In the reading that I’ve done on translation theory, I’ve noticed that there is a difference between biblical scholars whose understanding of translation lies largely in a study of linguistics and secular translators who are more literary in orientation.
Thus I found this paragraph in an LA Review of Books article about translation interesting and confirmatory:
St. Jerome famously suggested that one should translate secular works with a “sense for sense” rather than a “word for word” approach, while sacred texts should be approached literally, since “even the order of words” is divinely inspired. Contemporary translation theory in the West reflects this divide, with the positions of sacred and secular flipped. Eugene Nida, an influential force in Bible translation and a pioneer of modern translation studies, argued for finding “dynamic equivalences,” to secure the transmission of meaning across languages (he would sacrifice the letter for the spirit). Ostensibly secular theorists of literary translation like Antoine Berman, Lawrence Venuti, and Emily Apter, on the other hand, argue for translation practices that underscore the foreignness of the source text, and its resistance to assimilation by other cultures (they would risk the spirit for the letter).
V. Joshua Adams, “Translation Without Theory,” LA Review of Books (Oct 7, 2018).
While recognizing that Jerome is probably not saying that biblical translators should maintain the word order of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts (seeing as he did not follow that practice in his own translation work) and that even within a particular translation of the Bible, translators operate on a continuum between formal and functional translations, my sympathies are with the secular theorists of literary translation who argue for maintaining the foreignness of a text.
I sympathize with the literary side of this debate rather than with the linguists because it seems that the linguists sometimes operate too mechanically. The Bible is a literary book that communicates by literary form. For instance, in Genesis 40:15 the translation “dungeon” is not technically inaccurate. A “dungeon” is a pit-like prison. But the more formal translation “pit” is better because it picks up on the literary connection between Genesis 40:15 and 37:24. (And, if Joseph is using the term “pit” figuratively, then dungeon may not be the most accurate translation.)
This is not to say that there is no room for niche translations that bridge the cultural gap for some readers. But one’s standard Bible should allow the reader to enter the world of the Bible text. Given the popularity of study Bibles, it would seem that the ideal place to bridge the cultural gap is not in the translation itself but in study notes.