Translating Truth by Wayne Grudem, Leland Ryken, C. John Collins, Vern S. Poythress, Bruce Winter

Translating Truth is a defense of the “essentially literal” (“word-for-word”) approach to biblical translation as opposed to the “dynamic equivalent” or “thought-for-thought” renderings. Each of the five contributors was part of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version, an essentially literal translation published in 2001.

The first chapter, by Wayne Grudem, is extremely informative and sets the agenda for the entire book. Grudem lays out his position: “Translators should not only ask, ‘Have I rendered the main idea of this sentence correctly?’ but should also ask, ‘Have I represented correctly the meaning that each word contributes to this sentence?’” (p. 29). Having so framed the debate, Grudem moves on to give examples of how dynamic equivalent translations leave out the meaning of some words which are in the original text and add meaning that are not there. As a result, dynamic equivalent translations cannot be trusted for serious Bible study and teaching. His summary: “Our final standard of good translation should be faithfulness to the original text, not just easy understandability by average non-Christian readers” (p. 55).

Chapter two is authored by Leland Ryken who has written at least two books on this subject – the most thorough being The Word of God in English. Here Ryken dispels five myths that opponents often raise against essentially literal Bible translations: word worship and idolatry, naiveté, guilt of transliteration rather than translation, failure to understand that all translation involves interpretation and production of obscure and opaque translations.

Ryken does an excellent job answering these myths, but his strategy is not all defensive. He often goes on the offensive with statements such as these: “Dynamic equivalent translations are actually hybrids, combining features of a translation, a commentary, and a text edited to meet the translators’ preferences for a given audience” (p. 63). And, “An unstated and perhaps unrecognized assumption in all this is that readers cannot be educated beyond their current abilities—to me a naïve and untenable premise” (p. 65). And, “At the heart of the dynamic equivalence experiment is the attempt to fix the assumed inadequacies of the Bible for modern readers. This maneuver is not an example of sophistication as opposed to the naivete; it is instead an unwarranted affront to the original authors” (p. 68). Finally, at the very heart of the debate, “What good is readability if what the reader reads is not what the original text of the Bible says” (p. 74)?

The final three chapters, while helpful, are far more technical (especially chapters four and five), and appear to be aimed primarily at the scholars in this debate. C. John Collins’ chapter further develops the theme that dynamic equivalent translations actually tend to hide the meaning of the text. Chapter four, by Vern Poythress, gives the reader much detail about what is taking place on the scholarly level in the area of translation. The influence of Eugene Nida is of great interest. The final chapter by Bruce Winter deals with a unique translation issue concerning the writing of the apostle Paul. He states, “Paul wrote in the plain style of Greek that would have been judged as ‘unsophisticated’ by rhetorical standards and ‘vulgar’ in that it did not reflect classical learning and allusions” (p. 150).

As with all books written by a number of authors, Translating Truth is somewhat uneven and a bit redundant. But as a whole it is a most helpful contribution to the translation debate. I recommend it highly.