Most conservative evangelicals will tell you that they want a Bible translation that is as accurate as possible. Yet closer examination reveals that it is almost impossible to define what that means let alone to produce a suitable translation. The difficulties involved are exacerbated when the target language and even culture are radically different from both the original biblical period and from that of the translator. Whilst not offering any genuine solutions this paper aims to at least lay out some of the issues involved.
For many people the translational debate has become sufficiently divisive at one point or another that it is now something that isn't mentioned in polite company. However the issue may well be rather more serious than we think. Here are a few examples where precision of translation is vital to understand the meaning of the passage:
Given how difficult it is to pick a perfect English translation we must be all the more aware that creating or using a foreign one is at least twice as difficult. The reason for the escalation in complexity is that the translator will usually be going, at least implicitly, through his own language and culture. Thus a concept in the Hebrew may get westernized and then the western concept gets Africanized or Far Easternized as appropriate. Worse it can often be the case that the target language and culture actually had a better construct available than the English; but this fact was missed because of the intermediate step.
As I stated at the outset this paper offers no solutions. After twenty years of trying I have still not settled in my mind upon a single suitable answer when someone asks me the English translation they should use. Having moved from the UK to the US I also have a keen appreciation for linguistic and cultural differences that can exist between two very similar peoples. I am often amazed at the passages that Americans grasp instantly that are alien to the British mind. There are also some that the British readily relate to that need to be explained from first principles over here.Having offered no solution I will however close with an observation. After seven years I am still learning new things about American language and culture. However I am blindsided (American term) with about half of the frequency I once was. I believe that if we really wish to communicate in a new language and to a new culture then we need to be thinking in terms of multiple decades.