A statement on natural equivalency

Posted: 19th June 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

This revision [aims to provide] a rendering which is both faithful and idiomatic, conveying the meaning of the original in language which will be the closest natural equivalent. Every attempt has been made to avoid on the one hand free paraphrase, and on the other a formal fidelity that would result in a rendering which was all too obviously a translation.

As such, the Revised English Bible (REB) translators set out to present the Bible in English, and a purer definition of functional translation you may not find.

The faithfulness of the text is to the meaning (function), not the structure (form). Language is chosen based on the “natural vocabulary, constructions, and rhythms” of contemporary English, however, accuracy of meaning is not sacrificed for either capricious renderings or “necessarily reproducing grammatical structure or translating” the Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek texts word for word.

As such, the REB is first and foremost a modern English Bible. What idiomatic language is your Bible in?

  1. tc robinson says:

    This is what I found in the TNIV’s preface:

    The first concern of the translators has continued to be the accuracy of the translation and its faithfulness to the intended meaning of the biblical writers. This has moved the translators to go beyond a formal word-for-word rendering of the original texts. Because thought patterns and syntax differ from language to language, accurate communication of the meaning of the biblical authors demands constant regard for varied contextual uses of words and idioms and for frequent modifications in sentence structures.

    Recently I posted Which is Most Emphatic at 2 Tim 4:1-2?. You’ll notice that the TNIV has rearranged the Greek syntax to achieve the underlying emphasis in English.

    The TNIV is generally great on contemporary English but has a few archaic expressions, IMO (see Hallowed or Hollowed).

  2. It’s been very interesting to compare the T/NIV with the REB – they have more similarities than you might expect. Still some big differences, but it’s not beyond the pale of imagination that there may have been some NIV influence in the time between the NEB (1970) and the REB (1989).

  3. tc robinson says:

    When I first read your post I thought the same thing. I believe you’re onto something.

  4. Read this says:

    Now that I know the REB is as bad as the TNIV, I know to avoid it like the plague. If you decide to get real, if that’s possible, use an ESV.

  5. @TC: I think “Read this” would say that I’m on something

  6. John says:

    I can see that “Read this” has not read the TNIV. I would venture to guess that they have rather bought into the rhetoric that seems to stlii linger around that the TNIV is an inaccurate. I have read through a number of translations, and find the TNIV not only accurate but highly readable in modern English. When I point out that the ESV is a harder read due to inverted English, I am told, usually in rather uncharitable terms, that I am obviously a poor reader and that reading God’s Word isn’t meant to be easy but should take a bit of work. While I certainly believe that we need to reflect on the Word and have the Spirit speak to us through it, I also believe that if we are going to read it in English, it should be in English that we normally speak. While I’m not bad mouthing any English translation, I will say that the TNIV is higher on my list than the ESV, even though I use both. If you want the most accurate reading of all ,however, I think you should learn Hebrew and Greek, then read in the original languages. I have used the NEB in the past and after reading your posts I will now get a copy of the REB and read through it.

  7. Thanks for the comments, John. I’ve tried hard not to get caught up in the “translation war” rhetoric from both the TNIV and ESV camps.

    I actually do have an ESV from when I was just starting to break from the NASB (after 20 years of exclusive use). It was marketed as a “more readable literal translation”, but I soon concluded that it didn’t go far enough for the change I was looking to make.

    Of the two, I have to admit that I’m more sympathetic to the TNIV because its overall translation philosophy (TC – thanks for posting that) is more consistent with where I’m at today. Of course, the REB trumps both for me, but I realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

  8. tc robinson says:

    @El, I had to delete an anonymous comment yesterday, calling me an idiot and that I should use the ESV. I understand your position on the “translation war.” But even if a person decides to critique a Bible, there’s a good way to do so.

    As you know the TNIV is my primary text but every now and then I take a swipe at it.

    @John, I too used the NASB and had to part ways with a for a translation that is not only faithful to the original languages but also had a good English flow. The TNIV achieves both for me. Not only that but it also trumps any competing translation.

  9. When I was a kid, all of my friends and I knew that “by the skin of my teeth” meant “barely, hardly, with difficulty” and not a single one of us knew that it was the literal translation of a Hebrew idiom in the book of Job 19:20.

    Using 3 for the letter aiyin with its ancient G/K-sound, this Hebrew idiom, B’3or SHinai, is a pun on the Hebrew word B’QoSHi which means “barely, hardly, with difficulty.” If translating into a language that does not have this idiom, should one change the original to “barely (escaped)” before translating?

    When Joseph’s brothers arrived in Egypt, they did not recognize Joseph. One reason is that he spoke with them through an interpreter (Hebrew haMa:LiTZ). This word occurs only one time in Tanakh, in this story. So the question is: what is the relationship between haMaLiTZ and its meaning (to interpret). I think the answer is based on the fact that the Egyptian language was written with hieroglyphics
    (Hebrew TZeLeM = picture; in Israeli Hebrew, maTZLeMah = camera). To translate from Egyptian script to any other language is to un-picture, hence the reversal of TZeLeM to Ma:LiTZ.

    Lot’s wife turned into “a pillar of salt” (Hebrew NaTZiB MeLaX, using X for het), a rather harsh punishment for merely looking BACKWARDS when told to not do so. Actually we have to look at this phrase backwards to understand that she suffered a stroke / thrombosis < Greek throm = trama + bos < Hebrew BoTZ = mud. She became paralyzed and couldn’t talk or move, as if stuck in the mud (due to mud in the veins ?). NaTZiB is a reversal of BoTZeN = like mud. MeLaX is a reversal of XaLaM = to be strong, healthy. She became frail and weak. The modern Hebrew word for stroke/apoplexy is SHaBaTZ = caused by/result of BoTZ = mud. Should Hebrew NaTZiB MeLaX be translated as thrombosis or stroke?

    Best regards,
    Israel “izzy” Cohen

  10. Thank you, Israel, for the detailed look at the syntactical connections in the Hebrew texts. I want to be perfectly clear that I am in no way denigrating the original texts and the complex literary devices used by the authors. And surely there is every place for the study of these texts by those qualified to do so.

    My larger goal and hope is for an English language Bible that carries the same semantic weight and meaning as the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts, but uses idiomatic English literary devices rather than trying to literally translate the types of syntactical relationships you’ve describe.

    This would undoubtedly be a different text from a formal word-for-word perspective, but the same semantic meaning and complexity would be produced through what I’ve previously termed “literary equivalence“, that which the REB seems to call “natural equivalence” in the quote above.

  11. Kevin Sam says:

    ElShaddai, it’s been a while since I last came by. I like the new look, or maybe it’s not so new. The “notify me of followup” is really useful. Do you know if there’s a way to followup on comments from WordPress blogs?

    I’m still trying to get a grasp on natural equivalence because it’s a new term for me. I get the impression that it’s more literary in nature than it is in structure, while still preserving the essential meaning.

  12. Do you know if there’s a way to followup on comments from WordPress blogs?

    Not that I know of (other than the My Comments feature that links to other WP blogs) – that was the one thing really annoying about WordPress.com blogs compared to Blogger. When I switched to my own hosted blog, that was the first plug-in I looked for.

    I get the impression that it’s more literary in nature than it is in structure, while still preserving the essential meaning.

    Yes, more importance is placed on translating meaning through natural idioms and literary devices of the receiver language than on trying to approximate the original language texts. It may be an impossible task, but it’s been fascinating to explore translation philosophies beyond the “literal is best” mantra I grew up with.

  13. Kevin Sam says:

    Plug-ins. That’s it.

    Then could this literary approach also be seen as a sort of hyper-extended dynamic equivalency but limited from being a paraphrase?

  14. I would call it the fulfillment of dynamic equivalency – we’ve become biased to DE meaning “dumbed down” or “easier reading” when that doesn’t have to be the case.

    I’ll be very interested to see what translations you pick for your DE comparison this coming fall.

  15. Kevin Sam says:

    Well, I’d bet you’d like to see REB or NEB. 😉

  16. It depends. If the focus is on the more accessible DE translations like the CEV and NLT, it would make little sense to include the NEB or REB, as the styles are very different from those. They would have been better candidates for your median comparison, but I liked the ones you chose there too.

    If your comparison is on conjectural translation, then I’d really like to see the NEB and Jerusalem Bible included. Then again, the NEB and JB are older (40-50 years old) and probably less relevant to a modern comparison.

  17. Kevin Sam says:

    ElSh, that’s a good point. I think it’ll be focussed more on accessible DE translations like you mentioned, CEV, NLT, etc.

    Are you still going to do a series yourself sometime?

  18. Well, I did get three comparative posts on the ‘literary Bible’ out before losing some steam. If you missed those, here are the links:

    The winner’s wreath
    A wilderness of words
    Deeds of doom

    I’d like to look at a few more passages along these lines.