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By Daniel Taylor
Confessions of a Bible Translator
Sometimes it is polite and oblique: "What, ah, do you hope to do differently?" Other times it is blunt, even accusatory: "Why in the world do we need another translation of the Bible?" The consensus seems to be that America needs another Bible translation like it needs more law schools. At times I feel like joining a 12-step support group: "Hello. My name is Dan, and I am a recovering Bible translator." And yet the same people who ask the question--one I initially asked myself--are often very curious about how a Bible translation comes about. Allow me to play Beatrice (or is it Virgil?) on a brief tour of one translation now in progress.
I fill the role of stylist on a new translation of the Bible financed by Tyndale House Publishers of Wheaton, Illinois. The primary role of the stylist in a translation is to worry over the effectiveness of the language into which the text is translated. In general, Bible scholars worry first about accuracy; stylists worry first about effectiveness. Together they labor to create a final product that is both faithful to the original text and compelling to the modern reader--Scylla and Charybdis goals that have brought many a translation to grief.
The final outcome of a Bible translation is greatly influenced by the organizational structures created to produce it. Flow charts change the end product of the processes they purport merely to describe. Some projects are very hierarchical. Scholars work on portions of a translation at the fundamental levels and pass that work up to a higher level, never to see what becomes of their work until, years later, they get their free copy of the translation in the mail.
Others, like ours, are more democratic. Six major translators are responsible for various sections of the Bible--the Pentateuch, History, Poetry, Prophets, Gospels, and Epistles. Each translator has three advisers for each book within that section. These advisers are chosen for their expertise in that particular book and aid the major ...