Poll on Translation & Hermeneutics

For sometime, I’ve been an advocate for people who do not know the original languages (& probably never will) to learn how to meaningfully look at and compare differences of translation, paragraphing, & formatting in using multiple translations rather than simply using a “literal” translation.

But it has been only recently that I’ve realized that many people don’t think such a thing is possible.

And so, I’ve created a poll here to see what you, my readers, think on this issue. I’d also be interested in your comments as well.

I’m particularly interested in the thoughts of those whose answers are based on experience in both practices — if such people exist, but everyone’s thoughts on this question are definitely welcome & encouraged.

13 thoughts on “Poll on Translation & Hermeneutics

Add yours

  1. I don’t think that using a “literal” version can yield any sense of the alternative possibilities of understanding many passages of text, and to suppose that the original text can and must be interpreted in one and only one way in every instance is self-delusion.

  2. Speaking as someone who prefers a “more literal” translation and actually like the fact that it “sounds funny,” how could anyone possibly think that reading a single translation could provide the basis for any in-depth study?

    1. you’d be surprised.

      And just so you know, preferring a “more literal” translation isn’t in of itself a bad thing as long as you’re fully aware of the fact that it definitely does not get you closer to the original languages.

  3. I went with literal, but I am not certain. I wonder if a person could compare multiple translations and understand what the differences meant without having some kind of training. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to know those differences mean without my Greek training. I might be able to get some idea of what is going on with a “literal” translation. The genitive, for instance, has about the same overlap of meanings as “of” which English speakers should have some idea what that means. So, literal translations that leave genitives as “of” allow the reader to make the interpretative choice. But then again, since the multiple translations would include a literal translation, they would still be able to make the choice with the additional input of the choices the dynamic translations made. To sum things up, I really don’t know.

  4. Personally, I quite like using an ESV when using an English version. But when doing things like small group studies, I’m always pleased to have a number of translations present. Lately I’ve given people who turn up without a bible Stern’s “Complete Jewish Bible”.

    My thinking is this: a ‘literal’ version is often quite useful, but if I slavishly recommend one to people, they will indeed fall into the error of thinking it a better bible. I’d rather have them see the differences and have some idea of why translations differ and some are better in some regards (eg., I often critique the New Living because it’s made a quite valid translation but in the process has over-interpreted an ambiguity that it could have left for the reader; likewise, HCSB on Philippians 2:7 just gets me angry).

  5. I think that as helpful as a hyper-literal translation can be….for instance by translating a term the same way throughout the same document(nasb and esv fail at this big time)….you’ve gotta use more than one if you’re doing in depth study.

  6. It seems to me that the primary value in reading more than one translation is that a reader can see where the difficult issues are, and then ask someone who knows to help explain them.

    I think that reading a literal translation is more likely to confuse then elucidate.

    Another way to look at the issue is this: Is it really likely that a student who hasn’t studied Greek yet will have better insight into a passage than a skilled and learned translation team?


  7. Which is better? Well, that depends on what better means to you. If one doesn’t know Greek or Hebrew (or know them very well), then any English translation is going to get them “closer to” the original because they can’t understand or adequately read the original languages.

    The fact that multiple translations can help is a given. But, how much? Can someone “measure” the validity of a translation without the proper background? Why not recommend a trusted commentary instead? It is nearly the same thing, and it will help build their comprehension of issues surrounding the text in ways another “translation” will never do.

    Dr. Allen Ross, my Hebrew prof often said, “A translation is a commentary.” True. When we read another translation, we see what a panel thought of the text. But simply giving people multiple translations does not give them the experience to judge validity… so I think this will confuse.

    I suspect that the popularity of “Study Bibles with Notes” is that untrained can get some help with background, issues, and basic thoughts. While I dislike theologically focused Study Bibles (including my own reformed tradition), I think that these would be a way to help the untrained gain some insights.

    Now, though I am not a huge fan of the NET translation, I think that that if someone wanted to start really getting a better understanding, the NET Bible with those copious notes (mostly non-theological) would be an ideal way to encourage a person wanting to go deeper. But, assuming that person has a preferred translation, that would also give them “multiple translations” as well. Hmmm. Good question!

  8. As a Bible teacher, I encourage multiple translations. I do have some Greek training and am studying to become fluid in it, but have used many translations through the years. For the average English only student, I consider multiples essential to begin to discover what is really there.

    There are some which diminish the dimensions of meaning and others which release multiple meanings. We need them all.

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