This is a small section of my larger diagram in the last post. It illustrates a choice between two translation methods:
- Word-for-Word Translations
- Dynamic or Functional Equivalents
Avalos gives a fun example distinguishing these two methods using John 1:29:
The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
— John 1:29 (RSV)
In the RSV the phrase “the Lamb of God” is translated from the Greek (ο αμνος του θεου ) using a Word-for-Word translation.
But what if the reader were an Eskimo and unfamiliar with the pastoral culture where sheep are a highly valued animal and thus an animal used in sacrifices? The meaning or the original intent of the author may be lost. So instead, the translator may opt for a dynamic translation to convey what he feels is the real meaning of the phrase and instead translate it as “The Pup of God” — a baby seal. Avalos uses “seal” in his story — “The Seal of God“, but the lamb is a baby sheep and is used intentionally instead of “sheep” to imply innocence and purity. Thus, a baby Seal would be a pup. So I am correcting Avalos. (a small point, perhaps)
After introducing these concepts, Avalos shows how these distinctions are rather artificial but I won’t go into that detail now because I think the principle distinction is important: word-for-word translation vs. intent translation.
Think how the history of art might have changed:
Can you think of other preferable culture-specific Dynamic Translations examples?
Note: the author of John most likely used “lamb” instead of “sheep” (its adult version) to capture the notion of purity and innocence and a more valuable sacrifice. For he did not use use the Greek word πρόβατον which is the word in the NT most often translated “sheep” which is a general word for quadrupeds, as opposed to creeping, flying or swimming things. And it generally implies tame animals and in Attic Greek, only sheep.