Wallace: Literal translations “inevitably inaccurate”

Dan Wallace has now posted the second part of his review of NIV 2011. This is a follow-up to part 1 which I posted about yesterday.

A large proportion of part 2 is in fact an excursus, which might have been better published as a separate essay, “What Makes for an Accurate Translation?” He writes that, in the light of possible misunderstandings of part 1, he needs to “correct the frequent perception that literal = accurate, and not-so-literal = inaccurate.” And he does so in remarkably strong terms, stating that (with his own emphasis)

a formally equivalent, or ‘literal,’ translation of the Bible will inevitably be uneven and inaccurate.

He justifies this statement by discussing various renderings of Matthew 1:18, Luke 20:16 and Romans 7:7, and concludes that

At bottom, the best translation is one that is faithful to the meaning of the original text. That does not always, nor even usually, mean a literal translation.

Then Wallace turns to NIV 2011, and gives what appears to be a remarkably positive but brief review. He praises several text critical decisions and some changes of wording from NIV 1984. Then he draws the apparent conclusion that

All in all, this is a fine translation and is the culmination of the efforts of many decades, scholars, countries, denominations, and ideologies. Yet everyone associated with the NIV is unswervingly committed to the Bible as the word of God written. Their joyous wonder at the beauty and majesty of the scriptures comes through loud and clear in this superb version.

But is this really all he has to say? The only specific clue that there is more to come is in the post title, “Part 2 of 4”. But I suspect that Wallace will have some more negative things to say about NIV 2011 in part 3, before coming to his final conclusions in part 4.

13 thoughts on “Wallace: Literal translations “inevitably inaccurate”

  1. White Man says:

    “Yet everyone associated with the NIV is unswervingly committed to the Bible as the word of God written.”

    Yeah, right. Ever heard of Virgina Mollenkott? She was definitely “associated with the NIV.”

  2. Peter Kirk says:

    White Man, Wallace’s comment refers to those currently associated with NIV. As for Ms Mollenkott, she was apparently “committed to the Bible as the word of God written” at the time she worked on NIV, but she does appear to have swerved away from that commitment since. Sadly those who chose her for the committee were not blessed with 20/20 hindsight.

  3. White Man says:

    So, the same lack of foresight (which I believe to be the correct English term) being operative today, such an assurance rings equally hollow.

  4. Peter Kirk says:

    White Man, I see your point. But it should be clear that no one, and no committee, can give absolute advance assurances about anyone else’s personal behaviour. Anyone reading Wallace’s review would understand that.

  5. Nemo says:

    “Yet everyone associated with the NIV is unswervingly committed to the Bible as the word of God written.”

    I dislike this attempt to personalize the issue. A pro hominem argument is no more (and no less) valid than an “ad hominem” argument, and it only invites an ad hominem response. It would be unreasonable and unfair to object to an ad hominem argument after making a pro hominem one.

  6. Peter Kirk says:

    Nemo, in principle I agree. But Wallace is responding to ad hominem comments. So surely it would be unreasonable and unfair to object to a pro hominem argument in response to an ad hominem one.

  7. Nemo says:

    “But Wallace is responding to ad hominem comments.”

    I do not find any mention of such arguments in his article. He seems to add the pro hominem remarks gratuitously. This kind of personal recommendation of the translators, in which claims of piety or orthodoxy are emphasized, is very commonly used on behalf of versions that are marketed to evangelicals. We see it in advertisements, and even in the prefaces of the versions. But again, in the context of a debate it only tends to provoke ad hominem responses.

  8. Peter Kirk says:

    Nemo, Wallace does not explicitly mention any ad hominem comments, but he surely knows all about them and alludes to them when he writes:

    some of them note that the NIV 2011 is closer to the TNIV than to the NIV 1984 its gender language. True enough. But then they make the illegitimate leap that as such the NIV 2011 is not accurate. … There is no final word on the Word of God. The King James translators knew this, as have the translators of virtually every translation done since. The NIV 2011 is no exception.

    But this is not the place to discuss the gender language issue.

  9. Nemo says:

    Peter, I think Wallace speaks of the “unswerving committment” gratuitously, as a friendly or polite gesture, knowing that the NIV translators will read his review. But I don’t think it can make much difference to him, because I distinctly remember him saying that a translator’s own religious beliefs should make no difference in a translation.

  10. CD-Host says:

    I just finished a long conversations with Mormons about the need for a Mormon specific translation, they want a translation that is fully neutral. In general they don’t want Mormon doctrine in the translation, but they do want heavy study notes to Doctrines and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, BoM…

    I wish Evangelicals would hold to that standard.

  11. Translation services says:

    Literal translations are inevitably inaccurate but all translation depends on self interpretation. The bible is a very sensitive and is arguably the most arduous job a translator could have!

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