The Big, Complicated, Complicated World of Bible Translation

I grew up as part of Calvary Chapel in Alexandria, Virginia. I remember hearing preaching and teaching from the NASB and the NIV. When I turned 12, my dad’s job moved our family to West Virginia and we began to attend a church that advocated for a KJV-only position. In Bible college, I had my first Bibliology class, and began to understand the issues of the underlying textual issues behind the different versions of the Bible, as well as the different translation philosophies that exist. It’s a complicated subject with a lot of strong opinions.

Mark Strauss seeks to shed some light on some of the specific issues within the world of Bible translation in the newest addition to the “40 Questions” series by Kregel. In 40 Questions About Bible Translation, Strauss addresses a range of questions. He spends some time dealing with background issues such as goals and methods of translation before diving into the complex world of methodology. This section is followed by an entire section of questions surrounding the history and influence of the King James Version, then a section on contemporary English versions and a brief section on issues in International Bible translation.

Strauss comes at Bible translation from a set perspective, having been part of the NIV translation team. This sets him squarely at odds with anything labeled as formal equivalency. In fact, this is my biggest beef with the book. Strauss argues that formal equivalency is not a reliable form of translation. While he certainly makes some good points about the weaknesses in a formal equivalency methodology, he overstates his case. His advocacy of meaning-based translation can lead to translators becoming determiners of meaning while translating, which opens the door to myriad other issues.

Philosophical differences aside, Strauss has written a really good book. He tackles so many different questions with in-depth knowledge of the translation process, and the issues that translators face. I was impressed with his treatment of gender issues in translating. While not coming down in a strictly “conservative” position (whatever that means), Strauss explains the issue in a way that I believe tones down much of the rhetoric surrounding the use of “gender-inclusive” language while dealing with the specific issues involved.

Strauss also does a good job of walking through the history and relevance of the King James version to today. He argues that the KJV is an excellent translation that is now inaccurate because of changes in the English language and the underlying Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.

If you are looking for a book that introduces at a general level the entire world of Bible translation work, this is a great consideration. Strauss is knowledgeable and experienced. While I would disagree with some of his conclusions, there are good conversations to be started while reading this work. I would heartily recommend it as a starting point in this discussion.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.