In the course of my life I’ve probably met a dozen or so Bible translators. So it always surprises me when I see another book on Bible translation. Bible translators read books too but, let’s admit it, that’s a small market. I think the benefit comes in helping readers of Scripture understand the complexity of translating the Bible. My own views have been greatly nuanced over the decades in realizing it’s not as simple as I once thought it was. I distinctly remember an argument I had with a fellow student while I was attending Moody Bible Institute. I argued for formal equivalence, and she argued for dynamic equivalence. Looking back on that discussion, now I realize I was over my head and didn’t sufficiently understand the issue at all.
I’m pleased to tell you about two new books that will help you understand issues like that mentioned above: The Art of Bible Translation by Robert Alter (Princeton University Press, 2019) and Understanding Bible Translation by William D. Barrick (Kregel Academic, 2019). Many will recognize Alter’s name from his The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary. He is a premier Old Testament scholar and a highly respected translator. William Barrick has been involved in thirteen Bible translation projects in nine different languages as translator, translation consultant, or trainer of translators.
Alter and Barrick highlight passages of Scripture explaining the strengths and weaknesses of various translations. Barrick writes that “Criticizing Bible translations is one of the church’s favorite intramural sports” (206). We’ve seen a fair amount of that in the past few decades (e.g., the NIV vs. TNIV wars). Together these books will shed more light than heat as both are from seasoned translators and deftly handle the art of Bible translation.