Translations that are fundamentally formal translate what the word says, while translations that are fundamentally dynamic translate what the word means. I say fundamentally because no translation is solely one or another, but rather fundamentally formal or dynamic. On one occasion when asked to speak about the superiority of the Received Text and King James Version, a Wycliffe translator was also present at the pastor’s home after the service. I though it a splendid opportunity to test my academic definition of dynamic equivalence against a real-world Bible translator.
I began with a hypothetical interpretive scenario, “What if the receptor language did not have the word “red”? describing the primary color. I continued, “In place of the word ‘red’ could the translation be, “the color of the sky at the end of a nice day,” replacing one word with twelve words that mean red, based on the adage, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” To these inquiries the Wycliffe translator said, yes, that would be a fitting translation, especially because the rendering was following a traditional literary phrase. I then asked, “how many of the twelve words that created the paraphrase were God’s words?” His concern was not accuracy but readability. Rather than the tribal language, the trade language would have sufficed to fill the gap permanently or until the Scripture shaped the tribal culture and language to provide a new word that said “red.” In my scenario, the only authentic word was “red.” This paraphrase is indicative of dynamically translated versions, such as the NIV. I always thought that all the words that did not have underlying Hebrew or Greek support should be in italics.
Dynamic equivalent translations are not new to Christianity as noted in the 1568 Bishops’ Bible. At Psalm 12:7, rather than maintaining a formally equivalent translation like its predecessors, translating what the pronoun says, “them,” the Bishops’ Bible includes a dynamically equivalent rendering by including what the bishop’s concluded the pronoun meant. “(Wherefore) thou wilt keep the godly O God: thou wilt preserve every one of them from this generation for ever.” Disregarding the Hebrew, or for that matter the Greek/Latin texts, and assuming “them” solely referred to people, the translators replaced the pronoun “them” with the words, “the godly,” words that cannot be substantiated by any textual tradition.
Never really gaining any influence against at the Geneva Bible, this passage is illustrative of why the Bishops’ Bible never attained the ascendency among English Bibles and contributed to the necessity of the King James Version.