No Greater Legacy: A Review of William Barrick’s ‘Understanding Bible Translation’

May 23, 2019

William D. Barrick’s Understanding Bible Translation: Bringing God’s Word into New Contexts is an introduction to the ministry of Bible translation. With the heart-felt appeal of a pastor and the precision of a veteran professor, Barrick presents a personal challenge to the reader to grasp the significance of Bible translation.

Barrick first engages the topic of translation by underscoring the importance of translations that are understandable, preferably using the common language or vernacular. He proceeds to discuss the concept of a common language, drawing on his experience in Bangladesh. Barrick transitions in Chapter 3 to the topic of meaning and the challenges of translating from the culture of the Ancient Near East to the contemporary culture of the target language.

In Chapter 4, Barrick returns to the importance of common language, noting the importance of simplicity and clarity. Barrick then shows in Chapter 5 how translation and theology are interwoven. Barrick then leads the reader through a detailed analysis of the translation of Psalm 23 in English, surveying translation methods. In Chapter 7, Barrick examines the translation of Proverbs 8:1-11 in depth, discussing the issues a translator would have to address in translating this portion of Scripture.

No greater legacy can be found than bringing the Bible into another language

In Chapter 8, Barrick turns to the single most common question in Bible translation for English speakers—which English Bible is best? He presents an analysis of several major versions, pointing the reader to the kind of research to be done, rather than to a specific answer. He concludes with an acknowledgement that no Bible translation is perfect; consequently, church leaders and the evangelical community more generally must stay involved in the task of English Bible translation.

Barrick moves from professor of Old Testament to missionary and mentor in Chapter 9, where he shifts to the topic of personal preparation for the ministry of translation. He then addresses another topic essential to translation in Chapter 10, working as a team with agreed principles of translation. Barrick concludes with an appeal to prayer and dedication to this vital ministry: “Without it you would not have come to Christ for salvation. Without it you would have no church to attend, no preaching to hear, and no service to perform” (p. 221).

With this volume, Barrick makes a valuable contribution to the literature on Bible translation. He has, first and foremost, reminded the reader of the importance of translation as a ministry that glorifies Christ and advances the Kingdom. Furthermore, he does not avoid the challenges of a very demanding and technical work, but methodically leads the reader through a variety of issues as an experienced translator and professor.

Despite the merits of this work, Barrick’s introduction to this topic could be strengthened with more attention to defining basic terms such as translation and paraphrase as well as more technical terminology such as unmodified literal translation and restructured free translation. Furthermore, the chapters present engaging but often unrelated topics which don’t build upon each other and thereby contribute to an overarching argument.

In lieu of the chapter on which English version is best, the reader could have benefits from Barrick’s experience in Bangladesh with a chapter on revision and another on the topic of producing Bible translations designed to minister to specific religious communities. Finally, it would be helpful to gain some of Barrick’s thoughts on modern theories of Bible translation such as Skopos Theory and Relevance Theory, even noting the topic of modern theories and including some pertinent readings in Chapter 9.

Understanding Bible Translation offers a personal introduction to the ministry of Bible translation, approaching the topic as only an experienced missionary, Bible translator, and professor of Old Testament could. Any student of Scripture interested in translation will benefit from this volume.

I hope that many readers of this volume will be moved to enter the ministry of Bible translation and, after years of ministry, be able to join Barrick in saying, “No greater legacy can be found than bringing the Bible into another language for yet another people” (p. 221).

Aaron Shryock avatar
Aaron Shryock is the Director of the Tyndale Center for Bible Translation at The Master's Seminary. He is passionate about raising awareness of the tremendous needs in Bible translation.

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