by Louis A. Turk, B.A., M.Div., Ph.D.

For people who are not involved in the skill of translation, it may come as a surprise to realize that there is a long history of controversy concerning the correct definition of translation. It is a history of honesty versus dishonesty—of enlightenment versus deception. It takes a lot of skill, time, and work to produce a truly accurate translation of any important document. So, the temptation is to translate very loosely so as to get the job done faster, and thus get paid sooner. Even worse is the temptation to change the teachings within a document with which one disagrees. To justify such looseness and dishonest changing, lazy, dishonest translators have given translation a bogus definition to hide their inferior work.

What is translation? The definition which a translator accepts will determine the results of his labors. For instance, if a translator selects the wrong definition, he may very well end up producing a blasphemous translation of John 1:29 similar to the title of this article. Jesus is, of course, the “Lamb of God,” not the “Sea Dog of Allah.”

Translation is the accurate conversion of a text from one language to another. The Bible clearly indicates how accurate translation is to be done, as this article will show.

The ancient Greek term for translation was µet?f?as?? (metaprasis), which has been adopted into English as the term “metaphrase.” A metaphrase is:

A verbal translation; a version or translation from one language into another, word for word; a literal translation; — opposed to {paraphrase}. –Dryden. [1913 Webster]

That is the correct definition for translation, provided “literal” is not wrested to mean translating the words without regard to the correct meaning revealed by the context. Today, a metaphrase translation is more commonly called a formal equivalence translation.

In contrast to metaphrase is paraphrase—saying something in different words. Paraphrase is not true translation, but is, at best, interpretation and commentary, and, at worst, is intentional changing of what the source text says.

English-language novelist Joseph Conrad advised his niece and Polish translator Aniela Zagórska:

[D]on’t trouble to be too scrupulous I may tell you (in French) that in my opinion “il vaut mieux interpréter que traduire” [“it is better to interpret than to translate“]…. Il s’agit donc de trouver les équivalents. Et là, ma chère, je vous prie laissez vous guider plutôt par votre tempérament que par une conscience sévère…. [It is, then, a question of finding the equivalent expressions. And there, my dear, I beg you to let yourself be guided more by your temperament than by a strict conscience….].”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translation#Theory)

“Don’t trouble to be too scrupulous…it is better to interpret than to translate…let yourself be guided more by your temperament than by a strict conscience.” Those words sum up the paraphrase translation method. Perhaps paraphrase doesn’t matter much when translating novels (which are just fiction written for profit anyway), but paraphrase can produce tragic results when translating important documents such as legal contracts and the Bible, which depend on what was actually said in the source language being clearly and truthfully conveyed into the target language.

Eugene Nida is the Charles Darwin of bible translation. Nida is called the father of the Dynamic Equivalence translation method. However, just as Charles Darwin did not actually invent the theory of evolution, but merely renamed abiogenesis after hiding it in a cloak of phony science, so also, Eugene Nida did not actually create the dynamic equivalence translation method, but merely renamed paraphrase after giving it a cloak of phony science. Darwin’s theory of evolution was designed to replace the Bible doctrine of Divine creation with naturalistic humanism. Nida’s Dynamic Equivalence was designed to replace the entire rest of the Bible with naturalistic humanism. Westcott and Hort applied naturalistic humanism to Bible preservation—thus creating an exceedingly corrupt source text. Eugene Nida extended their work much further by giving translators a scientific sounding excuse to change at will any passage in the Bible with which they disagree. Nida’s Dynamic Equivalence is a method of corrupting, not a method of translating. It is a very deceptive way of adding unto and taking away from the words which convey the true message of the Bible.

Nida said that it is the thoughts or messages of the source text that are important, not the words. He taught that during translation words may have to be changed in order to preserve the message. This very much contradicts what the Bible says in Revelation 22:18-19:

Revelation 22:18 (KJV) For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
Revelation 22:19 (KJV) And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book.

The dire warning in the above verses is that the words of the Bible must not be changed. The fact is that every word conveys a thought; and, when combined into sentences, words convey a message. So, if you change the words you also change the thoughts and message. Nida’s theory is a direct denial of what God has warned in Revelation 22:18-19.

In October 2002, Christianity Today published on the World-Wide-Web an interview of Nida by editor David Neff, from which Nida made some very revealing comments. The first thing to note is that his Dynamic Equivalence translation method always met stiff resistance from local translators. Said Nida,

When we bring together a group of folks who want to be translators, it takes a month to get them willing to make sense intellectually. It takes another two weeks to make them willing to do it emotionally. They can accept it intellectually but not emotionally because they’ve grown up worshiping words more than worshiping God.

Obviously, translators always felt that Dynamic Equivalence was dishonest when first introduced to it. It took six weeks of persuasion to convince them otherwise. Nida claimed that this was because they worshiped words instead of God. But it is far more likely that they resisted his method because they had read Rev. 22:18-19, and therefore feared to use Nida’s method. If a translator truly worships God, he will believe God’s words. Believing God’s words is not word worship, but is God worship. Listen to what Jesus said in John 12:47-48:

John 12:47 (KJV) And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.
John 12:48 (KJV) He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.

Clearly, to not hear and receive God’s “words” is to not worship God. To not receive Jesus’s “words” is equivalent to rejecting Christ himself. Furthermore, those rejected “words” will judge the word rejecter in the last day. Therefore, it is not those national would-be translators whose worship of God must be questioned. Rather it is Nida’s worship of God and belief in Jesus that must be very severely questioned.

Nida continues:

We can’t have conferences for new translators in less than six weeks because of this psychological hurdle. Otherwise, within a year’s time they will be producing literal translations because it’s so much easier to do it word-for-word.

Totally untrue! I can tell you from experience that it is not “much easier” to translate “word-for-word”; to the contrary, it is much, much harder. Dynamic Equivalence is the easy way. If finding a word in the target language that is the exact equivalent of the word in the source language is not necessary (as Nida claims), then a translator can just pick whatever word is easiest to come up with, and go on. Nothing hard about that at all. What is hard is settling for nothing less than the most accurate word to use.

Nida continues:

Bible translators often think they must aim at almost exact verbal correspondence to the original in order to make sense. Many of them insist there must be consistency of words. But consistency in principal words is misleading because words have a variety of meanings depending on context. So a translator can be consistently wrong as well as consistently right.

The fact that some translators think that a translator should actually translate instead of paraphrase evidently irritated Nida. No doubt Nida did have a hard time convincing translators that an inexact verbal correspondence makes more sense than an exact verbal correspondence.

Then to further place real translators into the dummy category, Nida claims that “many of them insist there must be consistency of words.” He is right, of course, in stating that “words have a variety of meanings depending on context.” For instance, the English word “saw” does not always mean “observed.” Sometimes “saw” refers to a toothed tool used for cutting. The word saw therefore cannot be accurately translated without paying attention to its use in context. But a translator using Nida’s Dynamic Equivalence translation method can just as easily make the error of thinking that a word always means the same whatever the context, since that error is a result of the translator not knowing either the source language or the target language well; it is not a characteristic of formal equivalence translating, as Nida implies.

Next Nida directly implies again that a translator using formal equivalence is an idol worshiper, stating:

This “word worship” helps people to have confidence, but they don’t understand the text. And as long as they worship words, instead of worshiping God as revealed in Jesus Christ, they feel safe.

This is just slander from Nida, intended to erode people’s confidence in, and support of, translators who disagree with Nida’s bogus Dynamic Equivalence translation method. Nida was just drawing attention away from his own worship of his own intellect, as he bluntly rejected God’s words. Let’s consider Nida’s charge. Do translators who use the formal equivalence translation method “worship words, instead of worshiping God as revealed in Jesus Christ”? Have you ever seen any Christian, translator or not, bow down to a Bible, and worship it as God? Is believing and obeying God’s words “word worship”? Consider what God says in Deuteronomy 12:28:

Deuteronomy 12:28 (KJV) Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest [that which is] good and right in the sight of the LORD thy God.

Consider also what God says in Deuteronomy 31:12:

Deuteronomy 31:12 (KJV) Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that [is] within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law:

In these verses is God telling us to worship His words? or is He telling us that unless we observe to do all His words we are not worshiping Him? It seems that what really offended Nida was the words of God themselves. He didn’t like what those words mean, and so he resented anyone who would endeavor to properly translate them.

The Dynamic Equivalence translation method both takes away from and adds unto God’s words. When different words are used, a different message is given. That is why Proverbs 30:5-6 warns:

Proverbs 30:5 (KJV) Every word of God [is] pure: he [is] a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
Proverbs 30:6 (KJV) Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.

According to Christianity Today magazine, as translation consultant and lecturer for Wycliffe Bible Translators, and as executive secretary for translations at the American Bible Society, Eugene Nida influenced Bible translations in over 200 languages. Nida’s very deceptive method of corrupting God’s word has done more damage to Christianity than any other one thing. Undermine the Bible and you have undermined the very foundation of Christianity. Every translation project directed by Nida produced another bible which is not another, but is rather a false bible with a false message.

I have in my library several books about translating which are written in the Indonesian language. One of these books (Translation: Bahasan Teori dan Penuntun Praktis Menerjemahkan by Zuchridin Suryawinata and Sugeng Hariyanto; Yogyakarta: Penerbit Kanisius, 2003, pages 12-14.) is particularly interesting, in that its authors have read and become perplexed by one of Nida’s books, The Theory and Practice of Translation, which he co-authored with Charles R. Taber. They quote from page 12 of Nida and Taber’s book:

Translating consists of reproducing in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the source language message, first in terms of meaning and secondly in terms of style. [Emphasis added]

They then give their commentary on Nida and Taber’s theory, which—when translated into English with my comments in square braces—is as follows:

Thus, according to these two experts, what must be equivalent first is the message from the manuscript being translated, and its equivalence also must be natural and as close to the same as possible so that it can bring the same message. To understand this problem, we think it is better to remember again an example that was given by Nida and Taber.

These two experts are experts at translating the gospel book [which is what Muslims call the Bible]. In the English version of the gospel book, there is a saying, lamb of God, which if translated word for word becomes domba Allah [lamb of Allah (the use of “Allah” is not actually correct here: he is just quoting the Lembaga Alkitab Indonesian Bible.)] in the Indonesian language. However, at that moment a person previously mentioned wanted to translate that into the language of the Eskimos, who for sure in their everyday lives have never seen sheep. [Is anyone actually so dumb as to actually believe that Eskimos have never seen sheep? Not even on TV or in a book?] When that saying is translated word for word, the meaning he wants to put forward, that is, a picture of sinlessness, will not be grasped. Therefore, he has to hunt for a natural equivalent which is as close as possible, which has an implied meaning almost the same. In the end a natural equivalent was found, that is, anjing laut [literally, “sea dog,” which is what Indonesians call a seal]. In the end, the translation which was equivalent to lamb of God in the Eskimo language was anjing laut Tuhan [sea dog of God; Tuhan means both Lord and God in the Indonesian language. Note that these Indonesian authors use both “Allah” and “Tuhan” for God. Again, “Tuhan” means both “Lord” and “God” in the Indonesian language. “Allah” does not mean God, but is the proper name of the Muslim’s god. Allah is not Jehovah.]

Nida and Taber’s concept, which is also known as the dynamic equivalence concept, is of course persuasive and results in a translation which is smooth and beautiful and able to give the same message as the source text’s message. Yet there is still a question: is the just mentioned result still the same for a translation of science manuscripts[?]

The answer to that question is obviously, No! A lamb is not a seal or sea dog. Jesus is not a seal or sea dog! Both seals and dogs are unclean animals. And to so translate lamb is inaccurate and dishonest. Only a very wicked person—an unbelieving heretic—would translate God’s word so corruptly.

So far we have discussed Formal Equivalence and Dynamic Equivalence. There is another translation method which, for the sake of this article, we will call Literal Equivalence, but with a very different meaning to the word literal than is used in Formal Equivalence. There is a translation here in Indonesia which claims to be a literal translation: it is called the Indonesian Literal Translation. (Some of its proponents also falsely claim that it is a translation of the Textus Receptus, although in reality it is a translation of Green’s English language Literal Translation, which follows the Critical Text in many key verses.) Literal Equivalence ignores the context, grammar, and idioms of the target language. To illustrate, consider the following very common idiomatic question in the Indonesian language: “Mau ke mana?” Using Literal Equivalence this becomes “Want to where?” in English. Mau (want) ke (to) mana (where)? That is, indeed, literal, but does not accurately convey what an Indonesian means when he asks that question. In fact, that translation makes no sense whatsoever in English. Translated using formal equivalence we see what is actually asked: “Where are you wanting to go?” In Indonesian the words “are you” and “go” are understood to be there without being stated. Not so in English. Thus the target language grammar in literal equivalence translations is so inferior and silly that most people reject such translations outright, so we’ll not discuss literal equivalence translations any further in this article, except to point out that they do not literally convey the true meaning of the source language. To learn more about why we reject the Indonesia Literal Translation see:

firmanelohim.org/ilt-errors.html and
firmanelohim.org/john3-in-the-ilt.pdf

Needless to say, our translation team is making a formal equivalence translation of the Received Text into the Indonesian language. We invite pastors and churches of like faith to partner with us in this vitally important project.