In my earlier post about the even newer New International Version of the Bible, I complained about how that line of translations is indifferent to metaphor, poetry, and beauty of language. I cited as an example how the new NIV renders “the valley of the shadow of death” as “the dark valley.”
I would argue that sensitivity to literary qualities is necessary in an accurate translation. Metaphors are not just ornaments. They express meaning and are essential in expressing complex, multi-leveled, rich meanings that go beyond simple prosaic statements.
Anglican theologian N. T. Wright has called the NIV "appalling" for its simple inaccuracy in translating the Greek. But it seems to me that it is equally appalling, knowing what the correct rendering of the Greek is, to simply change the English after you have it correctly translated.
I had a pastor once who preached out of the NIV. When giving a sermon on I Peter 1:13, he took a ten minute detour, going back to the King James to get the full meaning of the passage. Here's how the King James Version accurately translates the Greek:
KJV: I Peter 1:13: "Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind..."
Here's the text with which the NIV replaces (not translates) the Greek:
NIV: I Peter 1:13: "Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober..."
This is an absolutely wretched way of rendering this passage. It simply does not pick up all of the meaning of the original metaphor. It can't. If the NIV was so great, I asked him, then why did he have to go back to the King James Version to get the full meaning of the passage?
The problem is that modern translators simply do not understand poetic expression, and since much of the Bible--even in what is otherwise prose--is given in poetic expression, they are ill-suited to translate it. If they did understand poetic expression, they would not assume that non-metaphorical language is somehow more "accurate" than metaphorical expression, which is the reason often given for taking out the metaphors of the original translation.
The NIV is a work of linguistic taxidermy. It claims that it can deliver to readers a Bible they can understand, and assumes that readers can only understand dead language (which is what purely prosaic language is).
Imagine a friend telling you that he has a real tiger. But when you arrive at his house to see it, he shows you a stuffed one. You say, "but it's dead." He says, "Yeah, but it's real." "Well, it may be real, but it's dead," you respond. "What's the difference?" he asks.Maybe the NIV is a real translation. I rather think it's a paraphrase. But if it is a real translation, then it's a real dead one--stuffed and mounted for your hermeneutical convenience by scholars who don't know the difference between a living and a dead language.
By the way, notice that I just used a metaphor to explain what I meant that no purely prose explanation could say in any clearer way.
Veith is absolutely dead-on right here: metaphor is not ornamental. To say that the "real meaning" of a poetic, analogical expression can only be rendered in non-poetic univocal language is to simply betray an ignorance, not only of poetry, but of language itself.
To remove the metaphorical expression of the original language is to mistranslate the Bible. It's that simple. I'm saying it stronger than Veith says it, but I think I'm saying the same thing.
The reason given for "translations" like the NIV is that it uses "dynamic equivalance," which is supposed to be a method for rendering the text in a more understandable way. I'm not well-versed in the technical controversies over Bible translations, but I do know that removing metaphors, far from making something more understandable, does the exact opposite. This is why good writers (I'm thinking of C. S. Lewis here) use frequent metaphors. People who write with clarity use more, not fewer metaphors.
I read the King James Bible as an act of poetic rebellion against the evil forces of univocalism. If I want a Bible for study purposes which is easier to comprehend in English, I now use the Revised Standard Version which manages to be exceptionally clear without removing metaphorical language (imagine that!).
Those using the NIV ought to consider doing the same.