Neither Hand nor Foot
Helmut Richter has a webpage on Bible translation here with many insights from German.
- Someone writes:
When a decision is made to stray form a "word for word" translation to a "thought for thought" translation, no notation is made for the reader to know that a particular verse is not an exact translation but more of a paraphrase.
Though there may be very little doctrinal difference I feel that the reader should be aware of any significant paraphrasing of God's word.
I do not understand the asymmetry in this argument: if a verse translated "thought for thought", dropping the exact rendering of the words, is to be marked as such, then a verse translated "word for word", dropping the exact rendering of the thoughts, should be marked as such, too. As I pointed out in a recent article which I will not repeat here, there is no reason to consider one of the two approaches more "exact" than the other.
Also, the word "paraphrase" is misleading. A paraphrase differs from the original in that it has a new wording of the same ideas. Insofar, each translation could be called a paraphrase because each renders the ideas in other words, namely those of the target language. There are, of course, translations that definitely take considerably more freedom to represent thoughts than implied by the two languages. The NIV is not one of them.
I hope I could make discernible that a translation has hand and foot only if it does not stick to the single word but, before all, also has the context in its eye without which the single word is sound and smoke.
Got the last paragraph? It is an "exact" translation from German:
"Ich hoffe, ich konnte deutlich machen, dass eine Übersetzung nur dann Hand und Fuß hat, wenn sie nicht am einzelnen Wort klebt, sondern vor allem auch den Zusammenhang im Auge hat, ohne den das einzelne Wort Schall und Rauch ist."
As I said before, it is a dubious linguistic approach to expect exactitude of translation from literal rendering. In my opinion, it is a far more dubious theological approach to expect exactitude of understanding from literal interpretation. The meaning of the text, as intended by God, is not conveyed by nit-picking on the text. Rather, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.
He who prays for the guidance of the Holy Spirit has a much better chance to understand the text than he who uses the best translation based on the best manuscripts, whatever the criteria. I do not mean to discourage anyone to strive for a good text, but, please, let us get the priorities right.
If, however, your stance is that every single word matters, then you are definitely obliged to learn the original languages. (Being able to recognise words in an interlinear or in Strong's concordance is not what I mean with knowledge of a language.)
There are lots of pithy quotes on Helmut's page.