Dynamic Equivalence

Paul Helm over at Helm’s Deep offers a thoughtful but (in my opinion) problematic post on Dynamic Equivalence.

And since comments are turned off over there, I write these thoughts here:

1) I would suggest that Paul Helm has fallen into the same trap that many have in terms of the label Dynamic Equivalence in misunderstanding what it actually means — which is the very reason why Nida changed the terminology to Functional Equivalence. And indeed, I would go even farther and suggest that we should be using the term Meaning Based Translation methods.

2) He writes, “If the result of translation which aims at keeping to the original as faithfully as can be results in some puzzlement and ignorance when the text is read, so be it. It is the task of the Christian ministry to explain the Scriptures, as Philip explained them to the Ethiopian eunuch.”

I would suggest that this sort of statement leads us in an unhelpful and false direction. The difference between us today and the Ethiopian eunuch is that the eunuch could understand the words himself without translation. When a translation adds extra puzzlement and difficulty, we’ve entered completely different territory. A translation should be easy to understand where the text is easy to understand and difficult where the text is difficult.

3) He also writes, “Nor am I proposing to comment on whether or not paraphrasing the Bible, instead of translating it, is the best method of conveying its message to culturally-remote peoples.

I would suggest here that we tend to forget in modern culture (used with its historical sense not its philosophical sense), that we are just are culturally removed — if not more so — than the so called culturally remote people groups. Thus to make a distinction between them is far from helpful.

The rest of the post is a discussion of the phrase “dynamic equivalence” and its problems, which goes back to my very first statement. The term “Dynamic Equivalence” is a misleading term and shouldn’t be used.

Finally I’ll say to his link at the bottom: “[Michael Marlowe’s ‘Against the Theory of Dynamic Equivalence’ (http://www.bible-researcher.com/dynamic-equivalence.html) offers wise comment and telling evidence of the slippage that occurs in the search for dynamic equivalence.]”

I would suggest that Marlowe’s article does not offer wise comment and telling evidence. Rather, what it does offer is a failure to understand the issues in translation methodology with reference to meaning based translation method. I would instead point you to Meaning-Based Translation: A Guide to Cross-Language Equivalence, 2nd edition by Mildred Larson, which does a far better job discussing the issues (with the caveat that the discussion of metaphor across languages has a few problems) – or perhaps Willis Barnstone’s The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice, which is a relatively easy read, cheaper, & helpful.

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