Dick France (b. 1938), who has served on the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) for two periods (1990–1995 and 1999–present), reflects on “some issues in Bible translations” at the end of this article:
“The Bible in English: An Overview.” Pages 177–97 in The Challenge of Bible Translation: Communicating God’s Word to the World; Understanding the Theory, History, and Practice: Essays in Honor of Ronald F. Youngblood. Edited by Glen G. Scorgie, Mark L. Strauss, and Steven M. Voth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.
France briefly reflects on five issues:
- The Text to Be Translated
- Literal versus Dynamic Translation
- The Problem of Religious Conservatism
- Public and Private Reading
- Inclusive Language
What he says about the third issue applies to more than just Bible translation:
The Problem of Religious Conservatism
Conservatism—in the sense of resistance to change—seems to affect people in matters of religion more readily than in other areas. Thoroughly modern people with radical political views may nonetheless be staunch advocates of the KJV and the Book of Common Prayer. Saint Luke long ago summed up the typical reaction to change in matters of religion: “The old is good” (Luke 5:39 NRSV). This is a hurdle every Bible translator must face.
Shortly after Good News for Modern Man (the New Testament of the Good News Bible) was published, I attended an English-speaking service in a remote hill-station in Nigeria. [In the 1970s, Dick France was a lecturer in religious studies at the University of Ife in Nigeria.] After reading a passage from the new version (designed for precisely that sort of situation where English was, at best, a second language), the Nigerian leader of the service put the book down, saying, “Now we will hear it from the real Bible,” and he proceeded to read the same passage from the KJV. This devotion to the KJV as “the real Bible” is still to be found in many English-speaking congregations, after decades of “better” translations being freely available. To talk of a corrupt text and of language that does not communicate to most people today cuts no ice: The Bible is expected to speak in Elizabethan English. The colloquial language employed by Tyndale so that the Scriptures would be accessible to the ploughboy has thus become, with the passing of time, the esoteric language of religion, and the more remote it becomes from ordinary speech the more special and holy it seems.
The task of Bible translation is much easier where there is no existing version to be supplanted. I met a translator who had been commissioned to produce a dynamic new translation for a tribe in Zaire who already had a Bible version translated from the KJV and thus quite remote from the current form of the language. He told me how he read out of his fresh, new, colloquial version with pride and how the hearers commented favorably on the ease of understanding but then pointed out that, of course, it wasn’t the Bible! It almost seems that, by definition, the Bible must be remote and unintelligible.
But the Bible, or most of it, was not written in a special “holy” language. The Hebrew prophets spoke in vigorous contemporary idioms, and the New Testament writers used “market Greek.” A translation that will do justice to the intention of the original writers must put intelligibility before the maintenance of traditional language that no longer communicates effectively. (p. 193)