Choosing a Bible used to be an easy task. Only a few decades ago there were only two or three translations to choose from, giving a person very little in the way of options. The situation today is far different. We are inundated with translations of Scripture and it seems that a major new translation hits the store shelves every couple of years. Terms like “dynamic equivalent,” “formal equivalent,” and “paraphrase” are tossed around but few people have any real sense of what they mean. Christians purchase Bibles expecting that what they are reading is truly the Word of God. But is it?
Leland Ryken has written extensively on the subject of Bible translations. His book The Word of God in English, which I have reviewed here, was foundational in my life as I attempted to come to terms with the multitudes of translation options available to me. I have since read an excellent essay he wrote for a recent book Translating Truth. Choosing A Bible is a short book, weighing in at only 30 pages, that provides a highly-compressed version of the most important arguments from The Word of God in English and his contribution to Translating Truth. Ryken seeks to show quickly and convincingly that Christians deserve and ought to desire nothing less than an essentially literal translation of the Bible.
The format of the book is simple. He begins by showing how Bible translations differ from each other. He writes about the goal of translation and compares thought-for-thought with word-for-word. He then provides five negative effects of dynamic equivalent (or thought-for-thought) translations. They are:
- Taking liberties in translation
- Destabilization of the text
- What the Bible “means” vs. what the Bible says
- Falling short of what we should expect
- A logical and liguistic impossibility
The book concludes with ten reasons that we can trust essentially literal translations. These include transparency to the original text, keeping to the essential task of translation, preserving theological precision, preserving the dignity and beauty of the Bible and consistency with the doctrine of inspiration.
As with all of Ryken’s writing, this book is well-argued and convicting. He does not argue for a particular translation, though it is obvious that he prefers the English Standard Version (he did, after all, serve on the translation oversight committee for the ESV). He merely argues that we, as Christians, deserve to be given nothing less than the Word of God in English.
This book is meant to appeal to all Christians and there is little that will prove difficult to understand. Choosing A Bible is a great introduction to translation theory and to understanding the importance of translations that preserve the words of God.