Friday, May 30, 2014

Formal and Functional Equivalence in Bible translation

1.     Define the terms “formally equivalent” and “functionally equivalent” with regard to translation theories. Which one is considered more “word-for-word” and which is more “thought-for-thought”? What criteria should a person use to choose a Bible translation? Respond to this quote: “If they can’t read Hebrew and Greek, then Christians should use at least 2 Bibles: one formal and one functional equivalent. That way they can see some of the nuances in the languages as understood by the translators.” Do you agree or disagree? Be sure to give reasons. What translation would you recommend for a new believer and why? What is your favorite translation?
When you first hear the names of formal and functionally equivalent, many different things can come to mind. Formally equivalent means “more word for word translation”[1]According to William Mounce in his book Greek for the Rest of Us, “The “formal” means that there is a grammatical formal equivalence: if the Greek has a participle, the English has a participle; if the Greek has a conjunction, the English has a conjunction; and if the Greek has ten words the English tries to have ten words.”[2] Function equivalents also known as dynamic equivalents do not function in the same way as a formal equivalent. “Dynamic translation chooses whatever words the English requires in order to convey the same meaning.”[3]So according to the definitions given by Mounce formal tends to be more of a “word-for-word” type of translation which are Bibles like the NASB, ESV, and the KJV. The functional equivalent type are more of your “thought-for-thought” and those Bibles are your NIV and NLT.
When trying to decide what type of Bible to use a person needs to consider their ease of reading, and whether they want something that is more “literal” or something that is a little looser in its translation. You also need to consider whether or not if it was translated by a team of people or by a singular person. It is better when done by a team because you have a better chance of reaching the actual meaning of the text instead of one person’s lone interpretation. Also, when choosing a Bible you need to ask yourself “What am I going to be doing with this reading?” If you are planning on serious study I would suggest using a more formal translation, however, if you are doing devotional reading and would like for it to be a little less tedious I suggest using a dynamic translation.
If a person does not know the original languages should they read two Bibles? Well, that depends on what they are doing their reading for. True they would see some of the nuances say if they were to read the ESV and the NLT together, but do I feel that it is necessary, no. I trust the men and women who have worked on my Bible. Now when doing word study work or things of that nature yes more than one Bible is essential. After a person has taken the time to decide what version of the Bible they are going to do their general reading from they should not have to second guess that their translators did something wrong. I have to say I would recommend either the NIV or NLT to a new believer. The reason behind that is they do not use all of the “super-Christian” terminology. They break words like propitiation down to simpler meanings.  While they do some interpretation it is not on any major doctrinal issues, so I would rather a new Christian enjoy reading the Bible than to be confused by words not easily understood. I myself use the ESV for most of my reading and studying because it provides a good balance between the two sections, but being more formal.


Blomber, Craig L., and Jennifer Foutz Markley. A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010.
Klien, WIlliam W., and Craig L. and Robert L. Hubbard Jr. Blomberg. Introduction to Biblical Interpretatioin. Nahsville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.
Mounce, William D. Greek for the Rest of Us. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.

                  [1] WIlliam W Klien,., and Craig L. Blomberg and Robert L. Hubbard Jr.. Introduction to Biblical Interpretatioin. (Nahsville: Thomas Nelson, 2004)126.
                  [2] William D Mounce, William D. Greek for the Rest of Us. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003)24.

                  [3] Ibid., 24.

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