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DYNAMIC EQUIVALENCY: DEATH KNELL OF PURE SCRIPTURE
By David W. Cloud

Part 1 of 2

Copyright 1990, 1999 by David W. Cloud
1999 Edition
Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, Michigan 48061, fbns@wayoflife.org (e-mail).

TABLE OF CONTENTS

What Is Dynamic Equivalency?
The Principles of Dynamic Equivalency
How Influential Is Dynamic Equivalency?
The Guru of Dynamic Equivalency: Eugene Nida
The Errors of Dynamic Equivalency

 

"I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, to give a reckoning of our doings, that I never altered one syllable of God's Word against my conscience, nor would [I so alter it] this day, if all that is in the earth, whether it be pleasure, honour, or riches, might be given me." --William Tyndale

________________________

Dynamic equivalency is a new concept of Bible translation that was developed over the past four decades and that has dramatically affected the kind of Bibles being produced throughout the world. Dynamic equivalency has spread rapidly within the circles of translation scholars but has been hidden from the average Christian. While working as a foreign missionary in South Asia, I was involved in establishing the principles and guidelines for a Bible translation project. Through this experience, I became familiar with dynamic equivalency, and the more I have learned of this method and its growing influence, the more alarmed I have become.

The new method of Bible translation is also called "common language translation," "idiomatic translation," "impact translation," "indirect transfer translation," and "thought translation." While some would make a distinction between these methods, for the most part they are used synonymously.

The new method of Bible translation is also called "common language translation," "idiomatic translation," "impact translation," "indirect transfer translation," and "thought translation." While some would make a distinction between these methods, for the most part they are used interchangeably.

In English, two examples of this are the Today's English Version (Good News for Modern Man) and the Living Bible. These dynamic equivalency translations illustrate the type of versions being produced by Wycliffe Bible Translators, the United Bible Societies, Living Bibles International, and the International Bible Society, publisher of the New International Version. (The NIV incorporates dynamic equivalency principles, though not as radically as the TEV or Living Bible.) These are the most influential groups in Bible translation work today. (In 1992, the International Bible Society and Living Bibles International merged.)

Many who are familiar with the Today’s English Version and the Living Bible think of them only as "paraphrases" or commentaries and do not take them seriously. In fact, these versions are being called the best Bible translations in the English language by many professional translators and well-known Christian leaders.

The cover jacket to Thomas Nelson’s Good News Study Bible claims: "Today’s English Version is a true translation. It is accurate and faithful to the original texts." An ad in Eternity magazine for June 1983, said the Today’s English Version is "clear and simple to the modern reader yet faithful to the everyday Greek and Hebrew in which it was originally written."

Of the Living Bible, well-known Evangelist Luis Palau represents the thinking of many leaders when he said: "Throughout the world, there is a need for clear and understandable Scriptures. That is why I am sold on the work of Living Bibles International and the kind of Scriptures they are producing. ... The beauty of the Spanish and Portuguese living translations, produced by Living Bibles International, is that they are good translations, trustworthy in content" (Front Line, Living Bibles International: Volume 3, No. 1, 1988, pp. 1,8).

Not only are the TEV and the Living Bible considered accurate English versions, but these frightfully corrupt translations have also become models for translation work in all languages. Surprised? Read on.

To demonstrate how the world of professional translators has adopted the paraphrasing mentality, we quote from Bible Translations for Popular Use by William L. Wonderly. This standard work on dynamic equivalency is published by the United Bible Societies and is used widely by translators.

"Illustrative materials are drawn from different biblical translations but especially from the Spanish Version Popular and the Today’s English Version, which, in this order, are the first two complete New Testaments that have been prepared on the common-language level with the systematic use of these principles" (William L. Wonderly, Bible Translations for Popular Use, London: United Bible Societies, 1968, p. vii).

We can see that the professional translators themselves use the Today’s English Version as an illustration of their principles. We will do the same in our study.

Should the Living Bible Be Used to Illustrate Dynamic Equivalency?

Some who would agree that the Today’s English Version is a dynamic equivalency version, would protest our use of the Living Bible as an illustration of such. They say it is too loose to be called a dynamic equivalency, and they would make a clear distinction between paraphrasing and dynamic equivalency. Even the professional translators acknowledge, though, that though looser than the TEV, the Living Bible does follow dynamic equivalency methodology. Consider another quote from the United Bible Societies’ publication:

"A series of ‘Living’ Scriptures has been prepared in English by Kenneth N. Taylor and circulated widely during recent years. The dust jacket of the first edition of the Epistles denies that it is a translation and insists that it is a paraphrase. ... ACTUALLY, HOWEVER, TAYLOR’S DEFINITION OF PARAPHRASE IS ESSENTIALLY WHAT WE MEAN BY TRANSLATION, as described earlier, since it promises to render the content of the original ‘as exactly as possible’ for its readers. The language of his version is fully contemporary, and relatively free from translationism or interference from the structure of the source language. It is in a language variety between regular and casual, and at a common-language level suitable for readers of fairly limited experience. Theological terms are generally avoided in favor of simpler terms or descriptive phrases, and the grammatical structure is straightforward, although the number of embedded constructions might have been reduced still more in some cases" (Wonderly, Bible Translations for Popular Use, p. 67).

Professional translators consider the Living Bible a dynamic equivalency, and they admit that Living Bible-type paraphrasing is essentially the same as the dynamic equivalency methodology of the TEV. William Wonderly and the United Bible Societies are by no means the only professional translators to acknowledge this. John Beekman, translations coordinator for Wycliffe Bibles International, says, "The Living Bible is the most readable and the most natural English translation available" (William F. Kerr, The Living Bible--Not Just Another Version, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1975).

The kinship between the Living Bible, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and the New International Version was plainly illustrated in 1992 by the merger of Living Bibles International with the International Bible Society, the publisher of the NIV. The International Bible Society's Light Magazine noted:

"The 1992 merger with Living Bibles International brought together the NIV efforts, the Wycliffe/SIL partnership, and IBS and LBI projects worldwide. Partnership with Wycliffe Bible Translators/SIL has helped meet the needs for the world's smaller language groups, and has resulted in the publication of 166 New Testaments and 1283 Scripture publications in 506 languages" (Light Magazine, Special Edition, 1997).

The International Bible Society and Wycliffe have announced "an expansive global Scripture distribution program" called "Let There Be Light." It is intended to be "a unifying global vision all Christians can proclaim." During the six years of the program they intend to jointly produce 50 first edition New Testaments and 150 Scripture portions. All of these will be dynamic equivalency versions along the lines of the Today's English Version/Living Bible model.

It is not wrong, therefore, to use paraphrasing and dynamic equivalency as synonyms, and this is what we do in this study. Our thesis is that the world is being filled with paraphrases, and while not all dynamic equivalency or common language versions are as loose as the Living Bible, all are hopelessly corrupted. The reason is that the methodology is hopelessly corrupted. On its face, "dynamic equivalency" is not necessarily a bad term. One definition of "dynamic" is "energetic, lively, forceful." The term "equivalent" means "equal, or virtually equal in meaning or effect." A dynamic equivalency translation of the Scriptures could, therefore, be a good translation, if this definition were followed. It would be energetic and equal in meaning to the original text. That is what a good translation of the Bible should be.

Dynamic equivalency translations are NOT equal in meaning to the original text, though. The term "dynamic" in modern translation methodology refers not merely to energetic, but to "fluid, changing." The dynamic equivalency translator looks upon a literal version of the Bible as dull and lifeless. He proposes to create a lively Bible by his clever rephrasing of Scripture into colloquial language. "Equivalency" no longer means that the translator strives as perfectly as possible for an equal transfer of the words and structure of the original. Rather, the emphasis is on a general (even vague) equivalency, with the translator having great freedom to restate, change, add to, and take away from the original text.

Dynamic equivalency is a frightfully proud concept. Man is saying that the Word of God is dry, stuffy, unintelligible to modern man, locked in ancient cultural language that no longer holds import to today’s cultures. Man is saying that the Bible translator’s job is to unlock the hidden treasures of this dry book and make it LIVE for TODAY’s people. Hence we have versions called the LIVING Bible and the TODAY’S English Version which is advertised as "The Word of God Alive and Active." This attitude is seen in the words of Kenneth Taylor, author of the Living Bible:

"We take the original thought and convert it into the language of today. ... We can be much more accurate than the verbal translation. ... Once you get the real meaning of the Scriptures, they are life-transforming. ... I felt such a thrill at my own privilege of stripping away some of the verbiage. ... being a co-worker with God in that respect. ... I flipped open my Bible and began to experiment with this new method of translation" (Kenneth Taylor, Evangelism Today, Dec. 1972).

Some Other Names by Which Dynamic Equivalency Is Known

1. Thought or idea translation. The professed aim of dynamic equivalency is to transfer the general thoughts of the original text, not the very words and structure.

2. Paraphrasing. The general thoughts of the Bible are to be rephrased in modern, colloquial language. Some deny that dynamic equivalency is paraphrasing and do not want their common language work to be called paraphrasing. These would want to make a clear distinction between the Living Bible, for example, and the Today’s English Version. As noted earlier, though, we see no significant difference between dynamic equivalency and paraphrasing, or between the Living Bible and the TEV. Both methods and both versions are hopelessly corrupt because they incorporate the wrong methodology (and also because they are based upon the wrong Greek text).

3. Impact translation. Dynamic equivalency attempts to understand exactly how the original hearers of Scripture were impressed and then create the same impression in modern hearers. This is the rationale behind, for example, the Living Bible’s use of gutter and slang language; i.e. "son of a bitch" in I Samuel 20:30 (in early editions; new editions say "Saul boiled with rage. ‘You fool!’") or "out sitting on a toilet" in 1 Kings 18:27. Another example is the use of symbols for explicit language in the new comics published by the United Bible Societies in Asia. The passage in I Samuel 20:30 where Saul is angry with Jonathan and calls him "Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman" is illustrated with a picture of an angry Saul and a comic balloon containing the symbols, "@#!", which, of course, symbolizes expletives or swear words. In the October 1985 issue of the UBS Bible Translator, this comment is made: "This symbolic device is useful in languages where the explicit use of an expletive or swear word would be taboo." This is an example of impact translation. The Bible does not actually use swear words, but dynamic equivalency translators believe they can make the translation more forceful than the original.

4. Idiomatic translation (inculturalization). Dynamic equivalency has also been called idiomatic translation. This refers to the attempt by translators to use the cultural idioms of the language of the people for whom the translation is intended and as much as possible to avoid using the cultural context in which the Bible was written. An example is a Bengali version produced by the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) which is intended primarily for marginally literate Muslim and Hindu readers.

5. Functional equivalence translation. The Director of Translations for the American Bible Society, David Burke, used the expression "functional equivalence" to describe the Contemporary English Version. The American Bible Society announcement said: "The Contemporary English Version differs from other translations in that it is not a word-for-word and sequence-by-sequence rendering which reproduces the syntax of the original texts. Instead, it is an idea-by-idea translation, arranging the Bible’s text in ways understandable to today’s reader of English, which means that while the English rendering must equal the original language in meaning or context, the order of the words and style is determined by today’s English usage, not by the original Greek or Hebrew. Dr. Burke noted that Bible Societies’ translations were the first to develop and use the ‘functional equivalence’ principle" (Record, American Bible Society, June-July 1991, pp. 3-6).

6. Common Language translation. This has become one of the terms most frequently and popularly used to describe the dynamic equivalency versions. "Common language" refers to the attempt of the translators to put the Bible into that range of the receptor language that is common both to the educated and to the uneducated. Lynn Silvernale, translator with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE), describes the common language method of Bible translation as it was used in the ABWE Bengali Bible:

‘It became clear that what we needed to produce was a common language translation,’ using the colloquial form of Bengali and the type of language common to the people. We wanted our translation to be accessible to uneducated readers and yet acceptable to the uneducated. This meant avoiding forms used only in the various local dialects of Bengali, and also avoiding technical and high level language used only by educated people as well as vulgar language used mainly by the uneducated. We had to strive for the area of overlap in the language spoken by all Bengalees (Lynn Silvernale, By the Word, ABWE, 1983, p. 27).

Common language versions, then, aim to put the Bible into the mid-level range of the receptor language, those words and forms common both to the highly educated and to the uneducated. In practice, this means that the literary level of the particular people who speak the language of the new Bible determines that Bible’s language level. The Thai common language version, for example, aimed for the fourth grade level. In theory, a common language version produced for a highly educated people will incorporate a higher language level than a common language version intended for less literate people. This is not necessarily how it works in practice, though. For example, the Dutch easy-to-read version produced by the Netherlands Bible Society was aimed at children 8-12 years old (The Bible Translator, United Bible Societies, October 1987, pp. 421-422). The common educational level of the Dutch people would certainly not be the 8-year-old level. From this, we see that the United Bible Societies are bringing the Bible down to the level of children.

Herein is a great danger and error. It might be possible for an acceptable translation of the Bible to be made in the common language of a highly educated people, since the common language of such people might be high enough to do justice to the original text of Scripture. When an attempt is made to create a Bible in the common language of an illiterate people or to bring it down to a child’s level, though, the translators are forced to make drastic departures from the original text. The Bible was not written in language equal to that of a person who is only moderately or barely literate, and it is not therefore possible to create a version of the Bible in such a low level of language without making unacceptable changes in God’s Word.

We will hasten to add that the common language versions being produced today are not acceptable and accurate translations in any language. This is because there is more to the method of common language translation than the simple goal of reaching a certain literary level. We will describe this more carefully in the following pages.

THE PRINCIPLES OF DYNAMIC EQUIVALENCY

Before we describe how influential the method of dynamic equivalency has become in recent years, we will highlight some of the chief principles involved. These are taken directly from the writings of its promoters. First, though, I want to note three introductory thoughts:

First, there is variation in the degree to which translators follow these principles. Some translators who follow dynamic equivalency are freer than others in loosing themselves from the words and form of the original text; but the difference is only that of degree. The principles remain the same.

Second, as noted, various teachers of dynamic equivalency use different expressions in defining their method. Some prefer idiomatic translation; others, common language. Even so, all or almost all of the following principles, variously stated, will find a place in any course on dynamic equivalency.

Third, these principles are interconnected and overlap one another. We have broken them down this way merely to explain what dynamic equivalency translation is.

Dynamic Equivalency Aims to Translate Thoughts Rather Than Words

Dynamic equivalency seeks to translate basic thoughts rather than words. Consider Kenneth Taylor’s description of his paraphrasing:

"We take the original thought and convert it into the language of today. ... We can be much more accurate than the verbal translation" (Taylor, interview with J.L. Fear, Evangelism Today, December 1972).

The American Bible Society’s Contemporary English Version was produced by the dynamic equivalency method. Note their description of it:

‘The Contemporary English Version differs from other translations in that it is NOT A WORD-FOR-WORD AND SEQUENCE-BY-SEQUENCE rendering which reproduces the syntax of the original texts,’ explained Dr. Burke. ‘Instead, it is an IDEA-BY-IDEA translation, arranging the Bible’s text in ways understandable to today’s reader of English’ (Record, June-July 1991, pp. 3-6).

Those who use dynamic equivalency say they are aiming for a transfer of the same MEANING from the original to the receptor language. They say the original words and form are important only as a vehicle for the meaning; therefore, it is the meaning alone that is truly important in the translation. This is partly true, of course. The meaning of the original Scripture is important. It is not always possible to transfer the exact words and form precisely into the receptor language. The boast by dynamic equivalency proponents that they are faithful to the meaning of the original text of Scripture is false, though. When we examine dynamic equivalency versions, invariably we find that the meaning has been changed as well as the form and words.

A study of such popular English dynamic equivalency versions as the Good News Bible and the Living Bible proves this. Not only have the translators of these versions loosed themselves from the words and form of the original texts, but they have loosed themselves from the very meaning as well. Please keep this in mind when you read statements by these translators. Invariably they profess to remain faithful to the exact meaning of the original text in translation work, but they are not telling the truth. It is impossible to be true to the Word of God while being faithful to dynamic equivalency.

Dynamic Equivalency Aims at the Use of Simple Language
and Style Throughout

In 1970, the Bible Society of India (member of the United Bible Societies) began to produce a dynamic equivalency version (also called "common language") of the Punjabi Bible. This project was completed in 1984. A report announcing the release of the New Punjabi Bible contained a list of the principles that were followed. One of the principles was this: "From the language point of view, it should not have a very high literary standard. The language used should be within the reach of both the highly educated as well as the less educated people" (The North India Churchman, the Church of North India, June 1985, p. 10).

By the Word is a report by missionary Lynn A. Silvernale on the Bengali Common Language Bible produced by the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE). Miss Silvernale was placed in charge of the work in 1966. In her report, Silvernale gives one of the principles followed in this translation:

"Since the literacy rate in Bangladesh was only twenty-one percent when we began the translation, and since that figure included many people who are barely literate and many new readers, we felt that our language level would have to be that which is readily understood by adults who have studied in grade four or five. This level would be understandable to illiterate people hearing it read as well as to people who are able to read but have limited education" (Lynn A. Silvernale, By the Word, pp. 25,26).

A practical look at just how simple dynamic equivalency versions are in their literary style can be seen in this illustration regarding the Dutch Living Bible:

"We met our Dutch coordinator, Berno Ramaker and his wife Ruth. They are currently testing portions of our soon-to-be released Dutch Living Bible. School groups are being quizzed on four different Bible translations, including the Living Bible, to make sure our edition communicates effectively. ... The book of Genesis was produced in an attractive format last year as a promotion tool for the complete Bible. Acceptance has been enthusiastic. Even before Genesis was released, the 13-year-old son of a reviewer on the project found the manuscript on his father’s desk. After reading for awhile, he went to his father and said, ‘Hey, Dad, I read this manuscript and for the first time I can understand a book of the Bible from the first verse to the last!’" (Thought for Thought, Living Bibles International, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1985, p. 3).

Note that the translators of this dynamic equivalency version in Dutch tested its value by the attitude of young readers. It was aimed at the level of an eight- to twelve-year-old child and was tested by school groups. The report does not mention if the young people are saved or if they had any spiritual discernment whatsoever. How unreasonable to test the trustworthiness of a Bible version by the reaction of youth, particularly spiritually undiscerning youth! It might seem wonderful that the 13-year-old boy could read Genesis through and understand it, but consider what this means. The Bible is filled with things that are difficult to understand even for the most mature pastor. How then was it possible for a 13-year-old to understand it perfectly? It was possible only because the Dutch Living Bible has been simplified far beyond the form and meaning of the original text.

Yes, the dynamic equivalency versions are easy to read and understand, as easy as the morning newspaper, but how many times does an individual read his morning newspaper? How closely does an individual ponder every word of the morning newspaper? Simplicity is wonderful, but this is not the foremost goal of Bible translation. The goal is faithfulness to God’s holy, eternal words. ABWE missionary Lynn Silvernale’s objective to produce a Bible on the language level of the barely literate people of Bangladesh sounds wonderful. Since my wife and I were also missionaries in an Asian country, among a people even less literate than those of Bangladesh, we readily sympathize with Miss Silvernale’s desire to produce a Bible that the average reader can understand. The problem is this: The Bible is God’s Word, written in words chosen by God, in a language form chosen by God; and the original words and language of the Bible, as a whole, are not on a grade four reading level! For a translator to produce such a Bible necessitates changing God’s Word from its original form. It is one thing to restate passages of Scripture in simple language for children or the barely literate in a "children’s storybook." It is another thing entirely to attempt to translate the Bible itself into children’s language and to present such a project as an accurate Bible. In the first example, the readers understand that the children’s storybook is not really a Bible and that the Scriptures contained therein have been simplified and paraphrased to make them understandable for children. Such a book is not looked upon as a real Bible and no harm is done. To rephrase the Scripture in such a format is a logical and proper aspect of teaching the Bible to various audiences. In the latter example, though, the readers assume that the common language or paraphrase Bible is a real Bible and that it accurately translates the original Greek and Hebrew text. Sadly, this is not the case, and the readers are therefore deceived.

Dynamic Equivalency Aims to Make the Bible Entirely
Understandable to Non-Christians

The dynamic equivalency translation is supposed to be understood by non-Christians. Again, we quote from the principles that were used by the Bible Society of India for the New Punjabi Bible:

"It should be such that readers other than Christians also could understand without any difficulty" (The North India Churchman, June 1985, p. 10).

It is often argued that dynamic equivalency or common language versions, though not suitable for detailed Bible study, are excellent evangelistic tools. The changes made in these versions are supposedly justified in order to simplify God’s Word for this aim. We do not accept this. Consider the following thoughts along this line:

First, God’s Word is not to be changed for any reason, not even for evangelism.

"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Rev. 22:18,19).

"Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar" (Prov. 30:5,6).

The job in evangelism is to explain the Bible through preaching, personal witnessing, gospel literature, etc. Evangelism does not allow us to dilute the Scripture so it reads like the morning newspaper, a popular novel, or a children’s Bible storybook. This is to confuse the job of the translator with that of the evangelist.

The Ethiopian eunuch was reading from the book of Isaiah and could not understand what he read. It was Philip the evangelist’s job to explain the Scriptures to this man (Acts 8:26-33). If Philip had believed the theories of dynamic equivalency he no doubt would have returned home after this experience and would have rewritten and simplified the book of Isaiah! Was it not obvious that the sincere but unsaved Ethiopian had not been able to understand the Bible? Was it not obvious that many other men must be in the same condition as this Ethiopian? Was it not obvious that there are not enough evangelists to speak personally to every lost person and to explain the Bible for them? Well, then, we must reword the Bible and change its difficult, antiquated words so that the non-Christian can pick it up and understand it without difficulty. Certainly, this would please God. Such is the thinking of those who promote dynamic equivalency.

Philip and the early Christian leaders would have had their hands cut off rather than tamper with God’s holy words. That Book is Holy! It is right to inscribe "Holy Bible" on the cover of this book, because God’s name is holy and reverend (Psa. 111:9), and God has magnified His Word even above His name (Psa. 138:2). If God’s name is holy and reverend and God has magnified His Word above all His name, then His Word is even holier and more reverend than His very name! Woe unto those who tamper with this unspeakably Holy Book.

The right attitude about Bible translation was expressed by William Tyndale, translator of the first English New Testament based upon the Greek text.

"I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, to give a reckoning of our doings, that I NEVER ALTERED ONE SYLLABLE OF GOD'S WORD against my conscience, nor would [I so alter it] this day, if all that is in the earth, whether it be pleasure, honour, or riches, might be given me" (William Tyndale).

Tyndale’s attitude toward Bible translation is a great contrast to that of large numbers of modern Bible translators!

Second, men are born again through incorruptible seed, and paraphrases are corrupt.

"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Pet. 1:23).

It is the pure Word of God by which men experience a supernatural new birth. The Good News Bible, the Living Bible, and other dynamic equivalent versions (to varying degrees) are corrupted, changed, weakened renderings of the Scriptures. They should not, therefore, be used even for evangelistic purposes.

Some will doubtless argue that people are being saved through the common language versions. We will not deny this. God yearns for men to be saved, and, bless His name, we believe He does save men through weak Bible translations as long as they contain the Gospel message. Men and women have been saved through Catholic Bibles that contain grave corruptions. This does not mean, of course, that God thereby puts His stamp of approval upon unsound Bible translations or upon methods such as dynamic equivalency. Men have been saved through the witness and preaching of professing Christians who were themselves not born again. Others have been saved through the instrumentality of carnal Christians. God saves people through weak Bible translations and the witness of unregenerate or carnal Christian workers in spite of them, not because of them.

It also has been our observation that the converts won through weak Bible versions and compromising evangelistic ministries tend to be weak converts. Compromise produces compromise. Corruption produces corruption. This is a major reason why those won to Christ through New Evangelical ministries normally remain happily affiliated with New Evangelicalism in spite of its obviously unscriptural principles.

Third, paraphrases produce confusion in the minds of those who read them.

"For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" (1 Cor. 14:33).

When a person reads a Common Language version, thinking it is a faithful translation of the Bible, he often becomes very confused at the difference between his paraphrase and an accurate Bible translation. We witnessed this when a young man from Switzerland began attending our church meetings in Kathmandu, Nepal. He had lived a hippie kind of life, traveling here and there, eventually making a profession of faith in Christ in India. When we met him, he was using a Good News Bible and was utterly confused and frustrated by the different meaning he observed in the King James Bible, Luther’s German Bible, and the standard Nepali Bible which were being used in our services. "Why does my Bible say this and the other versions say something different?" he would ask. "But my Bible doesn’t say that," he would argue when we were discussing doctrinal matters.

The confusion was caused by an unfaithful paraphrase and it was a great hindrance in the man’s spiritual life. Again, I want to repeat my firm conviction that the Bible Societies and other organizations have done a great evil in perpetrating their dynamic equivalent versions. I would not for the world stand in the shoes of the men who have been involved in this wicked deed and appear before God to account for the untold confusion which has resulted from carelessness and presumption toward His eternal Word.

Dynamic Equivalency Avoids Traditional Ecclesiastical Terms

This was stated in the principles used by the Bible Society of India to produce the New Punjabi Bible:

"In this translation the traditional language should be avoided" (The North India Churchman, June 1985, p. 10).

It is this principle which has resulted in the Today’s English Version’s obliteration of such "churchy" terms as "justification," "sanctification," "saint," "redemption," "propitiation," "elder," "deacon" and "bishop." Terms such as these have been changed to ones the unsaved can understand, even when this has meant changing or weakening the meaning.

The Contemporary English Version is one of the most recently completed dynamic equivalency versions, and its translation of the "traditional" Bible words illustrates this trend. Consider the following examples from this version:

Revelation 22:21
KJV: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all"
CEV: "I pray that the Lord Jesus will be kind to all of you."

Ephesians 2:8
KJV: "For by grace are ye saved through faith"
CEV: "You were saved by faith in God’s kindness."

Philippians 1:1
KJV: "with the bishops and deacons"
CEV: "to all of your church officials and officers."

Philippians 1:1
KJV: "the saints in Christ"
CEV: "all of God’s people who belong to Christ Jesus."

Romans 3:10
KJV: "none righteous"
CEV: "none acceptable to God."

Romans 3:24
KJV: "being justified freely"
CEV: "he freely accepts us."

1 Corinthians 6:11
KJV: "but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God"
CEV: "But now the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the power of God’s Spirit have washed you and made you acceptable to God."

Consider some other examples that are given in Bible Translations for Popular Use by William L. Wonderly. This book was published by the United Bible Societies and is a standard work on dynamic equivalency methods.

In Ephesians 1:15 "saints" is translated "those who belong to God" in the French common language (CL) version. While the term "saints" has something to do with belonging to God, that is a poor translation and weakens the meaning.

In John 1:14 "full of grace and truth" becomes "full of love and truth" in the Spanish CL version. Grace and love are both glorious Bible words, but they don’t mean the same thing and they are not interchangeable.

In Romans 5:20 "grace did much more abound" becomes "the kindness of God was very much greater" in the Spanish CL version. The term "grace" means much more than the kindness of God.

In Romans 1:5 "By whom we have received grace and apostleship" becomes "God has given us the privilege of being sent" in the Spanish CL version.

In 2 Corinthians 8:6 "finish in you this same grace also" becomes "this kind offering" in the Spanish CL version. This is extremely weak.

In Galatians 2:9 "perceived the grace that was given unto me" becomes "recognized that God had given me this special task" in the TEV.

In Acts 13:39 "And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" is translated, "It is by means of him that all those who believe are forgiven of all that which under the law of Moses had no forgiveness" in the Spanish CL version.

The problem here is two-fold: First, the terms chosen to replace the original Bible words do not communicate the exact meaning of the original words. "Saints" means more than those who belong to God. "Grace" means more than kindness or favor or privilege. "Justification" means more than forgiven. Secondly, the entire idea that these terms are ecclesiastical or churchy is erroneous. They are the terms by which God chose to communicate the Truth. They are heavenly terms, and have only become known as church terms because they were given to the church and are held to be precious by God’s people. More will be said about this, but now we want to proceed quickly to a fifth principle of dynamic equivalency.

Dynamic Equivalency Adapts the Wording of the Translation to the Culture of the Receptor People

In describing the dynamic equivalency theories of Eugene Nida, Jakob Van Bruggen notes the emphasis on adapting the message of the Scriptures to the culture of the people:

According to the advocates of dynamic equivalence, real communication is broken when the difference between biblical and modern culture is not considered. Nida writes, ‘Similarly, in the biblical account, the holy kiss, the wearing of veils, women speaking in the church, and wrestling with an angel all have different meanings than in our own culture’ (E. Nida, Message and Missions, p. 41). According to Nida, Jacob’s struggle with the angel is being interpreted psychoanalytically or mythologically (Nida, pp. 41-42). He considers the cultural pattern so dominant that the translation should never be a mere transmitter of the words of the message. There is no formal equivalence between the original message and the translated message. What is needed is not a static equivalency but a dynamic equivalency (Jakob Van Bruggen, Future of the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1978, p. 70).

This faulty thinking has led to all sorts of changes in the Word of God. Those who promote dynamic equivalency usually emphasize that are completely faithful to the meaning of the original text, but this simply is not true. THOUGH DYNAMIC EQUIVALENCY PROPONENTS CLAIM TO HONOR THE MEANING OF THE BIBLE TEXT, IN PRACTICE THEY DO NOT! IN PRACTICE THEY CHANGE, TWIST, AND PERVERT SCRIPTURE. I know this is hard language, folks, but it is true and it needs to be said. The Bible is a serious book. It is one thing to modify the words of a man’s book; it is another thing to modify God’s book.

A man working on the translation of a dynamic equivalency version of the Bible into a tribal language spoken in northeast India has reasoned as follows: This tribe has never sacrificed lambs, but they have sacrificed roosters (cocks) to their gods in days past. Therefore, we must translate John’s testimony as follows: "Behold the cock of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." Evangelist Maken Sanglir of Nagaland gave us this illustration of Bible translation work in northeast India. While most dynamic equivalency translators would not go this far in changing the Bible, this type of thing has been done using this methodology.

Another example of adapting the Bible’s language to today’s cultural situations was related to me by the head of the Bible Society in Nepal. He told me about a United Bible Societies translation that was done in a part of the world in which the people had not seen snow. The translators decided to translate Isaiah 1:18, "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as the inside of a coconut."

In a United Bible Societies translation in the Ulithian language of the South Pacific, "dove" was changed to a local bird called a gigi ("Mog Mog and the Fig Tree," Record, Nov. 1987, pp. 6-7).

Further examples of this are given in Translating the Word of God by John Beekman and John Callow, of Wycliffe Bible Translators:

Matt. 8:20--"foxes" was translated "coyotes" in the Mazahua language of Mexico.

Mark 4:21--"on a candlestick" was translated "on a grain bin" in the Korku language of India.

Lk. 9:62--"plough" was translated "hoe" in the Carib language of Central America.

Lk. 12:24--"storehouse" was translated "basket" in the Villa Alta Zapotec language of Mexico.

Matt. 20:22--"the cup" was translated "pain" in the Copainala Zoque of Mexico.

Matt. 10:34--"a sword" was translated "there will be dissension among the people" in the Mazahua language of Mexico.

Acts 22:22--"away with such a fellow from the earth" was translated "kill him" in the Otomi language of Mexico.

Consider some other examples of the way these versions change the Word of God to conform with culture. The following illustrations were given to us by Ross Hodsdon of Bibles International, formerly with Wycliffe:

In a translation for Eskimos in Alaska, "lamb" was replaced with "seal pup."

In a translation in the Makusi language of Brazil, "son of man" was replaced with "older brother."

In another Wycliffe translation "fig tree" was replaced with "banana tree."

We believe this type of thing is wrong. When one departs from the principle of a formal or literal translation, the mind of the translator and the culture and understanding of the people become the authority rather than the actual words of Scripture.

It is important to emphasize that we are not talking about an interlinear type of wooden literalness, but about an unwavering commitment to the actual wording of the Bible text.

From these few examples, you see how far-removed the "dynamic equivalency" rendering can be from the original text. Dynamic equivalency allows translators the strange liberty to change, delete from, and add to the Word of God.

Those using dynamic equivalency do not hesitate to change God’s Words in order to relate to modern cultures, but we must remember that God is the Author of History. He made the nations and "hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation" (Acts 17:26). The prophet Daniel knew this, as he testified, "Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding" (Dan. 2:20-21).

God was not caught off guard when the Scriptures were given in a certain period of history to a certain people within a certain culture. God ordained that His Word would be delivered through the cultural and historical situations through which it was given. God created the Hebrew and Greek languages as vehicles for the transmission of His eternal Word to man. Further, God created the nation Israel through which to deliver the Old Testament Scriptures, and God created the Roman empire into which Jesus Christ came to be the atonement for man’s sin, and God created the church through which to communicate the mysteries of the New Testament Scriptures. The cultural terminology of the Bible is not incidental to the communication of God’s Word; it is an essential part of the communication.

The cultural terminology of the Bible, such as that pertaining to farming and slavery, is to be translated carefully from the original text as God gave it, then it is to be explained by evangelists and preachers. It is not the job of the Bible translator to become the evangelist and preacher in the process of his work as a translator. Of course, the translator can add explanatory footnotes if he so desires and by this means give definitions of the words used in the translation. He can also make dictionaries and commentaries and other teaching tools to be used in conjunction with his Bible translation. This is certainly wiser than presuming the liberty to change God’s Word, and it has been the method followed by godly translators of old.

Dynamic Equivalency Assumes That the Bible Was Written in Language Easily Understood by the People Then Living

A basic assumption underlying the theory of dynamic equivalency is that the Bible was written in language easily understood to the people then living. Consider this statement by ABWE missionary translator Lynn Silvernale:

"The spiritual truth of Scripture was originally written in clear natural language which was intelligible to its readers. Its language conformed to the idiomatic usage of the native speakers of the time in which it was written. However, the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit was necessary to enable the original readers to grasp that spiritual truth, because spiritual truth must be spiritually discerned. When people today read a translation of the Bible, the only barrier they should have to encounter is the spiritual one, not a linguistic one which stems from the use of unnatural and difficult language" (Silvernale, By the Word, pp. 36,37).

Miss Silvernale was restating something she learned from one of the chief promoters of dynamic equivalency--John Beekman, translation coordinator with Wycliffe Bible Translators. In Translating the Word of God, a book co-authored by Beekman and John Callow, we read this basic assumption that underlies these faulty theories of translation: "The naturalness of the translation and the ease with which it is understood should be comparable to the naturalness of the original and to the ease with which the recipients of the original documents understood them" (p. 34).

Jakob Van Bruggen tells us that "Beekman and Callow simply presuppose that the linguistic form of the original was natural and not difficult. They write that Paul, Peter, John, James, Luke and the others wrote clearly and were readily understood by their first-century readers" (Jakob Van Bruggen, The Future of the Bible, p. 111).

Let us return to Silvernale’s statement. Upon closer investigation it will be seen that it is a subtle mixture of truth and error. It is not completely true that the "Scripture was originally written in clear natural language which was intelligible to its readers," nor that "its language conformed to the idiomatic usage of the native speakers of the time in which it was written." We will consider this more fully later, but here it should be sufficient to point out that even the writers of the Bible themselves did not always understand what they were speaking! This is stated in 1 Peter 1:10-11. The Apostle Peter acknowledged that some of the writings of Paul were "hard to be understood" (2 Pet. 3:16). The parables of the Lord Jesus Christ had a two-fold purpose--to reveal truth to believers and to hide truth from unbelievers. "Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.... Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand" (Matt. 13:10-13).

It is not true, then, that the original Scriptures in their entirety were clear to the native speakers of that day.

It is also not true that all of the idioms of the original Scriptures were those of the native speakers at the time of writing. The Law of Moses was given by revelation from God on Mt. Sinai and much of it was foreign even to the Israelites at the time of its reception. This is true as well for many other parts of Scripture—i.e., the Priesthood, the Tabernacle, and the Church. These were revelations from Heaven and did not conform to any earthly cultural setting.

When, therefore, Silvernale says that the only barrier people should have in reading a translation today is a spiritual one and not a literary one, she is only partially correct. It is true that we should strive to make Bible translations as clear as possible. UNNECESSARY obscurity should not be introduced through a Bible translation; but if the people to whom the Bible was originally committed did not understand much of it and if much of it was foreign even to their ancient cultures, how could we possibly expect to overcome this in modern versions of the Bible without unjustified changes?

We see, then, that this foundational assumption of dynamic equivalency is in error. It is no wonder that the superstructure built upon this faulty foundation is heretical.

HOW INFLUENTIAL IS DYNAMIC EQUIVALENCY?

I think many will be surprised to learn that the dynamic equivalency method of Bible translation has gained almost total ascendancy among the world’s most influential translation groups. Consider some facts:

The United Bible Societies (UBS)

According to an EP News Service report of August 18, 1984, the United Bible Societies produce nearly 80% of the world’s Scriptures. In 1983, the Bible Societies disseminated more than 497 million copies of the Scriptures (EP News Service, May 5, 1984). The American Bible Society, which pays almost one-half of the United Bible Societies’ budget, owns the copyright to the Today’s English Version. This is their baby. They have sold more than 80 million copies of it and they have determined that from now on, all of their new translations will be based on the dynamic equivalency principles underlying the Today’s English Version. This was stated in the UBS publication Bible Translator, No. 23, 1972, pages 220, 223. This was further confirmed by correspondence with Bible Society leaders. In August 1987, I received a letter from British and Foreign Bible Society leader Geoff Horner. He wrote, "...virtually all translations being carried out at present directly by UBS are CLT’s [common language translations]."

This statement becomes even more significant when we consider that as of 1997 the United Bible Societies were involved in translation work in 681 languages.

To further illustrate how strongly the TEV is promoted by the Bible Societies, we refer to the 1987 catalog for the British and Foreign Bible Society. Of the Bibles and Scripture portions listed, 272 are TEV, while only 34 are the KJV.

Robert Bratcher, chief translator of the TEV, is a principal translation coordinator for the United Bible Societies and trains men in dynamic equivalency methods. Like Eugene Nida, Bratcher is a theological liberal, as are practically all the men who have developed the principles of dynamic equivalency or common language translation. This will be shown later in the article.

We see that the enormous resources of the UBS are almost wholly dedicated to the production of the dynamic equivalency or Today’s English Version-type translations.

Living Bibles International

As of 1990 more than 36 million copies of the Living Bible in all editions had been sold" (Charisma, December 1990, p. 5). When an edition of the Living Bible was marketed through secular booksellers, it sold two million copies the first year (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 20, 1985).

Its coffers full through the sale of Living Bibles, LBI has dedicated its vast resources to the production of the equivalent of the Living Bible in non-English languages. Their goal is massive. Living Bibles International was determined to produce the Living Bible in every major language of the world by 1992.

Wycliffe Bible Translators

Wycliffe Bible Translators has also adopted the dynamic equivalency method of translation. This is the method they teach at their schools and the method their workers are using on the fields. Wycliffe supports the Today’s English Version and the dynamic equivalency method underlying it. The fonts they developed for laser printers in the 1980s were distributed with a sample text file of the book of Titus from the Today’s English Version. John Beekman, translations coordinator for the worldwide ministry of Wycliffe, made the following statement about the Living Bible:

"The Living Bible is the most readable and the most natural English translation available. The fast-growing ministry of Living Bibles International is worthy of the prayer support of all of us" (William F. Kerr, The Living Bible--Not Just Another Version).

How influential is Wycliffe? According to an undated brochure published by Wycliffe and distributed at the July 1987 North American Congress on the Holy Spirit and World Evangelization, Wycliffe has been involved in a total of 1,105 language translation projects. The New Testament has been completed in more than 250 languages and more than 800 translation projects are in progress.

This represents a massive influence, but Wycliffe’s influence is even greater. They are responsible for training professional Bible translators from other groups, including those with the United Bible Societies, with denominational translation projects, even some fundamentalist groups. This vast influence is gained through their Summer Institute of Linguistics training school in Texas and the various programs associated with it. Some Wycliffe people have written training materials used broadly by professional translators. Eugene Nida, the guru of dynamic equivalency, started his ministry with Wycliffe in the 1930s, though for many decades he has been a chief translation consultant with the United Bible Societies. John Beekman and John Callow, both with Wycliffe, have authored materials on dynamic equivalency, which are used widely by professional translators across denominational and doctrinal lines. Many others could be mentioned.

Through these materials, the Summer Institute of Linguistics, and the translation labors of their workers, Wycliffe’s influence is massive.

Billy Graham

Graham gave his support to both the Today’s English Version and the Living Bible as soon as they were published. Of the Living Bible, Graham said: "In this book I have read the age-abiding truths of the Scriptures with renewed interest and inspiration, as though coming to me directly from God. This paraphrase communicates the message of Christ to our generation" (Perry F. Rockwood, God’s Inspired Preserved Bible, The People’s Gospel Hour, p. 50). When the Living Letters (Living Bible version of the New Testament epistles) appeared, Graham ordered 500,000 copies for distribution to his telecast audience (Time, July 24, 1972). Later, he ordered 600,000 special paperback versions for his autumn television crusade in 1972 (M.L. Moser, Jr., The Case Against the Living Bible, p. 9). Graham gave Living Bibles (in various languages) to each of the evangelists who attended the International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam, both in 1983 and in 1986. "The Holy Bible" was stamped on the cover, and Graham called it "the Word of God" (Calvary Contender, Sept. 15, 1986). The combined number of evangelists attending the two conferences was 12,000. Imagine what a vast influence this had in the promotion of dynamic equivalency translation. During Graham’s 1986 Mission England crusade, 10,000 copies of the Living Bible New Testament were distributed (Ibid.).

The Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) purchased millions of copies of the Today’s English Version for distribution through its congregations. It even published its own version of the TEV, called the Broadman Press Special Edition, under license of the American Bible Society. Perhaps this is not too surprising when we consider that Robert Bratcher, chief translator of the TEV, is a Southern Baptist. He was reared in the home of Southern Baptist missionaries in Brazil and earned his degrees in Southern Baptist seminaries. Before he translated the TEV and worked with the United Bible Societies, Bratcher returned to Brazil as a Southern Baptist missionary, taught in the SBC seminary in Rio de Janeiro, and edited a Southern Baptist paper in Spanish.

SBC support for dynamic equivalency theories of translation are also seen in endorsements of the Living Bible by professors in SBC seminaries:

"The Living Bible is one of the finest aids to Bible study that I have come across. I recommend it highly to Sunday School teachers and others who sincerely want to get at the meaning of the Scriptures" (Dr. Curtis Vaughan, Professor of New Testament, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, The Living Bible--Not Just Another Version, edited by William F. Kerr).

"I am greatly impressed by your remarkable ability to capture the sense of the Biblical writers in your strikingly clear paraphrase. The Living Bible will certainly make a tremendous contribution to the spiritual life of many who will use it either for devotional reading or serious study" (Dr. J. Terry Young, School of Theology, New Orleans Baptist Seminary, ibid.).

Charles Ryrie, Dallas Theological Seminary

Dr. Ryrie conducted a seminar at the 1982 Congress sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, San Diego, California. An official press release gave the following report of Dr. Ryrie’s remarks: "Ryrie rated the various Bible translations on the basis of accuracy and readability. He gave high ratings for accuracy to the King James Version, the New American Standard Bible and the Revised Standard Version. For readability, Ryrie recommended the New International Version, Phillips Modern English and the Living Bible. He advised readers to determine their purpose in choosing in a particular translation. ‘They may have to choose between accuracy and readability,’ he cautioned" (Foundation, Fundamental Evangelistic Association, Los Osos, Calif., May-June 1982, p. 8).

Bill Bright, Campus Crusade for Christ

"The Living Bible is one of God’s greatest gifts to our generation. I read and study The Living Bible daily with great personal benefit and blessing" (Bill Bright, cited in The Living Bible--Not Just Another Version).

As a speaker at the 1982 Congress sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, San Diego, California, Bright carried a copy of the Living Bible and quoted from it (Foundation, May-June 1982, p. 8).

Youth for Christ

"Reach Out is an illustrated edition of The Living Bible as developed by the editors of Campus Life magazine, Youth for Christ International" (M.L. Moser, Jr., The Case Against the Living Bible, p. 16).

Marvin K. Mayers, Wheaton College

In the following statement, Mayers reveals the attitude which has become frightfully predominant among a vast number of Bible translators worldwide: "The Living Bible has become a model for translations throughout the world where Bible translators are striving to present the Bible in the language of the members of specific ethnic-linguistic groups" (The Living Bible--Not Just Another Version).

World Vision

The former head of World Vision, Ted Engstrom, says of the Living Bible: "One of the most rewarding--and may I even say exciting--ministries of our day is that of Living Bibles International in making contemporary translations of the Scriptures available in many languages beyond English to hosts of language groups. There is no work more important than Scripture distribution and I commend LBI in its ministry of translation and distribution of the Word of God in this manner" (Thought for Thought, Vol. 3 No. 2, 1982).

Thomas F. Zimmerman, Former General Superintendent, Assemblies of God

"Providing God’s Word in the language of the common man has been the goal of Living Bibles International since its inception. This worthwhile aim is of paramount importance today as the Church seeks to fulfill the Great Commission of taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every creature. God’s Word, the Bible, contains the answer to the questions people ask. The Word of God directs us to Jesus Christ who may become our Savior. Living Bibles International performs a vital service to God’s kingdom by providing His Word in easy-to-understand language" (Zimmerman, Ibid.).

Robert Schuller

"If we are to spread the Word of God around the world, then we must send Bibles everywhere in languages people understand. I fully endorse Living Bibles International and the vital work it is accomplishing in distributing Bibles around the world" (Schuller, Ibid.).

Ralph Winter, Fuller Seminary

"A paraphrase is capable of far greater accuracy than a translation forced to be literal. Take The Living Bible for example, instead of quarreling about this or that verse, let’s admit the method of translation is superior. Just ask the professional translator!" (Winter, The Living Bible--Not Just Another Version).

Harold J. Ockenga

"The Living Bible has proved that modern man will read the Bible in a translation which he can understand. I rejoice to see the Living Bible is being printed in other languages" (Ockenga, God’s Inspired Preserved Bible).

Harold Lindsell

Though Lindsell was a member of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, he was a supporter of the dynamic equivalency method of translation. He published The Lindsell Study Bible--The Living Bible! In an announcement of this volume, Lindsell says: "The Living Bible makes clearer what other translations render obscure. ... I recommend it highly" (Lindsell, cited by Foundation, January-February, 1981, p. 18).

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From these examples, it is clear that the theory of dynamic equivalency has gained widespread popularity. Of course, this is by no means the full picture. Many other illustrations of dynamic equivalency’s popularity could be given. We are dealing with something that has enormous and growing influence throughout the world. A paraphrasing mentality has permeated the world of Bible translation and has gained a strong foothold of respectability within Evangelical circles.

Dynamic Equivalency: Death Knell of Pure Scripture Part 2 of 2