Refuting Claims of Dynamic Equivalence in the KJV
No Dynamic Equivalence in the KJV
In an effort to refute KJV advocates who speak of the error of dynamic equivalence in modern versions, some persons claim that the KJV at times presents the same type of renderings. This claim is incorrect, resulting from confusing dynamic equivalence with idioms, the latter being quite common to any translation. Idioms are found in biblical Hebrew and Greek, as well as other languages, and they are commonly translated in terms of an equivalent idiom in a host language since there are unique aspects of idioms that should be preserved in a translation.
On the other hand dynamic equivalence results in extensive paraphrase, which can be destructive to foundational teachings of scripture, such as substituting terms relevant to a culture quite different from that of the Greek or Hebrew languages. For example, replacing lamb of God with a term common to a culture in cold climates, like seal pup of God eliminates the foundational significance of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross & the relationship to the Old Testament form. Scripture can't be paraphrased to enable easy understanding by various cultures, and teachers have a role in making people of a host culture understand exactly what scripture teaches.
Formal equivalence, aimed at achieving equivalence that is as exact as possible, is the only legitimate goal in translation, and rough equivalence commonly misrepresents the text, causing interpretation problems. Translation of idioms is very different from the paraphrasing common to dynamic equivalence. Idioms often can't be translated literal- ly since they often make little or no sense in cultures outside the Greek or Hebrew. In translating idioms, an equivalent sense in the host language is utilized in order to preserve the idiomatic sense since that type of sense is intended in the original text.
A few examples of proper idioms in the KJV
Translators must address Hebrew & Greek idioms that, if rendered literally, nullify an important textual sense. Translators should express the text with their idioms, those that make the best sense in their language, an equivalent sense being the important matter. To use plain language can easily miss the emphasis characterizing idioms.
1. The meaning of the Hebrew for, for a profaned, will make little sense to any average reader, and the KJV God forbid is a proper English form. The NIV contemporary idiom, far be it from (me or you), or an inadequate not at all, or never, are not nearly as emphatic as God forbid, and the Hebrew is meant to be very emphatic, as in Joshua 22:29 & 1 Samuel 20:2. The related Greek term means a very emphatic, “May it never exist,” which applies in various passages like 1 Corinthians 6:15 & Romans 3:4. These uses illustrate that older English can present a superior way to express a matter.
2. God save the king is an emphatic idiom meaning, God protect the king or spare his life, as in 2 Chronicles 23:11 where the people in the temple observe the ordination of young Joash as the king of Judea under the threat of harm by the forces of Athaliah, an evil woman improperly serving as king.
3. Cast in his teeth is an emphatic idiom expressing the anger, insult, impropriety, injustice, or ignorance involved in reproach, as in the case of Matthew 27:44 where thieves who were crucified with Jesus Christ railed on him with accusations.
4. Found with Child is an idiom utilized in place of the term pregnancy, emphasizing the sense of surprise or shock. In Matthew 1:18 this language is utilized to express the incredible fact (from the earthly perspective) that Mary, a virgin, is expecting a child.
There are cases of Hebrew or Greek idioms that are best rendered by plain language because no real emphasis is intended, or because the idiom doesn't properly represent the teaching in a host language.
5. In 2 Samuel 18:3 the Hebrew speaks of those who say they are far less important to Absalom's forces than king David is. They say to David, in the English equivalent of the Hebrew, they will not set their heart to us, which suggests they will not love us, an improper sense in English. The Hebrew contrasts David with his men regarding who Absalom's men will set their heart on killing, but in English the proper sense is, "they will not so much as care for us since their real target is David."
KJV: But the people answered, Thou shalt not go forth: for if we flee away, they will not care for us; neither if half of us die, will they care for us: but now thou art worth ten thousand of us...
expresses the value of David's men in the eyes of their enemies, and
the value is paltry, so to refer to them in terms of set
their hearts to is inappropriate, this
being proper only in regard to David. The importance of David's men
is under-emphasized by this passage, while the importance of David is
greatly emphasized, and the Hebrew illustrates this, so the English
utilizes the term care for us in
a contrast of two parties.
6. 2 Samuel 18:21, 22
21. Then said Joab to Cushi, Go tell the king what thou hast seen. And Cushi bowed himself unto Joab, and ran.
22. Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok yet again to Joab, But howsoever, let me, I pray thee, also run after Cushi. And Joab said, Wherefore wilt thou run, my son, seeing that thou hast no tidings ready.
In verses 19,20 Ahimaaz expresses his desire to bring king David news of a battle with Absalom's forces, but Joab chooses Cushi for the task. In verse 22 Ahimaaz again asks to run to David with the news, and a Hebrew idiom literally has him say be what may. This awkward English is equivalent to howsoever or nonetheless. Contextually, the statement is a response of Ahimaaz to the fact that Cushi has already gone to give David the news, but in its English sense, be what may incorrectly suggests that, whatever happens, he wants to be a messenger who brings the news. On the other hand, howso- ever properly refers to the fact that he wants to run, despite the fact that there is already one runner on the way to David. The Hebrew idiom doesn't present a true English sense, and howsoever, or an equivalent, is required. Thus an idiom is properly rendered in plain English to present a contextually correct sense.
7. Some idioms do transfer directly from the Greek or Hebrew into English, as in the case of John 1:18
KJV: No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
The idiom, in the bosom of the Father has the same sense in Greek and English, and it refers here to Christ as very closely associated with God the Father, which is basic to the concept of the Trinity, and is why the Son is able to declare the Father to us.
A few examples noted below show how silly claims of KJV dynamic equivalence can be. These derive from the 1611 KJV, and involve comparison of text terminology with a marginal note. They are nothing more than expression of idiomatic forms of Hebrew in English idioms or just English that is more common, and more readily understood
8. Job 11:17
Margin: shall arise above the noone day - This refers to rising above the darkness of guilt for sin to the same degree that the day at noon is beyond all darkness.
Text: shall be clearer than the noone day - This says the same thing in simpler English idiomatic fashion of being cleared of guilt for sin, as the day at noon is clear.
9. Job 11:19
Margin: entreat thy face - This idiomatic Hebrew means to entreat clearly, asking another person for favor.
Text: make suite (suit) unto thee - This says the same thing in a simpler idiomatic English fashion, making an inquiry of others to grant favor.
10. Job 11:20
Margin: flight shall perish from them - This is a Hebrew idiomatic way to speak of an inability to escape danger
Text: they shall not escape - This more directly speaks of an inability to escape danger in simple English.