no improvement in my opinion. And that’s my practical complaint about the ESV.

        1. Like I said, English Bibles are not a special interest of mine. I have a long term interest in translation theory but the “which English bible is best” wars are something I would prefer to leave to others.

          When I was in Seminary (1975-77) the text book bible for the core English bible courses was the NASB, not an elegant translation but useful for teaching. The professor didn’t need to stop every other phrase and say this is what the text really says.

          What kind of people did the ESV, are we talking about the Texas mafia, people from DTS?

        2. yeah, I understand. I have trouble letting go of the “which English bible is best” wars because of the past two decades they have only resulted in a misinformed public.

          As for the ESV revisers: calvinist, conservative & complementarian is a good way of describing them. I don’t know if any were from DTS – they have the NET.

    1. No, nor do I want to. It’s not worth the effort.

      But I will make a few points on this first post:

      However, I was struck by the verdict of a New Testament scholar who had initially been skeptical of my authoring a book on Bible translation, but who said after reading my book that only an outsider to the guild could have written such a book.

      I’d agree with that particular scholar. *Only* an outside could have written such a book. An insider wouldn’t have made the embarrassing mistakes that he did. Again, see my Amazon review of Ryken’s book: HERE.

      His statement about “lexical” interpretation versus other commentary interpretation creates dichotomy that proves he really doesn’t understand the complexities of transferring meaning between two extremely different languages. If you only translate lexical meaning, you loose important pramgatic meaning, information structure, syntactic meaning, and a host of other important functions in language.

      But I’m going to stop here and avoid reading any more of Ryken’s interview. He’s doing a disservice to himself, the church and those who are committed to doing translation work by his books. And reading him just makes me angry, annoyed and frustrated. I don’t like those feelings.

  3. Mike, prior to reading blogs and being enlighten on bible translations, I had read his small book on this matter. In my ignorance I was highly convinced by his book and that reading the ESV was the right choice, and that I should avoid TNIV, NLT, etc. At least as my primary/study/devotional/teaching/preaching bible.

    Thank God for you and others that provide expert guidance on such matters.

  4. That’s how I feel when I hear James Dobson talk about legal issues.

    Since when does a doctorate in child development give some one the skill set to give meaningful commentary on jurisprudential issues.


  5. After seeing this post a couple of days ago, I came across a new book by Vern Poythress which is set to be published at the end of November called In the Beginning Was the Word: Language–A God-Centered Approach. The product description on Amazon quotes Poythress as saying in it, “God controls and specifies the meaning of each word-not only in English but in Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Italian, and every other language.” Before I checked out his bio I was thinking he was also speaking outside his field, but apparently Poythress both studied and taught at SIL back in the day.

    1. It’s true, Poythress is more qualified to speak on the subject than Ryken. He was brought to SIL, as I understand it, because of his background in science. At that point in history, the various linguistic theories were looking for ways of incorporating data from other disciplines into their work for strengthening their theory. Kenneth Pike brought in & trained Poythress for that very purpose.

      It sounds like an interesting book. I knew already about Poythress’ view. He’s articulated it implicitly in other publications. Personally, it leaves me uneasy, but I’ll wait on saying that with confidence until I’ve read it.

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