One of the surprising, and from our perspective unfortunate, recent developments in the story of English translations is the reappearance of an old argument that “literal” versions are more compatible with the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of Scripture. We say “old,” because this is precisely what drove Robert Young . . . to produce a version vis-á-vis the KJV (first ed. 1862). . . .
Our first point, then, is that, as with beauty, “literal” is in the eye of the beholder, in this case meaning “in the perception of the user.” This is why we have tried to avoid the word “literal” in this book and have often put it in quote marks when we use it—because those who use it tend to have such a wide range of meanings. Unfortunately, it is also often used in the literature simply as a rhetorical device over against “meaning-based” versions.
Second, much of this rhetoric represents a poor understanding of the doctrine of verbal inspiration, which historically does not refer to the words as “words in themselves,” but “words as they convey meaning.” It is precisely at this point that we would argue that a translation that places the priority of meaning over form is much more in keeping with the doctrine of inspiration, since at issue always is the “meaning” of the inspired words. The translation that best conveys that meaning is the most faithful to this historic doctrine. . . .
When lecturing on Bible translation, one of the authors often holds up an English Bible and asks the audience, “Is this God’s Word?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!” This is absolutely true. An English translation remains God’s Word when it faithfully reproduces the meaning of the text. And since languages differ in terms of word meanings, grammatical constructions, and idioms, translation can never be about simply replacing words. The Hebrew and Greek text must first be interpreted—word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase, clause-by-clause—to determine the original meaning. Then this meaning must be painstakingly reproduced using different words, phrases, and clauses in English. The translation that most closely adheres to the verbal and plenary inspiration of Scripture is the one that reproduces the total meaning of the text, not just its words.
- Mark L. Strauss, “Do Literal Bible Versions Show Greater Respect for Plenary Inspiration? A Response to Wayne Grudem” (Evangelical Theological Society National Meeting; Valley Forge, PA, 2005). Strauss responds to Grudem’s 2004 ETS presentation (MP3—which includes Doug Moo’s response from the floor at the end), later published as “Are Only Some Words of Scripture Breathed Out by God? Why Plenary Inspiration Favors ‘Essentially Literal’ Bible Translation,” in Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 19–56.
- Rodney J. Decker, “Verbal-Plenary Inspiration and Translation,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 11 (2006): 25–61.
- “Scripture: How the Bible Is a Book Like No Other,” in Don’t Call It a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day (ed. Kevin DeYoung; Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 59–69.
- “The Best All-Around Book on Bible Translation“
- “How to Disagree about Bible Translation Philosophy“
- “Reproduce the Meaning“
- “Thank God for Good Bible Translators and Translations“
Update on 3/31/2017: In my latest attempt to explain how to interpret and apply the Bible, I include a chapter on Bible translation (pp. 50–81).