Date of Award
Honors College Thesis
Scholarship pertaining to the Bible accounts for a great deal of research. A search for “the Bible” on just the University of Southern Mississippi Libraries website archive results in 549,075 hits, and specifying “English Bible versions” only reduces those results to 70,000. My largest difficulty in discussing the Bible lies not in finding a conversation but in finding which part of the conversation to enter. In the past fifty years, one of the largest emphases has been on using the best translation style for the Bible, a topic that has dominated the field of biblical scholarship (Ryken, Understanding 15). I believe, however, that translation preference is likely the result of a greater issue that has been a constant motivation working in the background. For example, Eugene Nida, father of the dynamic equivalence theory to be further discussed below, argues that “This underlying issue is the desire to understand the Bible. When there are inadequate equivalents in the formal patterning of sentences (i.e., mistakes in syntax), we generally recognize such faults as once and either excuse them, or at least are able to discount them in trying to ascertain the meaning” (31). F. F. Bruce also advocates Nida’s position on translation, reasoning that “the needs of the present day . . . require . . . a completely new translation based on the most accurate and up-to-date findings” in translation theory (235). Leland Ryken, however, argues that any accurate understanding of the Bible is only possible through literal translations. His view is that dynamic equivalence fails to “render the Bible understandable to modern readers” and becomes a hindrance that “shields them [the readers] from encountering what the original text says.” Advocates for both sides of this translation debate desire a clear understanding of the Bible, but they disagree about the means for finding it. And this desire to understand is not limited to these biblical 2 scholars. Publishers often laud their translations by claiming they have been written for the clearest understanding. The preface of the New Oxford Annotated Bible praises the Revised Standard Version’s translation for its “contribution to the understanding of the Bible” (i). The introduction to the New International Readers Version1 concludes that much difficulty pervades other Bibles, so its translators have intentionally employed a smaller vocabulary so as to “use words that are easy to understand” (vii), while the foreword to New American Standard Bible justifies varying translation styles between dynamic and formal equivalence throughout because that strategy functions better for “assisting the reader’s comprehension” (v). Each and every one of these assertions concerns the reader’s being able to better understand the Bible, and that is where I come into the conversation. I follow one particular Bible tradition from its source to its most recent version, I analyze parallel portions, and I offer my understanding of each text in relation to the others. The practical result of this exercise shows that gaining a true and well-rounded understanding of the Bible will not be as easy as merely buying the newest version and reading it. By comparing the versions I chose according to my method, I present a practical and replicable template for any Bible reader to use in comparing English Bibles in order to gather the best understanding of the text in question.
One problem with finding sources to quote in the comparison of Bible versions section is that the authorities tend to prefer one version or style of translation that they subsequently present as better as or more accurate than others. Eugene Nida is famous for theorizing dynamic equivalence and also advocating the use of Bibles translated in this style. Leland Ryken even began writing The Word of God in English as merely a literary comparison of Bible versions before making it a defense of what is termed “essentially literal translation.” Rather than make my study of English Bibles into a competition as well, I compare the results of close readings of select verses in four versions. These results are for the purpose of discovering differences in the texts and better understanding through a comparison of other versions. In order to compare versions as impartially as possible, I look for sources that will shed light on the method of translation or to provide historical background on the Bible. Every author has a bias, myself included, but to reduce its effect, I work to keep my perspective unhindered by avoiding others’ opinions on the Bibles and only use the text of the Bibles. Lest I appear to be thereby uninformed, let me clarify my method by explaining that I have certainly read and considered several arguments about the theological and literary implications of different word choice or missing/added text, from which I have learned the significance of small details, but the specific examples, details, and understanding of the results in this paper are only my own understanding. For example, in results linked to comparing Bible versions I often came across John 7:8, 10, an apparently controversial passage for some. Some Bibles, like the English Revised Version, include a translation of verse eight as Jesus saying “Go ye up unto the feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; because my time is not yet fulfilled,” and then after verse nine explains that Jesus stayed behind, the translation in verse ten has, 4 “But when his brethren were gone up unto the feast, then went he also up, not publicly, but as it were in secret.” The key word in verse eight is the first yet, but some other translations, such as the New International Version, read, “You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come,” and for verse 10 read, “However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.” From a certain theological standpoint, translations of John 7:8 such as that of the New International Version indicate that Jesus told a lie and therefore committed sin. From that standpoint of translation types, this passage would also be a prime example for Leland Ryken’s argument that essentially literal versions like the English Revised Version are more accurate and reliable than other versions like the New International Version. While I understand the importance in including yet rather than excluding it in John 7:8, my aim is alternatively focused on how contrasting examples like these would affect how one understands the Bible as a whole.
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Coats, Michael R., "Understanding the English Bible: A Comparative Analysis of Four Bible Versions" (2017). Honors Theses. 547.