Michael Bird posted his positive review of The Voice Bible translation from Thomas Nelson. This project is a “dynamic equivalence” based translation, that is, one that is not constrained by a requirement to render the text literally, “word for word.” I have posted before about the impossibility of word-for-word translation, and I support Nelson’s effort to create innovative new wordings and formats for the biblical text.
I haven’t spent much time with The Voice Bible, so I am not ready to offer a critical analysis of their interpretive choices. However, I was intrigued by one decision that seems to be misguided: their distinction between Roman and Italic type. As Michael says, they use “italics to indicate words not strictly derived from translations, but [that] bring out the nuance of the text.”
I wrote here about how advocates of the King James Bible claim that typefaces can open a window into the “words of God” vs. “the words of man” [as they would put it] in the biblical text. The idea is that translators use a regular typeface for English words that correspond to the Hebrew and Greek source text, and italics for any words that are necessary in English but not “found” in the original.
Look at the examples provided by Michael, and notice which parts are put into italics. These italics reflect an unfortunate accommodation to those who demand literal translation. If the translators really could have translated the text without these italic phrases, why wouldn’t they just do that? By marking these words and phrases as secondary additions, they imply that “dynamic” translation is really just commentary or amplification, textual categories that have less authority than translation in the world of Bible versions.
For example, here is Genesis 1:1:
“In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below. Here’s what happened:”
I really like this translation. The idiom “heavens and earth” is a merism, that is, a figure of speech in which two things are supposed to stand in for a fuller reality. To create “the heavens and the earth” means to create everything, not just two specific things. Their translation does a nice job of conveying that idea, but they undermine their own translation by suggesting that the word “everything” isn’t really part of the translation.
This is a missed opportunity. The publishers have been too timid in the face of market realities. It seems that they use these italics to make certain kinds of Christian readers feel better about this new version. However, they end up reaffirming problematic assumptions about the nature of biblical translation, and undercutting their own project.