|Bible Research > English Versions > Translation Methods > Nida|
My purpose here is to illustrate and to critically examine how Eugene Nida applied principles of "dynamic equivalence" in his books, by using an example given in his book The Theory and Practice of Translation (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1969), pp. 8-10.
Practical Implications of a New Concept of Translating
The practical implications of a new concept of translating may be readily seen in the comparison of Romans 1:5 in the Revised Standard Version, the New English Bible, and Today’s English Version:
RSV: “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.”
NEB: “Through him I received the privilege of a commission in his name to lead to faith and obedience men in all nations,”
TEV: “Through him God gave me the privilege of being an apostle, for the sake of Christ, in order to lead people of all nations to believe and obey.”
The RSV represents a close formal correspondence to the original Greek text, reflecting as it does the order of the Greek words and phrases and also the corresponding word classes; that is to say, nouns are translated as nouns and verbs as verbs. For the average reader there are, however, some problems in understanding the RSV text:
- “We” is quite ambiguous: Is Paul actually speaking about himself, in which case “I” would be clearer, or does he imply that other apostles are included?
- Though “we” is the grammatical subject of “received grace,” it is nevertheless the semantic “goal” of the process, and accordingly it is clearer in many languages to make it also the grammatical goal, as in the TEV.
- In the RSV, “grace and apostleship” would seem to be two coordinate activities, while in reality the semantic goal of “grace” is the ministry of being an apostle, but the English coordinate phrase obscures this fact.
- “The obedience of faith” is quite misleading in English, for we do not have in English this type of construction involving two nouns of action (we will be calling them by the more general term “event nouns”), in which the one which is chronologically second precedes the first (compare “baptism of repentance,” a transform of “repent and be baptized”).
- The attachment of “among all the nations” to the phrase “obedience of faith” is unclear, for “all the nations” (or better, “all nations”) is actually the semantic subject of both the obedience and the faith.
- The position of the phrase “for the sake of his name” is misleading. Semantically it is related to the activity of being an apostle and therefore should be placed closer to the words with which it is meaningfully connected, if the reader is to understand fully what is intended.
Both the NEB and the TEV attempt to restructure this passage in order to preserve the meaning of the original. Both translations, for example, change “we” to “I” or “me.” Both have related “grace” to “apostleship.” Similarly, “for his name’s sake” is shifted in position, and “obedience of faith” is correctly restructured in the right order, either as a noun expression, “faith and obedience” (NEB), or as a verb expression, “believe and obey” (TEV).
The TEV has gone somewhat further than the NEB in certain respects:
- God is introduced as the subject of “grace,” for this makes clear the fact that “through him” identifies the secondary agent.
- “Me” is made the grammatical as well as the semantic goal.
- The rather high-level word “apostleship” is restructured into the phrase “being an apostle.” (One of the difficulties with “commission,” as in NEB, is that it can be misleading, for to many people it seems to suggest a military commission.)
- “For the sake of Christ” is employed instead of “for his name’s sake,” since modern English does not use “name” in the Semitic way as a symbolic substitute for the personality. In order to avoid confusion as to whether this was for “God’s sake” or for “Christ’s sake,” the TEV has used the noun rather than the pronominal substitute. This is, of course, made obligatory because “God” is introduced as the subject of the clause.
- The relationship between the status of “being an apostle” and “the obedience of faith” on the part of all nations is made explicit by introducing the phrase “in order to lead.”
- The verb phrase “believe and obey” is chosen in place of the corresponding noun phrase, since it is more normal in straightforward language to employ verbs, rather than derivative nouns, for events.
- Since “people among all nations” is the grammatical and semantic subject of the events of believing and obeying, this is made explicit in the TEV by the word order and by the subject-predicate structure, a relationship not so fully evident in the NEB.
Both the NEB and the TEV radically restructure the formal elements of this Greek clause, but it must be noted that they do not introduce any features not clearly implicit in the Greek. They also succeed in reproducing the message of the Greek in a form far more comprehensible than the more literal translation of the RSV. This is the type of faithfulness to the text of the source language which results in alterations of form in order to preserve the content.
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Before giving any criticism of these statements, I would give my readers the Greek text to look at, and a larger portion of the several versions Nida quotes, taking in verses 1 through 7 for the sake of context. I also add the strictly literal rendering of the American Standard Version (1901), for the benefit of those who cannot read the Greek.
Greek text (Nestle-Aland edition): 1 Παῦλος δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, κλητὸς ἀπόστολος ἀφωρισμένος εἰς εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ, 2 ὃ προεπηγγείλατο διὰ τῶν προφητῶν αὐτοῦ ἐν γραφαῖς ἁγίαις 3 περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ τοῦ γενομένου ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ κατὰ σάρκα, 4 τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν, 5 δι᾽ οὗ ἐλάβομεν χάριν καὶ ἀποστολὴν εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ, 6 ἐν οἷς ἐστε καὶ ὑμεῖς κλητοὶ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, 7 πᾶσιν τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν Ῥώμῃ ἀγαπητοῖς θεοῦ, κλητοῖς ἁγίοις, χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.
ASV: Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, 2 which he promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we received grace and apostleship, unto obedience of faith among all the nations, for his name’s sake; 6 among whom are ye also, called to be Jesus Christ’s: 7 To all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
RSV: Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; 7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
NEB: From Paul, servant of Christ Jesus, apostle by God’s call, set apart for the service of the Gospel. This Gospel God announced beforehand in sacred scriptures through his prophets. It is about his Son: on the human level he was born of David’s stock, but on the level of the spirit—the Holy Spirit—he was declared Son of God by a mighty act in that he rose from the dead: it is about Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him I received the privilege of a commission in his name to lead to faith and obedience men in all nations, yourselves among them, you who have heard the call and belong to Jesus Christ. I send greetings to all of you in Rome whom God loves and has called to be his dedicated people. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
TEV: From Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus and an apostle chosen and called by God to preach his Good News. 2 The Good News was promised long ago by God through his prophets, as written in the Holy Scriptures. 3 It is about his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: as to his humanity, he was born a descendant of David; 4 as to his divine holiness, he was shown with great power to be the Son of God by being raised from death. 5 Through him God gave me the privilege of being an apostle for the sake of Christ, in order to lead people of all nations to believe and obey. 6 This also includes you who are in Rome, whom God has called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 And so I write to all of you in Rome whom God loves and has called to be his own people: May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
Remarks: What strikes me more than anything here is how the meaning is altered by the transformations of “form” which Nida recommends. Nida seems to take it for granted that the RSV translators understood the verse in the same way that the TEV translator does, but simply failed to express the meaning as clearly, being bound by some unreasonable adherence to the form of the Greek. But is this really the case? It seems to me that the RSV here represents an understanding of the verse that differs substantially from the interpretations given in the NEB and TEV, at several points. I will mention three of them:
1. “Grace and apostleship” is just what the Greek text says here: χάριν καὶ ἀποστολὴν. It does not say, “the privilege of being an apostle.” That much is obvious to anyone who can read Greek. One might choose to interpret this as a hendiadys, meaning “grace of apostleship,” and then venture to interpret “grace” as a merely external gift of office (against the normal usage in Paul), and thus arrive at “privilege of apostleship,” but this is certainly stretching the phrase a bit, into a meaning that it does not at first sight bear in the Greek. A more likely interpretation of χάριν “grace” here is the internal spiritual endowment or charism that Paul had within himself, making him what he was. “Grace and apostleship,” in addition to being a literal rendering, is quite good enough to express the meaning in English, if one understands it as the RSV translators did.
2. “The obedience of faith” is, again, just what the Greek says: ὑπακοὴν πίστεως. It does not say, “to believe and obey.” Nida’s assertion that this is a “type of construction involving two nouns of action ... in which the one which is chronologically second precedes the first,” is one of the weirdest exegetical assertions I have ever encountered. One might argue that the phrase “obedience of faith” means “obedience that comes from faith” here, of course; but that is not the same thing as saying that the relationship expressed by the phrase is merely chronological. Clearly it is not only chronological. But it seems that Nida is forced to use this strange and inadequate description of the construction because he must provide a justification for his model “Dynamic Equivalence” version, where the nouns are needlessly converted to verbs, and then simply coordinated with “and,” instead of there being any subordination of the first term to the second. The RSV translators certainly did not take this view of the meaning. Their rendering is designed to convey the meaning as they saw it, and not some mechanical reproduction of Greek syntax which fails to convey the meaning as they saw it. It should be known that in the first edition of the RSV New Testament (1946), they had rendered ὑπακοὴν πίστεως as “obedience to the faith,” but in the revision of 1959 this was changed to “the obedience of faith” because the literal rendering was thought to be a better representation of the meaning. The notion that this is “misleading,” because the phrase really means “faith and then obedience,” is surely not going to be accepted by many scholars. The transformation of the nouns into verbs (rather lamely justified by the contention that it is “more normal in straightforward language to employ verbs”) seems to be the source of the problem here.
3. Nida’s idea that “for the sake of his name” must be construed in connection with “the activity of being an apostle” is by no means clear to us when we look at the Greek. There the phrase comes at the end of the verse, after “unto obedience of faith among all the nations” (cf. the ASV), and we see no reason why it should not be construed in connection with that. Obviously one cannot insist that this most natural interpretation is “misleading,” or that the TEV’s rendering is necessary “if the reader is to understand fully what is intended.” We rather think it is the TEV which misleads the reader here, by shifting the phrase to another position.
In addition to these three most obvious differences, we also notice various other things that distort the meaning in the NEB and TEV. Beginning the verse with a new sentence disrupts the flow of semantic connection with the preceding clauses. Presumably this chopping up of the sentence was done because someone felt that the Greek sentence was too long for us English-speaking people to digest. But was this really necessary? Converting the passive construction “through whom we have received ” into an active “through him God gave me” shifts the focus of attention from Christ to God and Paul, and makes the sentence less of a Christ-doxology in both form and meaning. Nida explains that the active voice is preferred here because it is “clearer in many languages.” But it is not clear to us why the TEV translator thought this conversion was needed in English. It adds no clarity to the meaning, and it even seems to change the meaning somewhat, by a shift in emphasis or focus.
For these and other reasons, we must say that Nida’s “type of faithfulness to the text of the source language which results in alterations of form in order to preserve the content” does not seem to be very faithful, precisely because (in our judgment) it does not preserve the content. The case is unfortunately typical, because this happens all too often in the so-called “dynamic equivalence” versions. But the most remarkable thing to be noted here is that Nida would portray obvious differences of interpretation between the RSV and the TEV in Romans 1:5 as if they were merely matters of form, with no difference in the “content,” and that he would even characterize the rendering of the RSV as a blundering attempt to express the same meaning as the TEV, marked by an unthinking adherence to the syntax of the Greek sentence!
It only goes to show that one man’s “form” is another man’s “content,” and the attempt to distinguish between the two can sometimes be perilous. Nida is much too quick to divorce content and form, and, in his haste to demonstrate the superiority of his dichotomizing method, he apparently fails to see differences of meaning that stare us in the face.
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