English Bible Translations (3): Ten Dangerous Deficiencies of Dynamic Equivalence
The following ten items show the deficiencies and outright dangers of adopting DE (Dynamic Equivalence) translations. Some examples cited are admittedly egregious cases and not typical of the more conservative DE versions. However, once we step on to the slippery slope of textual relativism, we will inevitably slide down, and the excesses of newer DE versions suggest that the pit into which we will slide is virtually bottomless.
1. DE Disregards the Words of Scripture. The whole “thought-for-thought” concept is a fallacy. Inspiration applies to specific words (1 Corinthians 2:13; John 6:63), not merely to vague concepts and ideas, and thus the Bible sternly warns those who want to tamper with itswords: “Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him. Add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6 KJV). This warning is repeated elsewhere, e.g. Revelation 22:18-19; Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32.
Words are the basic units of thought—the meanings of phrases rely on the meanings of their individual words. Thus you cannot translate “meaning” without regard for the words of the original text.
2. DE Confuses Translation with Interpretation. DE is a ruse forinterpretation rather than translation. The only legitimate role of the translator is to convert the words of Scripture into a receptor language as accurately as possible. It is then up to the preacher and teacher to proclaim these words, explain their meaning, and apply them—in the power of the Holy Spirit—to meet present needs. In the following example from Luke 10:42, the DE translators alter the Greek wordagathos (“good”) into comparative or even superlative forms in order to bolster their interpretation of the passage:
• KJV: Mary hath chosen that good part.
• NIV: Mary has chosen what is better.
• NLT: There is only one thing worth being concerned about.
• CEV: Mary has chosen what is best.
The NIV, NLT, and CEV all have the Lord pitting one of His servants against another—something He never did. This interpretation seems to miss the point. Martha’s error was not in preparing the meal, but in blaming Mary for not helping her. There is no contest here. Christ told Martha that what Mary chose—being occupied with Him and hearing His words—was good, and that it would not be taken away from her. Even if we accept that there is an implied comparison between the sisters, it is still noteworthy that the Lord Jesus said “good”—not “better” or “best.”
3. DE Tampers with the Person of Christ. We must take special care when handling truth about the Son of God. Unbridled speculation about His holy Person is perilous. Our thoughts of Him must be grounded in the very words of Scripture: “But when the Helper comes, Whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, Who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me” (John 14:26ESV). Consider the words of Hebrews 1:5:
• KJV: For unto which of the angels said He at any time, “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee?” (ESV is similar)
• NLT: For God never said to any angel what He said to Jesus: “You are My son. Today I have become your Father.” (NIV is similar.)
By stating that God became the Father of the Lord Jesus, the NLT andNIV are denying His eternal Sonship—a serious error. Although Psalm 2 looks forward to a Millennial crowning of the King, the perfect tense in the quotation shows that the declaration was made in the past: “Jehovah hath said unto Me” (J. N. Darby). “Thou art My Son” confirms an eternal relationship. The eternal Son, however, was begotten into manhood. Acts 13:33 refers to the time when the Son of God was begotten into manhood as a Prophet, raised up in Israel. Matthew records, “And lo, a voice from heaven saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased’” (3:17). Hebrews 1:5 views the Son of God begotten into manhood as a King, exalted above angels, heir of all things, and enthroned. And Hebrews 5:5 shows the Son of God begotten into manhood as Priest.
4. DE Discards Vital Theological Terms. DE translations have generally obliterated such “churchy” terms as justification, sanctification, redemption, and propitiation, reducing these vital words to simplistic phrases. These substituted explanations are at best weakened and incomplete, and at worst misleading and false. A doctrinally impoverished text will produce defective theology, and faulty preaching. Look at Romans 3:24-25:
• KJV: Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood. (ESV is similar.)
• NLT: Yet now God in His gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, Who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed His blood, sacrificing His life for us.
• MSG: God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity He put us in right standing with Himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where He always wanted us to be. And He did it by means of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in Him sets us in the clear.
The terms chosen by DE translators do not properly communicate the full and exact meaning of the original words:
• “Grace” is more than “gracious kindness” or “sheer generosity.“
• “Justification” is more than “declares us not guilty” or “put us in a right standing.“
• “Redemption” is more than “freed us by taking away our sins” or “got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where God always wanted us to be.“
• “Propitiation” cannot be reduced to these statements: “God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us” or “God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin.“
No translator has the right to truncate these vital words. It is rather the preacher’s task to mine the riches of their meaning from an unadulterated text. Look also at Ephesians 1:18:
• KJV: That ye may know what is the hope of His calling.
• ESV: That you may know what is the hope to which He has called you.
• GW: You will know the confidence that He calls you to have.
• NLT: That you can understand the wonderful future He has promised to those He called.
The alterations from hope in the DE translations are seriously misleading, because their substituted expressions capture only part of the original meaning – and add extraneous material not found in the original. In GW, confidence misses the fact that hope points to the future. And confidence is purely subjective – a feeling – whereas hopein the NT carries both subjective and objective meanings. Objectively, hope includes the return of Christ (Titus 2:13), our resurrection (Acts 26: 6-7), and our glorious future in heaven (Colossians 1:27). TheNLT’s expression “the wonderful future He has promised” does provide an objective definition for hope, but it loses the subjective meaning.
The DE translations also break the connections between Ephesians 1:18 and other passages where Paul uses the term hope. Part of the meaning of a passage comes from its connection to other verses that employ the same words. DE translations make word study in English impossible. When they discard important terms like hope, the reader loses all connection with other verses that contain the same word in the original text.