Translation Bits: On Whether the Good News Bible Is a Faithful Translation

Nathan Eshelman, the veteran author of Presbyterian Thoughts, has posted an interesting (and brief) example that illustrates not only how the oft-encountered desire for strictly “literal” translations of the Bible is not only misguided, but in fact based on a deep misunderstanding of the way languages work. But must the text still be translated “word for word” with a view to readability, as he avers? Since Nathan (also a friend and former co-worker) will soon be ordained to the ministry of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, I thought I’d reproduce here some related and relevant information reported by Eugene Nida in his book introducing the Good News Bible:

“The Reformed Presbyterian Church appointed a commission to look into some of the queries and objections which had been voiced by certain members concerning this version. The report of this commission assured the constituency that Today’s English Version ‘fulfills the requirements of the Westminster Confession of Faith,’ and went on to say, ‘it is erroneous to suppose that a translation must slavishly conform to the syntax, metaphors and idioms of the Biblical text in order to be judged a faithful translation. . . . Today’s English Version renders doctrinally significant passages with greater clarity and in some instances with greater faithfulness to the meaning of the Greek text than does the time-honored King James Version'” (Eugene A. Nida, Good News for Everyone: How to Use the Good News Bible [Waco: Word, 1997], page 115).

Sadly, Nida provides no footnote to these statements; but given that the book was published in 1977 and that Good News for Modern Man was first published in 1966, the Reformed Presbyterian report must have appeared sometime during that 11-year window. Also, it would be interesting to see whether this report covers the entire Bible (only published in 1976) or else the New Testament alone, and whether the endorsement is as unreserved as Nida’s excerpt suggests. I am fairly certain that finding this report would be well beyond my research capabilities, but perhaps Nathan, who is a master of all things Reformed Presbyterian, could help in that department!

Incidentally, this popular-level book by Nida is chock-full of interesting tidbits about translation theory and practice, some of which one can readily agree with, and some where one finds it harder to follow Nida where he would lead. As I find the time, I will post and discuss several examples from either type of statement.


4 responses to “Translation Bits: On Whether the Good News Bible Is a Faithful Translation

  1. This may not be at all relevant but I’ve noticed that many commentators will have one “go to” translation that is less literal/formal. Fee likes the GNB and F.F. Bruce liked the NEB.

    There must be something on topic in there but I’m too tired to think of it.


  2. It is very relevant, I think! It shows that, when engaged in the brutal work of commentary writing, the kind of translation that appears to convey the meaning a commentator has mightily struggled to ascertain is usually a less formal, functionally equivalent one. This makes a great deal of sense to me, in that I find that such translations 1) often more accurately represent the meaning of the Greek, and 2) render entire books in a way that makes sense of them as coherent wholes. But this is in their nature, which is interpretive (I don’t mean to suggest that’s a bad thing), and as one can guess, the success of such a translation depends on the rightness of the exegesis that underlies it–which gets us into a whole other ball park.


  3. My kids said, “Who’s Nee-dah?”
    My wife said, “He’s a Eugene.”
    One kid said, “Like the guy who wrote the Message?”
    Another said, “Or like Eugene on Adventures in Odyssey?”
    Wife again, “Yeah, more like that guy.”
    I said, “You guys stop looking at my laptop!”


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