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Choosing a Bible: Understanding Bible Translation Differences [Paperback]

By Leland Ryken (Author)
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Item description for Choosing a Bible: Understanding Bible Translation Differences by Leland Ryken...

This short book offers essential translation principles through which readers can evaluate and compare contemporary Bible translations.

Publishers Description

Of the many Bible translations available today, are some better than others? If so, what criteria can we use to determine what makes a good translation? Leland Ryken introduces readers to the central issues in this debate and presents several reasons why essentially literal-word-for-word-translations are superior to dynamic equivalent-thought-for-thought-translations.

You don't have to be a Bible scholar to recognize the need for a quality Bible translation. We all want to know that the Bible we read, study, and memorize is faithful to the original. Dr. Ryken tackles this issue and breaks it down in this concise, logical, and straightforward book, giving readers a valuable tool for selecting a Bible translation.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Crossway Books
Pages   32
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.06" Width: 5.44" Height: 0.14"
Weight:   0.12 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 16, 2005
ISBN  1581347308  
ISBN13  9781581347302  

Availability  6 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 26, 2016 01:14.
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More About Leland Ryken

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Leland Ryken is Professor of English at Wheaton College, where he has taught since 1968. He has published nearly two dozen books on various subjects including literature in Christian perspective, the Bible as literature, and Milton. His previous titles include The Liberated Imagination, The Discerning Reader, A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible, Words of Delight and Realms of Gold.

Leland Ryken currently resides in the state of Illinois.

Leland Ryken has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Christian Guides to the Classics
  2. Writers' Palette Book

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Reviews - What do customers think about Choosing a Bible: Understanding Bible Translation Differences?

Correct title: "Leland Ryken's Diatribe Against Functional Equivalence"  Mar 4, 2008
This book was a serious disappointment to me, largely because it did not do what it promised to do. This was not a guide to help me navigate through the various English translations of the Bible to figure out which one(s) might help me the most. Instead, it was Ryken's blistering critique against the functional equivalence approach to translation, in which he essentially assigns most English translations of the past half-century as utterly devoid of spiritual and literary value.

Most frustrating about the book is that the author has a lot of helpful information to share about the process of translation and the philosophical difference between the essentially literal approach (word-for-word) and the functional equivalence approach (or dynamic equivalence, thought-for-thought). It is important for Christians to understand the difference in the translations that fall within these two camps, and a book to describe and catalog these differences would have been wonderful.

Rather than offering this helpful possibility, Ryken takes his preference for essentially literal translations to ridiculous and logically absurd conclusions. As just one example, he says that much of Jesus teaching was not meant to make sense to the original listeners and readers, and so thought-for-thought translation inappropriately tries to eliminate that intended confusion. But he completely ignores the fact that essentially literal translation can easily insert confusion and nonclarity where it never existed for the original readers, thereby providing a case when functional equivalence is actually more faithful to the text by returning the clarity of the original biblical language.

Ryken's primary gripe against functional equivalence is that it incorporates interpretation within the translation process. However, the nature of translation is inherently interpretative, as no two languages have a set of parallel words with identical definitions. There are certainly potential concerns when the interpretation within the functional equivalence method yields markedly different renderings from one translation to another, a point that Ryken rightly makes, but this does not eradicate the value of the process. Ryken makes the critical and unfortunate mistake of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Ryken has such a strong predisposition against the NIV, NLT, The Message and many others that it's a wonder that those who read these translations are even Christians. I found his entire approach to be arrogant and his attempts to defend his extreme position to be unconvincing. He has some good cautions to provide those of us who read functional equivalence translations. However, I still see great value in good ones like the New Living Translation (my favorite for personal devotions). I wish that this book had been written to describe the differences between the various translations, rather than as an excuse to lambaste those who do not share Ryken's unbending commitment to wooden, word-for-word translations as the only legitimate English translations of the Bible.
Overstates his case  Oct 19, 2006
I'm generally in agreement with Ryken on some of the issues that drive his arguments in this book, but I think he way overstates his case far too often to give this book a good recommendation. Here is where I agree with Ryken. We ought to be more careful in translating the Bible than some of the more dynamic translations often are. When there is an ambiguity in the text that scholars do not tend to agree on, we should seek to preserve the ambiguity in the translation. When translators can avoid working too much interpretation into their text without sacrificing genuine English language grammar and semantics, they should do so.

However, Ryken does not stop at such moderated claims. He argues that it is always wrong to interpret the text when translating, which is impossible. English words are usually not exactly equivalent in meaning to Greek or Hebrew words, and any translation will be inexact. Sometimes inexactness in one way is better than inexactness in another, but Ryken seems to disallow any interpretation at all, which strikes me as ignoring the fact that translators must interpret before figuring out how to translate. How do you know which words to translate unless you know what they mean?

Ryken elevates word meaning over sentence meaning, when the primary unit of meaning in a sentence is the sentence's meaning. He says that we ignore the meaning of words when we concern ourselves with how the syntax or context of a sentence contributes to the meaning of the sentence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Word meaning is part of what determines sentence meaning, but translating word-for-word often obscures the meaning of the sentence.

Ryken's language is often over-the-top. He usually doesn't impugn the motives of those who have different opinions on translation philosophy, but he does misrepresent those different views as leading to inaccuracies in translation. Even if there are cases when they do, he treats all dynamic translation as inaccurate, when sometimes it is much more accurate because it actually conveys the meaning of the original, when strict word-for-word translation does not. Often I will agree with his particular examples, but then he generalizes to overarching statements that I find way too far to be justified by the examples he gives. He regularly cites more dynamic aspects of the NIV, giving the misimpression that these cases are standard rather than the more extreme ones. He perpetuates the myth that the TNIV is even more dynamic than the NIV, which is actually the opposite of the truth. Something like 75% of the changes in the TNIV go in a more formally equivalent direction, according to Craig Blomberg, who actually counted them.

I cannot recommend this book. Even though I appreciate most of the fundamental points he makes, he just goes way too far with them. If I took seriously most of his conclusions, I would be left thinking that translation itself destroys the Bible. Most of the things he complains about in dynamic translations are necessary elements of any translation, including those he calls essentially literal such as the ESV. Others are not necessary for translation but will sometimes be the best option even if they will not always be a good idea. His absolutism against any dynamic translation seems to me to be well overstating what the examples he's chosen should show. There are things dynamic translations have to offer, and the best attitude seems to me to be to recognize a place for the different translations out there based on the different purposes for different translation philosophies. It just seems radically unfair to call something inaccurate simply because it focuses more on translating the meanings of idioms rather than preserving dead metaphors that mean little to English speakers who did not grow up in the church.
An Important Subject  Feb 5, 2006
This book or rather this 30 page essay is about Bible translations since the 1950s not translating the words as exact as possible, from one language to another. In other words, if a word means 'fire' in the greek, and it's translated as 'bright light', then we aren't reading the words of the author who wrote that particular book. As many people know, the Bible has 66 books which are written by many different authors in 'different places emotionally, physically, politically, and spiritually'. Which is a fancy way of saying that some of the authors were kings, some were travelers, and some were just flat out broke when it came to money. Also means, that emotionally they were feeling different when they wrote different books or parts of a book as in the case of psalms. And it also means, that some had a closer relationship to God than others.(although some would argue with that... still.. do miracles, do travel, & faithful to God's commmandments... closer to God? just maybe.) And some were stronger than others in various physical ways. Which makes the compilation of the Bible quite interesting... besides the fact that all of history has essentially been changed by the Bible, also known as the Word of God.

Being all that is true(and historically it is, research apologetics enough, you'll see for yourself)... it'd be nice to know what exactly the authors did say in the books that they wrote that are compiled in the Old Testament and New Testament without either the Old Testament Apocrypha or the New Testament Apocrypha. The author argues that thought-for-thought translations and paraphrases are not giving us the words that the original authors said and therefore rip us off with whatever time we've spent reading them.

The translations that the author shows stabilities in text from the original languages to english are NASB, ESV, KJV/NKJV, and RSV/NRSV. The translations the author argues lose their stability in translation, which therefore undermine Christians in their trust for the inerrancy of the scripture, are NIV, TNIV, NLT, CEV, GNB, NTME, TLB, TM, and the TSB. This specific information is found on page 32, Appendix: Bible Translations Chart.

That said, the NIV held the best to the battering of the stability attack. It still fell... though not quickly. In other words, the NIV was the best of the errant.

This is a good book, which belongs in anyones library, as 32 pages of no-fluff is easy to fit on the bookshelf.
Excellent Introduction to an Important Topic  Jan 17, 2006
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 also 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.
Dr. Ryken's little book on Choosing a Bible is thought provoking, even though slightly biased towards the English Standard Version. Dr. Ryken encourages bible readers to think critically about the bible, avoiding problems such as "it's the word of God -don't question it." What should be thoroughly questioned are the protocols and philosophies of bible translation committees. Ryken correctly points readers to bible prefaces which many, including myself, regularly avoid, but which can provide vital information on biases and theological positions of the translation committee.

What a shock when I read the preface to the NIV for myself - one of the names of God, "the Lord of Hosts" and "God of Hosts" had been excised in favor of "the Lord Almighty" merely because the committee decided that the term "Lord of Hosts" had insufficient meaning for the modern reader. Using the concordance I counted 277 instances where this term had been changed. I seriously doubt that there was malicious intent on the part of the NIV committee but rather a very poor decision making process. The problem, as Ryken states, is that you do not know where translation stops and where commentary by the committee starts.

We live in a time when God is being pushed out of the public square at an alarming frequency, and Christians by and large have lost that sense of God's transcendence. This situation is not helped by modern bible translation committees that insist on dumbing down the scriptures to seventh or eighth grade reading levels. Don't dumb down-Teach up!

After reading Dr. Ryken's book, I shelved my NIV and purchased the New King James Version. So much for the bias.

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