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Saturday, September 10, 2005

review of The Challenge of Bible Translation

Following is a review of one of the better books about Bible translation to be published in recent years. This review is posted here with permission of its author, Jim Clarke:
Scorgie, Glen, Mark L. Strauss, and Steven M. Voth, editors. 2003. The Challenge of Bible Translation: Communicating God’s Word to the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. pp. 428.

Reviewed by Jim Clarke*


This book is thoroughly Evangelical. A group of Evangelical scholars, many of whom are the best in their field, wrote essays on the topic of the title—The Challenge of Bible Translation. They did this to honor another Evangelical scholar, Ronald Youngblood. As such, Challenge is a collection of eighteen men’s thoughts and experiences, not a textbook with a systematic, progressive presentation. It may be best to think of it as a large group meal at a Chinese restaurant—you can sample from a number of entrees, and if you are really hungry, you can eat from them all.

Of special interest

As a member of Wycliffe Bible Translators, I particularly enjoyed the Introduction. Think of it as an appetizer, if you like. Scorgie whets our appetites by taking us on a visit to Ukurumpa. In the highlands of Papua New Guinea, members of Wycliffe Bible Translators use state-of-the-art linguistic techniques, translation theory, and computer software to bring God’s Word to remote Papua New Guineans. After making a few brief historical stops to visit the LXX, Vulgate, and Lutherbibel, Scorgie quickly brings us back to the present. He highlights some of the issues facing modern translators, admittedly mostly western, Protestant ones. He also gives a short summary of Challenge’s three sections.

A couple of the other entrees, I mean essays, that I enjoyed were D. A. Carson’s “The Limits of Functional Equivalence in Bible Translation—and Other Limits, Too” and John Stek’s “The New International Version: How It Came to Be.” A sizeable portion of Carson’s essay deals with gender issues which some people still need time to process. The strength of the essay lies in its review of where we have come since Nida and pointing out how Bible translations are always imperfect no matter what the theory or method used to produce them. Stek’s essay offers a fascinating look at the history leading up to the NIV’s inception. If you have ever wondered what led to the creation of the NIV, this is a good read.

Some of the other essays I would recommend are Dick France’s “The Bible in English: An Overview,” Kenneth Barker’s “Bible Translation Philosophies with Special Reference to the New International Version,” and Walter Wiesel’s “A Translator’s Perspective on Alistair McGrath’s History of the King James Version.”

Logical organization

The three sections of The Challenge of Bible Translation are:
  1. The Theory of Bible Translation
  2. The History of Bible Translation
  3. The Practice of Bible Translation
It may be more helpful to know some of the key ingredients in the essays. Expect to find generous portions of the history of the English Bible, contemporary gender issues, references to inspiration/inerrancy, and discussions of the NIV/TNIV. Scorgie himself writes, “…some of these essays function unintentionally as a kind of apologia for the New International Version (NIV).”

Audiences who will find this interesting

There are three groups who will probably find this book most interesting—those involved with Bible translation, those in biblical studies, and Christians interested in Bible translation. For these three groups there are those within each who will likely best appreciate these essays.
  1. Among those involved in Bible translation the student or young translator will probably get the most out of Challenge. The experienced translator or consultant will find much of the material familiar and the beginning to intermediate level mother-tongue translator with moderate English skill will likely find some of the content daunting.
  2. Among those in biblical studies, this is an excellent tome for college and seminary students. Their professors may be drawn in by many of the essays, but will find it serves more as a refresher than an introduction.
  3. Among Christians interested in translation, this will likely appeal to those with college degrees, especially pastors. While much of the material is helpful for the average layperson, the average layperson does not appear to be the intended audience.
*Jim Clarke serves as a Bible translation consultant in Dallas, Texas. Jim and his wife, Becky, worked in Africa between 1997 and 2001 before returning to the US to take an assignment in Dallas. Jim also has taught at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics. He has an M.A. in Old Testament from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a B.A. in Bible.
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