Biblical Languages and Bible Translation Practice

Here is an abstract of my paper on Biblical Languages and Bible Translation Practice that I presented at the Society of Biblical Literature Meetings in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. on November 19, 2012. For a full paper and accompanying powerpoint presentation, click on the links below.


Within the last number of years, there have been discussions about the value of teaching Biblical Languages to Bible translators and having them consult the original languages as they translate. Being surprised at the intensity of the debate, I endeavored to explore the historical background of the ideals and actual practice of the use of Biblical languages in Bible translation starting from St. Jerome and continuing on to the principles promoted by Eugene Nida, with a special focus on translation practice in Africa.

It is clear that at the outset, the ideal was to translate from the Biblical languages, but at the same time, Eugene Nida himself recognized obstacles for reaching such an ideal. He states as early as 1947: “Before undertaking to translate from the original Greek or Hebrew, it is of utmost importance that the translator be qualified for the work. A little learning is sometimes a dangerous thing even in the hands of a translator.” (Bible Translating, New York, ABS, p.51).

While Nida and others continued on with the development of resources for those who could consult the Greek and Hebrew in their translation work, at the same time resources were being developed to facilitate translation from an intermediary source language. In more recent years, more and more translators in Africa have been learning the Biblical languages. The challenges and the benefits of such a development will be discussed in this paper. In my concluding thoughts, I encourage reflection on how we can be practical and yet still reach for the ideal, in particular through the development of resources that empower the translators to adequately use the Biblical languages as they translate the Bible into their own languages.

Link to the full text:
Biblical Languages and Bible Translation Practice (PDF)

Link to Powerpoint: