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Introduction to Easy-to-Read text

The New Testament: A New Easy-to-Read Version, published by Baker Book House, was produced by Word Bible Translation Center in 1978. The complete Bible in the Easy-to-Read Version was produced in 1987.

This translation of the Scriptures was originally prepared to meet the special needs of the deaf community and is also published by Baker under the title English Version for the Deaf. However, due to the expressed interest of those desiring to use the EVD with non-deaf groups, such as children, foreign speakers of English, etc., Baker decided to publish it in a format that makes no reference to its original purpose.

The fact that this version was aimed at the deaf will help to explain its unique characteristics. A person unfamiliar with the problems faced by the deaf in reading standard English may puzzle over some of the special features of this version, such as short sentences, restricted vocabulary, and frequent repetition. He may wonder why certain passages are rendered as they are. He may, however, be assured that, if a particular text seems a bit unusual, the reason behind it most likely has to do with effective communication to the deaf. A constant concern of the translators was to communicate the message of the original in a way that the deaf could readily understand. This resulted in a translation that is quite different from standard English versions but is easily understood, not only by the deaf but by others as well.

Most of the first-draft work was done by a two-man team comprised of Ervin Bishop, a Greek scholar, and Benton Dibrell, a deaf-language specialist. The objective was to express as accurately as possible the message of the original text in an English style that the average deaf person could understand without too much difficulty. This required a carefully chosen vocabulary and special syntax that would approximate the sign language used by the deaf and, at the same time, adequately express the meaning of the original.

Because of the complexity of this process and the unique relationship that had to exist between the Greek translator and the deaf-language specialist, it was found impractical for more than two persons to be involved in the production of the initial draft. This first draft, however, was submitted to other scholars who carefully compared the translation with the Greek text and made written critiques. Among those who examined the text and offered their suggestions were Dr. Harvey Floyd, head of the Department of Biblical Languages at David Lipscomb University, and Dr. Everett Ferguson, professor of Greek and Church History at Abilene Christian University.

The object of the above procedure was to rid the translation of errors and to protect against individual or biased interpretations. The translators recognize, however that there is no such thing as a perfect translation. This should be obvious from even a cursory examination of a few major committee translations. A comparison of a single chapter will reveal numerous differences of both expression and sense. A group is just as subject to bias as any individual, and sometimes more so, especially if the members of the group share a common point of view.

Any endeavor for which humans are responsible is subject to human error, and the translation of the Scriptures is no exception. The translators of the EVD/ERV do not imagine that they achieved perfection in their work, but they pray that the results will enable the reader to perceive the truthto both understand and to accept God’s intended message.

The principles governing the work were basically the same as those set forth in several books by Eugene Nida of the American Bible Society and advocated more recently by John Beekman and John Callow of Wycliffe Bible Translators in their book, Translating the Word of God. Those who worked on the EVD/ERV followed conservatively the approach to translation that Nida calls “dynamic equivalence,” referred to by Beekman as “idiomatic” translation. Within the limitations placed upon the translators by the particular needs of the deaf, their objective was the same as that put forward by Beekman as the appropriate aim of any translation:

“… the goal should be a translation that is so rich in vocabulary, so idiomatic in phrase, so correct in construction, so smooth in flow of thought, so clear in meaning, and so elegant in style, that it does not appear to be a translation at all, and yet, at the same time, faithfully transmits the message of the original.”

It is obvious that, in some of the above areas, the EVD/ERV cannot fairly be compared with most other English translations. For example, it does not represent for most readers an “elegant” style of English. It should not be evaluated, however, by comparison with standard English versions. It should be judged only on the basis of how well it communicates the message of the original to its intended audience. To the deaf, to children, and to others at similar levels of language development, the EVD/ERV will seem “elegant” when compared to more difficult versions that do not flow smoothly for them, obscuring the meaning and leaving them untouched by the power of God’s word.

One of the basic presuppositions governing the work on the EVD/ERV was that good translation is good communication. The fundamental concern of the translators was always to communicate to the deaf the message of the New Testament writers as effectively and as naturally as their original writings did to the people of the first century. Faithful translation, in their view, is not an exercise in matching words in a dictionary, but rather a process of expressing the original message in a form that will not only have the same meaning, but will sound as relevant, evoke the same interest, and have the same impact today as it did 1900 years ago.

Effective communication, then, was a high priority for the translators of the EVD/ERV. This, of course, did not diminish the primary concern for accuracy. But “accuracy” was understood as the faithful representation of ideas, not the exact correspondence of formal linguistic features. Since no two languages share the same structure, it is a vain exercise to attempt to fit one language into the mold of another. Although the results of such an attempt might bear some external likeness to the original, it most often results in a distortion of the message. (For example, the literal translation of the statement from the gospels, “God is not a God of the dead, but of the living,” in many languages has conveyed the sense that God has nothing to do with people after they have died, but cares only for the living!)

The translators of the EVD/ERV used a particular style of English as a tool to express the truths of the Scriptures, not to mimic the structure of the Greek language. The only characteristics of New Testament Greek that the translators endeavored to retain were the principles of good communication in evidence behind the linguistic form of the New Testament writings. Beekman describes this as follows:

The linguistic form of the original was natural and meaningful. It did not represent a grammatical or lexical structure that was impossible or discouragingly difficult to understand but one that was already in use by the people in everyday conversation. This feature of the original text gave it a dynamic quality which must also be preserved in a faithful translation.

The New Testament writers were interested in good communication, and the translators of the EVD/ERV considered that an important precedent to follow. So they worked to convey to their special audience the meaning of the New Testament text in a form that would be simple and natural. They used language that, instead of working as a barrier to understanding, would provide a key to unlock the truths of the Scriptures to a large segment of the English-speaking world, to many perhaps for the first time.

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