What’s in a Translation?
There was a time when all people on earth spoke one language and wanted to reach the heights of God but God didn't want that so he caused different languages come out of the peoples' mouths.(Read Gen. 11:1-9) Since God caused different languages there became a need to translate from one language to another language. The Bible in particular has been translated into many languages and continues to do so presently. The first record of any part of the Bible being translated was around 132 B.C. when the Hebrew Bible a.k.a. Old Testament was translated into Greek which was the common language at that time especially in business to business arrangements between men of different languages. Jesus and the apostles quoted from this Greek translation called "The Septuagint" various times in the New Testament. There became a desire to translate the Bible in the common language of the people from men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale. Now let's take a look at what it takes to translate the Bible from its original language to another language particularly english.
First thing we need to realize to translate the Bible from one language to another is no easy task and can become very challenging. A bible translation from one language to another language takes several years maybe even up to a decade! If you investigate a translation that takes less than 5 years it could be a hurry up job and the quality of the translation can became very suspect. Also when a Bible is translated it is better from a committee of various people from various backgrounds particurlary church dominations than just one person or a group of people from one denomination. Another thing we need to realize that Bible cannot be translated word-for-word fluently. No two languages have the exact same grammar and sentence structure so with the Bible there is no 100% literal translation however the translators of the Bible can strife to be literal as possible but not 100%.
One of the challenges for Bible translators is idioms or figure of speech phrases in the Bible. A literal translation of an Old Testament Hebrew idiom phrase(Job 29:4) "In My Autumn Days" would sound like our figure of speech for "My Golden Years" which we would think of our elder years or retirement age. The Hebrew phrase actually refers to "time of Great Fruitfulness" and is translated in the KJV Bible as "In the days of my youth". As you can see, a literal translation can be distorted by our culture and current meaning of Autumn Days. Also current phrases in our culture could mean a completely different thing in another culture and for example English phrase "Warm Hearted" = Kind while in the language of Lamogai it means "Hot Headed". Another example is English Phrase "Cold Hearted"= Cruel but in Lamogai it means "Cooled Down" or our "Hard Hearted"=Stubborn but in Lamogai its "His Ears are Closed". So the translators have to really research the meaning of idioms and the culture in the time of the specific scripture then match the phrase in the culture of today.
Another challenge translators face is Euphemisms, a word or phrase considered offensive in one culture but not in another. In Ancient Jewish phrase (1 Sam. 24:3) "Cover your feet" meant going to the bathroom and some translators would literally translate "cover your feet" and leave it to the reader to understand. Other translators would describe the action in elegant fashion while other translators would a modern euphesism like "to relieve himself". Here's a couple of ephesisms you may have read in the Bible, "To Know" a woman meant sexual intercourse or "way of women", a reference to woman's monthly period.
Another thing translators have to consider in translating is the intensity of words or sentences and what that would mean in our current culture. Here's an example from Romans 6:1-2 where Paul begs the question "Should we continue on sinning?" The KJV gives the answer in "God Forbid!" and that was an emphatic NO in 17th century english. Here are some different translation of the answer and in interest of space I have used only acronyms for each translation AMP or NKJV= "Certainly Not!", NLT-"Of Course Not!", NCV="No!", NIV, ESV, or RSV="By No Means!," CEV="No We Should Not!, Voice & HCSB="Absolutely Not!", YLT="Let it not be!", and GW= "That's Unthinkable!". The literal translation is from the NASB="May it Never be!", As you can see, there is a lot different views of an emphatic NO! Are they wrong? I don't think so but I do like some better than others.
Historical barrier is another challenge with different rituals of the culture back then and now. Also various words have changed meaning from earlier translations and cultural words within the Hebrew and Greek language from ancient times to currently. Some words have multiple meanings depending on the context of the scripture and what the original author meant. As you can see translators can't just pick an equivalent word from English and replace the Hebrew or Greek word in the Bible. I recommend a book, "One Bible, Many Versions: Are all translations created equal?" if you want understand translating the Bible from unbiased viewpoint. I hope you'll find the information useful.
Sincerely, Kevin J. Garrison