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This page provides a review of a reference work that was consulted while working on the Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament (ALT). To purchase a copy of the third edition, click here.

Greek-English Lexicon

Louw, Johannes and Eugene Nida, eds.

Promotes the faulty dynamic equivalence translation principle

Louw and Nida was a favored lexicon among my Greek professors at Denver Seminary. As a result, I purchased the two volume set while in seminary. And do note, it is a two volume set. One volume has the indexes while the other is the actual lexicon, and it is almost impossible to find a particular word in the lexicon without the indexes.

The reason for this difficulty is that the words are grouped together by domains rather than listed alphabetically. So, for instance, “eye” (ophtholmos) is found in the domain for “Body, Body Parts, and Body Products.”

The definitions given are true definitions and not one word equivalents. So the words are more defined than translated. The authors then give hints on how a Greek word would be best translated into another language given the peculiarities of some cultures.

For instance, for ophtholmos, it states, “In a number of languages an important distinction is made between the eyes consisting of the eyeballs and the eyes covered or partially covered by the eyelids. In Mt 9.29 and 20.34, Jesus apparently touched the eyelids, not the eyeballs.” Such information is helpful to know. If a language has more than one word for “eye” then the most appropriate one for the context should be used.

I now have Louw and Nida on my BibleWorks program. I used my BibleWorks program extensively as I was translating my Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament (ALT). However, I only rarely used Louw and Nida as I found the other lexicons on BibleWorks to be more reliable.

The reason for this is Louw and Nida promote a “dynamic equivalence” (thought for thought) type of translating. This is the translation principle seen in the NIV, NLT, and many other modern versions. In fact, some of my professors at Denver Seminary worked on the NIV, and it was probably because of this that they favored Louw and Nida’s lexicon.

But my ALT is a literal translation. So for it, I needed to know the exact, literal meanings of words, not how to best render the “thought” of a word or phrase, and Louw and Nida’s translation recommendations are based on translating thoughts not literal meanings of words.

For instance, the literal meaning of cheir is “hand.” The last sentence of Luke 1:66 reads in my ALT, “And [the] hand of [the] Lord was with him.” This is the literal translation. But Louw and Nida say to translate this as, “for the power of the Lord was with him.” Now “power” could be the appropriate interpretation of what is meant by “hand” in this verse. But it is just that, an interpretation.

Now, I do sometimes include in my ALT possible figurative meanings of words. But this was mainly when the literal translation might be difficult to understand. But such figurative renderings are bracketed which is to say, offset from the literal translation. So my ALT always gives the literal translation, but sometimes a possible figurative meaning. In this way, readers can read the literal meaning and then the possible figurative meaning and then decide for themselves if the figurative meaning is correct or not. In Luke 1:66 I could have rendered it as “hand [fig., power].” But I felt that was unnecessary as most readers would understand what was meant.

However, to follow Louw and Nida, a translation would only give the figurative meaning. So readers would not know when the text is being paraphrased and would not have a literal translation to compare the possible figurative meaning to. And that is my main problem with dynamic equivalence versions like the NIV. At the very least, the literal translation should be given in a footnote, but such version almost never even do that much. As a result, readers are having the text interpreted for them without realizing what is happening

So my objection to Louw and Nida is that their translation philosophy underlines the whole “dynamic equivalency” movement in Bible translation. And I shudder at the thought that there are those who are translating the Bible into languages that currently have no Bible translation utilizing Louw and Nida’s lexicon for translation suggestions. So the receptor cultures will only have a DE version to read without any literal translation to compare it to.

I detail in much greater detail my objections to the DE translation principle in my book Differences Between Bible Versions. But here, I will just say, given their underlying translation philosophy, I cannot recommend Louw and Nida’s lexicon.

Review of Greek-English Lexicon. Copyright (c) 2008 by Gary F. Zeolla.

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