Translating the Bible in plain language
Is it possible to produce a clear and accessible translation of the Bible with all its difficult passages, and make it attractive and appealing? How can plain language be used as an effective and powerful tool?
This book describes how the Dutch “Bible in Plain language” (Bijbel in Gewone Taal) came to be published in 2014 by the Netherlands Bible Society. It is an in-depth account of the aims and methods needed to embark on this project—to produce a Bible in a language that can be understood by all.
“This book gives readers an excellent overview of the modern practice of Bible translating, with many helpful guidelines for communicating the sense of Scripture ‘plainly,’ not only in Dutch, but in any language.”
Ernst R. Wendland; Ancient Studies, Stellenbosch University
About the author
Dr. Matthijs de Jong works at the Netherlands Bible Society as head of translation. He participated in the translation work of the Dutch Bijbel in Gewone Taal and contributed to the acceptance of BGT in the Netherlands.
About the Bijbel in Gewone Taal (Bible in Plain language)
Years ago, the Netherlands Bible Society decided to produce the Bijbel in Gewone Taal [BGT] because of the conviction that everyone should be able to read and understand the Bible in the language of their hearts. Today BGT has touched the hearts of many readers and continues to do so.
The Bijbel in Gewone Taal—the Bible in Plain Language—is the clearest translation of the Bible ever made in Dutch. And at the same time, it is a text that appeals to many readers in a special way: It intensifies their experience of reading the Bible.
This book seeks to provide a clear and complete account of how translating the Bijbel in Gewone Taal was set by detailing basic principles, translation method and choices, and the difficulties encountered. Originally this book was published in Dutch. It appeared in 2014 when BGT was released.
Plain language has a special power. It is a marvelous instrument for presenting the biblical texts in a fresh way. It expresses things strikingly and sharply, hitting the nail on the head. That is the power of simplicity. Once it appears in written form, the words seem so obvious, as if they had been there all the time. This power of plain language kept on surprising the translators. Their task was to offer a faithful translation of the biblical source text that would be understandable for everyone – by using plain words, formulating sentences simply, and making the text fully coherent in translation.
The goal of the BGT translators was to give present-day readers direct access to the biblical text. To that end BGT makes use of plain words and easy sentences. But it does not stop at that. The translators constantly asked what the text communicates to the target reader and how it could be rendered in a way that helps the present-day reader feel involved in this communication. Many elements that remain implicit in the biblical text but are essential for a good understanding of the text are made explicit in BGT.
Biblical expressions, concepts, and images are translated in such a way that their implied meaning is revealed to the reader. In this way BGT provides clarity and comprehensibility for all who read it. And, even more important, it draws them closer to the Bible text. In many translations the language distances the reader from the text. These translations make use of all kinds of words, expressions, and turns of phrase that most readers would never think of using themselves in their daily communication. BGT offers the Bible in language that readers perceive as their own. This lets the text speak not only to their minds but also to their hearts.
Producing this translation took seven years (2007–2013) with a group of twelve translators, developing a suitable translation strategy for every biblical genre, and finding the right tone for every biblical book. Furthermore, in recognition of the interconfessional standard of the Netherlands Bible Society, no particular theological position was favoured, rather a deep respect was given for the text and its relevance to the reader of today
The insights of how BGT was approached will be of value to many in the field of Bible translation and will stimulate readers to consider the pros and cons of a translation that takes comprehensibility as its principal aim. This book tells the story of how and why this translation project was made. May it inspire others!