Differences between Translations (Part 1)

I’m beginning here an occasional series of posts in which I’ll explore some of the differences between the NLT and other translations. Specifically, I’ll look at underlying differences between dynamic equivalence (DE) translations and formal equivalence (FE) translations, which are also called “word-for-word” or “essentially literal” translations.

In these posts I’ll typically use the KJV, NKJV, NASB, RSV, and ESV as examples of formal-equivalence translations. And the NLT is a dynamic-equivalence translation.

I should point out that there is no right and wrong here. Both of these translation theories are legitimate, and each translation is created with a primary adherence to one or the other of these philosophies.

Sentence Structure
FE translations try to replicate in English the sentence structure of the original Hebrew or Greek. Let’s look at Romans 1:1-7 as an example. In the Greek, Paul begins this letter with a long introduction that follows the traditional format for an epistle (i.e., a letter):

The “from” element is long and complicated (1:1-6). The “to” element is short and sweet (1:7a). The “greetings” element is also short (1:7b) and has an interesting twist. Instead of using the traditional word chairein “Greetings,” Paul uses the word charis “Grace,” which sounds similar in the original Greek text.

The original readers of this letter from Paul would have instantly recognized the “epistle format” of the opening verses. And that format is replicated in the ESV:
1:1 “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, . . .”
1:7a “To all those in Rome . . .”
1:7b “Grace to you and peace from God our Father . . .”

But modern letters in Western culture do not use that same format. So the NLT attempts to capture the sense that “this is a letter” by rendering the traditional epistolary elements as follows:
1:1 “This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, . . .”
1:7a “I am writing to all of you in Rome . . .”
1:7b “May God our Father . . . give you grace and peace.”

Now back to my point about sentence structure. The Greek text uses one long sentence for this entire introductory section (1:1-7). So FE translations like the NASB, NKJV, and ESV also use one long English sentence. The NLT is less concerned about maintaining the structure of the sentence, so it uses nine sentences to help ensure that the modern reader can follow and readily understand the complex elements of Paul’s theological introduction.

Each translational approach has its own strengths. Viva la différence!

3 thoughts on “Differences between Translations (Part 1)

  1. Mark: I often hear people disparagingly refer to the NIV and especially the TNIV as dynamic equivalent translations. Do you plan to discuss the "continuum" of FE->DE->paraphrase? If you do, it might serve as a handy article to give people who are confused on this. Thanks.Walt Bertelsen

  2. Walt, I'll talk about the continuum of formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence in a new post within the next week or so.

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