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The End of an Era? Does Skopos Theory Spell the End of the “Free vs. Literal” Paradigm? by Jonathan Downie

3 Of course, the possibility of separating meaning and form has been debated in many places for thousands of years.  Similarly, some Bible translation scholars (e.g. NKJV 1982: xxxiv) have seen the form itself as an essential part of the meaning.  However, as is explained in note 4 of my current article in The Pneuma Review, such a view quickly leads to Bible translation being devalued since any

translation will necessarily lead to a change in form.

4 See the analysis of this version in my current article in The Pneuma Review.

5 It is heartening that one of the more fortunate outcomes of the controversy over the TNIV has been Packer’s article in Christianity Today (1997: 30-31) that concluded that all mainstream Bible translations do “surprisingly well in terms of their own ground rules” (ibid p. 31).  It is the sincere hope of this scholar that others will follow this common-sense and purpose-based approach to Bible translation analysis and criticism.

6 Examples of these can be found on the AIIC website (, on the ITI website ( and on the websites of similar organisations.

7 There are, of course, alternative ways of examining translation techniques and their effects (e.g. Molina and Albir 2002) that may be of interest to Bible translation scholars.  Rather than trying to divide the myriad of translation techniques into two or three approaches the authors offer a taxonomy of 18 possible translation techniques based on the differences between the source and target text in each case (ibid p. 509-511). Such models could further help to defuse some of the tension in discussions of Bible translations by allowing linguistic analysis to be carried out according to objective factors.  This would offer the radical possibility of moving discussions of Bible translation away from the traditional models entirely.  However, since the usefulness of such models in Bible translation remains to be tested, the traditional models are likely to persist for some time yet.

8 Examples of this include Worrell’s view, as cited in Kuykendall (2007: 263) and even the less restrictive views suggested in Fee and Stuart ([1994] 2002: 37) and Fee and Strauss (2007: 19, 25-30).


Hildegund Bühler, “Word Processing and the Translation Process — The Effect of the Medium on the Message,” META, 1990, vol. 35, no. 1, p. 31-36.

Paul Ellingworth, “Review of Bible Translation: Frames of Reference,” Evangelical Quarterly, 2004, vol. 74 no. 4, pages 351-353

Gordon D. Fee and Mark L. Strauss, How to Choose a Translation for all its Worth, Zondervan 2007.

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for all its Worth, Scripture Union [1994, 1997, 2001] 2002.

Jim Harries, “Biblical Hermeneutics in Relation to Conventions of Language Use in Africa: Pragmatics Applied to Interpretation in Cross-cultural Context,” Evangelical Review of Theology, 2006, vol. 30 no. 1, pages 49-59.

Basil Hatim and Ian Mason, The Translator as Communicator, Routledge: London, 2003.

Michael Kuykendall, “A. S. Worrell’s New Testament: A Landmark Baptist-Pentecostal Bible Translation from the Early Twentieth Century,” Pneuma, 2007, vol. 29 no. 2, pages 254-280.

Lucia Molina and Amparo Hurtado Albir, “Translation Techniques Revisited: A Dynamic and Functionalist Approach,” Meta XLVII, 2002, Vol. 47 no. 4, pages 498-512.

Christiane Nord, “Manipulation and Loyalty in Functional Translation,” Current Writing, 2002, vol. 14 no. 2, pages 32-44.

Christiane Nord, “What Function(s) in Bible Translation,” ATA Chronicle, March 2003, pages 34-38.

Christiane Nord, “Making Otherness Accessible Functionality and Skopos in the Translation of New Testament Texts,” META, 2005, vol. 50 no. 3, pages 868-880.

Christiane Nord, Translation as a Purposeful Activity, Translation Theories Explained, Manchester, United Kingdom, St. Jerome, [1997, 2001] 2007.

J. I. Packer, “Thank God for our Bibles,” Christianity Today, October 1997, Vol. 41, Issue 12, , pages 30-31.

Eugene H. Peterson, “Introduction to The Message,” in John R. Kohlenberger ed. The Essential Evangelical Parallel Bible, New York: OUP, 2004

Anthony Pym, “European Translation Studies, Une science qui dérange, and Why Equivalence Needn’t Be a Dirty Word,” TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction, 1995, vol. 8, no. 1, pages 153-176

Anthony Pym, Pour Une Éthique de Traducteur, Artois Presse Université, 1997.Martin Yate, The Ultimate CV Book, London: Kogan Page [1993] 2003

Christina Schäffner, “>From ‘Good’ to ‘Functionally Appropriate’: Assessing Translation Quality,” Current Issues in Language and Society, 1997, Vol. 4, No 1, pages 1-5.

James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 1988.

Mark L. Strauss, “Understanding Bible Translation,” in The Essential Evangelical Parallel Bible, New York OUP, 2004, pages xv-xxiv.

Daniel Taylor, “Confessions of a Bible Scholar,” Christianity Today, October 1997, Vol. 41, Issue 12, pages 76-77.

G. J. Wenham, “Review of Ryken, Leland, The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 2003, vol. 27 no. 5, pages 77-78.

Preface citations and Scripture quotations marked “NKJV” are taken from the preface and text of the New King James Version © 1982, by Thomas Nelson Inc., as they appeared in The Essential Evangelical Parallel Bible, New York OUP, 2004.


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About the Author: Jonathan Downie is a conference interpreter, preacher and church interpreting researcher living in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is married with two children and is committed to helping churches reach out to their surrounding multilingual communities using interpreting.

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