Diversity of Modern Versions, pt 2 – Dynamic Translations

In our last post on the diversity of modern translations, we focused primarily on a group of translations called revisions. They are works that at least purport to be revisions of the Authorized Version, originally published in 1611.

In this post, we will be looking at one type of original translations – those which employ a translation technique known as dynamic equivalence – and in a subsequent post, we will explore original translations which purport to be more formal in their translation (such as the HCSB). This is also known as free translation or idea-for-idea translation. It is a philosophy which does not attempt to maintain the flavor of the original text but is not restricting to translating the exact words.

There are some pro’s to this type of translation:

  • It allows the translator to use contemporary language without conforming to the forms of the ancient languages of Scripture.
  • The translations are generally very readable and the English is more comfortable to the reader.

There are also some con’s to dynamic translation:

  • The translation requires more interpretation from the translator than formal equivalence.
  • Difficult passages can be left ambiguous or altered, both intentionally and unintentionally.
  • It tends to not produce a transgenerational translation because idioms change and language can be outdated quickly.

You can see that dynamic translations are a mixed bag, and depending on the translators and the rigor of the translation, they come in varying qualities.

The New International Version (NIV)

Although not the first dynamic translation, the New International Version is by far the most popular. According to the Association for Christian Retailers (CBA), more NIV Bibles are currently being sold every month than any other translation (followed closely by the KJV, NKJV and NLT with the ESV rounding out the top 5). There are over 200 million copies of the NIV in circulation today.

The NIV began with an idea in 1965. The New York Bible Society was tasked with the translation, publishing a New Testament in 1973 and the whole Bible in 1978. The entire text was revised in 1984, and additional variations of the NIV text were subsequently released including, The New International Reader’s Version (NIrV, 1996), the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI, 1998), and Today’s New International Version (TNIV, 2002). These are all based on the NIV, but revised for specific functions. Particularly the NIVI and TNIV were revised to be ‘gender inclusive.’

In September 2009, it was announced that a new edition of the NIV was being prepared and that all other editions and revisions would be discontinued.

What is the NIV? The 1984 preface says this:

The New International Version is a completely new translation of the Holy Bible made by over a hundred scholars working directly from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts…

From the beginning of the project, the Committee on Bible Translation held to certain goals for the New International Version: that it would be an accurate translation and one that would have clarity and literary quality and so prove suitable for public and private reading, teaching, preaching, memorizing and liturgical use. The Committee also sought to preserve some measure of continuity with the long tradition of translating Scriptures into English.

They [the Translators] have striven for more than a word-for-word translation. Because thought patterns and syntax differ from language to language, faithful communication of the meaning of the writers of the Bible demands frequent modifications in sentence structure and constant regard for the contextual meaning of words.

Elsewhere, it has been remarked that they attempted to create a balanced translation, although the general consensus among commentators is that the NIV is more dynamic in its approach.

The Good News Translation (1976)

When the New Testament of this translation was published in 1966, it was titled Good News for Modern Man. With the completion of the Old Testament in 1976, it was officially known as Today’s English Version and in 2001, it was officially renamed The Good News Translation in 2001, although it is generally known as Good News Bible.

The translation was the work of the American Bible Society – billed as an original translation into modern (specifically American) English. It was intentionally a translation of its time:

This translation does not follow the traditional vocabulary and style found in the historic English Bible versions. Rather it attempts in this century to set forth the biblical content and message in the standard, everyday, natural form of English…The aim of this Bible is to give today’s reader maximum understanding of the content of the original texts.

In 2001, a new edition of the translation was presented (the quote above is from the 2001 forward). It was meant to update the language, because the committee felt that the language had become dated.

The GNT has often been criticized for being too contemporary. It was a translation into extremely colloquial English, employing so much dynamic in its translation that it has often been called a paraphrase. Technically, this is not true since a paraphrase is generally accepted to be a paraphrasing of an existing English version (we’ll discuss that more in the next post).

The Contemporary English Version (1995)

Like the GNT, the Contemporary English Version is sponsored by the American Bible Society. While the GNT was translated to be colloquial English, the English spoken everyday, the CEV was translated to be in the popular form of English found in magazines, books, newspapers and televisions. It was completed in 1995 and followed essentially the same approach that the GNT followed but reflects a different perspective on the English language, particularly how it is read and heard.

There is a significant difference in the appearance of the text on the page, because the lines on the right have been measured, in order to prevent unfortunate runovers. (Preface to the CEV)

The CEV has not gained a significant market, but it is currently slightly more widespread than the GNT, but probably only because it is newer.

New Living Translation

This section originally appeared in the 4th post of the series – Paraphrases. After consideration and discussing the issue with several people, I have placed it here with other dynamic translations. The difference between a dynamic translation and a paraphrase is vague, but sufficient evidence has been presented to persuade me to reclassify it.

In 1989, Kenneth Taylor and the editorial staff at Tyndale House began to assembly translators and consultants to prepare a revision/update of the Living Bible which would be more of a translation. In 1996, Tyndale House released the New Living Translation (NLT).

Although considered by many translation, the New Living Translation is based on the Living Bible and employs such a dynamic approach to the translation that is is not incorrect to refer to it as a paraphrase. (The distinction is a difficult one to make, but we have chosen to include the NLT with the Living Bible in this post because of their close relationship.)

The NLT proved almost as popular as the Living Bible was in the 70’s. It is consistently one of the best-selling translations in America and has sold millions of copies.

In 2004, a revision produced a second edition (sometimes called NLTse) which made broader breaks from the Living Bible. The second edition does not reference the Living Bible in the Preface, whereas the first edition made the connection very plain.

A Few Words about Versions Not Included

There are a number of other translations that border on dynamic equivalence. Other translations not included are minor translations which have not gotten broad acceptance.

Author’s Note

I should mention, just by way of disclaimer, that I do not care for most dynamic translations, even as tools. For awhile, we considered using the NIV as a congregation, but elected to go with the NKJV. I later personally switched to the ESV, but we continued using the NKJV in worship. In 2009, our church merged with another congregation (you can see about that on my personal blog – http://unorthodoxfaith.com) which uses the NIV as pew Bibles. As a result, I use the NIV now in preaching, but only out of necessity.

Having read through the NIV in my journey to find a translation I was comfortable with, I found the language to be too simple to convey the majesty of the Scriptures’ words. I find that while it is mostly accurate, it is rarely precise or powerful.

My experience with the GNT and the CEV is very limited. I own them and have browsed through them; but they did not sing to me.


11 thoughts on “Diversity of Modern Versions, pt 2 – Dynamic Translations

  1. James Snapp, Jr. August 1, 2010 / 1:11 pm

    In the profile of the Good News Bible, it should be noted that this version was especially notable due to its use of simple line-illustrations (in “doodle” style) to supplement the text.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • Erik August 1, 2010 / 4:49 pm

      You know, I had forgotten about those but yes, that is correct. I remember seeing them as a kid and thinking they were a little odd looking.

  2. James Snapp, Jr. August 2, 2010 / 12:36 pm

    It might also be a good idea to note which versions have received, in one edition or another, a Roman Catholic imprimatur.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • Erik August 2, 2010 / 3:49 pm

      Good point. I left that out mostly because it is limited more or less to the ‘Standard’ versions (except the ESV, which I believe was packaged with a different versions Apocrypha for the Anglican church).

    • Steven Avery August 2, 2010 / 10:32 pm

      Hi Folks,

      Afaik, RCC imprimatur has never been granted for any Reformation Bible (TR) edition in any language .. although “Third Millenium” from Deuel, an off-brand altered KJB, tries to appeal to an RCC audience by including the Apocrypha.

      New American Bible
      Revised Standard Version
      New Revised Standard Version
      Jerusalem Bible (not the Koren Publishers OT)
      New Jerusalem Bible
      Good News Translation from the American Bible Society,
      Christian Community Bible

      have received RCC imprimaturs according to the “Catholic Comparative New Testament” by Oxford University Press as of 2005.


    • Andrew Suttles August 4, 2010 / 6:45 am

      Steven –

      As you know, the KJV was originally printed with the Apocrypha.

      An authentic KJV has the Apocrypha today. Oxford still prints several editions in this manner. Lets not forget that the KJV is the official Bible of the State Church of England.

      You say the RCC imprimatur has never been affixed to any RCC Bible, but the Pelikan book you highly recommend includes Douay-Rheims as a Reformation Bible.

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