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English Bible Translations - Ten Dangerous Deficiencies of Dynamic Equivalence


(ed.note: the NIV would be a dynamic equivalence translation)

The following ten items show the deficiencies and outright dangers of adopting DE (Dynamic Equivalence) translations. Some examples cited are admittedly egregious cases and not typical of the more conservative DE versions. However, once we step on to the slippery slope of textual relativism, we will inevitably slide down, and the excesses of newer DE versions suggest that the pit into which we will slide is virtually bottomless.

1. DE Disregards the Words of Scripture. The whole “thought-for-thought” concept is a fallacy. Inspiration applies to specific words (1 Corinthians 2:13; John 6:63), not merely to vague concepts and ideas, and thus the Bible sternly warns those who want to tamper with itswords: “Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him. Add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6 KJV). This warning is repeated elsewhere, e.g. Revelation 22:18-19; Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32.

Words are the basic units of thought—the meanings of phrases rely on the meanings of their individual words. Thus you cannot translate “meaning” without regard for the words of the original text.

2. DE Confuses Translation with Interpretation. DE is a ruse for interpretation rather than translation. The only legitimate role of the translator is to convert the words of Scripture into a receptor language as accurately as possible. It is then up to the preacher and teacher to proclaim these words, explain their meaning, and apply them—in the power of the Holy Spirit—to meet present needs. In the following example from Luke 10:42, the DE translators alter the Greek word agathos (“good”) into comparative or even superlative forms in order to bolster their interpretation of the passage:

  •  KJV: Mary hath chosen that good part.
  •  NIV: Mary has chosen what is better.
  •  NLT: There is only one thing worth being concerned about.
  •  CEV: Mary has chosen what is best.

The NIV, NLT, and CEV all have the Lord pitting one of His servants against another—something He never did. This interpretation seems to miss the point. Martha’s error was not in preparing the meal, but in blaming Mary for not helping her. There is no contest here. Christ told Martha that what Mary chose—being occupied with Him and hearing His words—was good, and that it would not be taken away from her. Even if we accept that there is an implied comparison between the sisters, it is still noteworthy that the Lord Jesus said “good”—not “better” or “best.”

3. DE Tampers with the Person of Christ. We must take special care when handling truth about the Son of God. Unbridled speculation about His holy Person is perilous. Our thoughts of Him must be grounded in the very words of Scripture: “But when the Helper comes, Whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, Who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me” (John 14:26 ESV). Consider the words of Hebrews 1:5:

  • KJV: For unto which of the angels said He at any time, “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee?” (ESV is similar)
  • NLT: For God never said to any angel what He said to Jesus: “You are My son. Today I have become your Father.” (NIV is similar.)

By stating that God became the Father of the Lord Jesus, the NLT and NIV are denying His eternal Sonship—a serious error. Although Psalm 2 looks forward to a Millennial crowning of the King, the perfect tense in the quotation shows that the declaration was made in the past: “Jehovah hath said unto Me” (J. N. Darby). “Thou art My Son” confirms an eternal relationship. The eternal Son, however, was begotten into manhood. Acts 13:33 refers to the time when the Son of God was begotten into manhood as a Prophet, raised up in Israel. Matthew records, “And lo, a voice from heaven saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased’” (3:17). Hebrews 1:5 views the Son of God begotten into manhood as a King, exalted above angels, heir of all things, and enthroned. And Hebrews 5:5 shows the Son of God begotten into manhood as Priest.

4. DE Discards Vital Theological Terms. DE translations have generally obliterated such “churchy” terms as justification, sanctification, redemption, and propitiation, reducing these vital words to simplistic phrases. These substituted explanations are at best weakened and incomplete, and at worst misleading and false. A doctrinally impoverished text will produce defective theology, and faulty preaching. Look at Romans 3:24-25:

  • KJV: Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood. (ESV is similar.)
  • NLT: Yet now God in His gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, Who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed His blood, sacrificing His life for us.
  • MSG: God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity He put us in right standing with Himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where He always wanted us to be. And He did it by means of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in Him sets us in the clear.

The terms chosen by DE translators do not properly communicate the full and exact meaning of the original words:

  • “Grace” is more than “gracious kindness” or “sheer generosity.“
  • “Justification” is more than “declares us not guilty” or “put us in a right standing.“
  • “Redemption” is more than “freed us by taking away our sins” or “got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where God always wanted us to be.“
  • “Propitiation” cannot be reduced to these statements: “God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us” or “God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin.“

No translator has the right to truncate these vital words. It is rather the preacher’s task to mine the riches of their meaning from an unadulterated text. Look also at Ephesians 1:18:

  • KJV: That ye may know what is the hope of His calling.
  • ESV: That you may know what is the hope to which He has called you.
  • GW: You will know the confidence that He calls you to have.
  • NLT: That you can understand the wonderful future He has promised to those He called.

The alterations from hope in the DE translations are seriously misleading, because their substituted expressions capture only part of the original meaning – and add extraneous material not found in the original. In GW, confidence misses the fact that hope points to the future. And confidence is purely subjective – a feeling – whereas hope in the NT carries both subjective and objective meanings. Objectively, hope includes the return of Christ (Titus 2:13), our resurrection (Acts 26: 6-7), and our glorious future in heaven (Colossians 1:27). The NLT’s expression “the wonderful future He has promised” does provide an objective definition for hope, but it loses the subjective meaning.

The DE translations also break the connections between Ephesians 1:18 and other passages where Paul uses the term hope. Part of the meaning of a passage comes from its connection to other verses that employ the same words. DE translations make word study in English impossible. When they discard important terms like hope, the reader loses all connection with other verses that contain the same word in the original text.


5. DE Erases Gender Distinctions  Although only a few DE versions are assertively and purposely gender neutral, all DE versions blur or erase gender distinctions to some extent. Gender-inclusive language may seem to be only a politically correct annoyance, but it is in fact heretical.


In the Preface to the NIV Inclusive Language Edition, we read: “It was recognized that it was often appropriate to mute the patriarchalism of the culture of the biblical writers.” Worse, the Internal Guidelines used by the Committee on Bible Translation for the NIVI (the NIV Inclusive-Language edition] belittles God’s own Word with the following audacious comment: “The patriarchalism of the ancient cultures in which the Biblical books were composed is pervasively reflected in forms of expression that deny the common human dignity of all hearers and readers.”

These translators have exposed themselves as relativists who value a feel-good spirit of tolerance and inclusiveness over theological faithfulness and precision.

Look at John 14:23:

  • ESV: Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (KJV is similar.)
  • NRSV: “Those who love Me will keep My word, and My Father will love them, and We will come to them and make Our home with them.”

The DE translation alters generic singular pronouns anyone, he, and him to plurals those and them. But the clause, “make our home with them,” now denotes a group of people, while our home is still a single dwelling place. Thus the NRSV has the Father and Son making a single home with a plurality of people together—the idea of the indwelling of the local assembly (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) or the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:22). The true meaning—that the Lord Jesus and God the Father make their home in each individual believer—has been struck from the verse! Further, the clause “My Father will love them” now suggests that the Father loves them as a group, while the original expression actually teaches that the Father will love each individual separately for personally loving His Son.

Another example is 1 Timothy 3:2:

  • ESV: Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife… (KJV is similar.)
  • CEV: That’s why officials must have a good reputation and be faithful in marriage…”
  • NRSV: Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once…

The CEV and NRSV expunge the clear evidence that Paul expected the elders to be men. Their purposely deceptive glosses of this verse insert gender ambiguity where the Greek has none, and they continue the deception throughout the passage by altering every occurrence of the male singular “he” to the ambiguous plural “they.”

6. DE Obscures Assembly Truth   Assembly truth has been perpetuated and revived by teachers who respected every nuance of every word in Scripture. DE versions rob us of many of these subtle but vital truths about assembly practice.

Look at Matthew 18:20:

  • KJV: For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them. (ESV is similar.)
  • NASB: For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.
  • NIV: For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.
  • NLT: For where two or three gather together because they are Mine, I am there among them.

The verb gathered together is in the passive voice—the Holy Spirit gathers men and women to Christ’s name. Further, the verb’s tense is perfect—they have been gathered from a starting point in the past up until the present. The DE translations completely ignore these points, and even NASB misses the fact that the verb is passive.

1 Corinthians 14:16 provides another crucial example:

  • KJV: Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say “Amen” at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?
  • ESV: … anyone in the position of an outsider …
  • NASB: … the one who fills the place of the ungifted …
  • NIV: … one who finds himself among those who do not understand …
  • NLT: … those who don’t understand …

1 Corinthians 14:13-16 discusses the Lord’s Supper—a meeting consisting of praying, singing, and blessing. Since believers express their doctrinal fellowship physically by sharing the “bread which we break” and “the cup of blessing which we bless,” it is vital to demarcate the members who are “within” from the unlearned and unbelievers who are “without” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) Thus the verse describes a physical place (Greek topos, as in topography). Note that it is not merely a condition, but a position—Paul does not simply say “one who is unlearned,” but rather “one who occupies the location of the unlearned.” The DE versions delete this vital truth.

7. DE Limits the Meaning of Ambiguous Expressions  Many words and phrases in the Bible can be interpreted properly in more than one way. Consider 2 Corinthians 5:14:

  • ESV: For the love of Christ controls us… (KJV is similar.)
  • CEV: We are ruled by Christ’s love for us… (NLT, NIV are similar.)

The phrase “the love of Christ” could be an objective genitive (our love for Christ) or a subjective genitive (Christ’s love for us). In such cases of ambiguity, DE translators will decide on the “correct” meaning, and then employ wording that enforces that meaning and bars readers from access to other possible meanings. The translators seem to regard their readers as theological infants who are incapable of making their own decisions. They assume a priestly role, doling out the “proper” interpretation to the benighted masses. In contrast, proper translation will shun interpretation as much as possible by carrying all of the possibilities that are in the original text over to the receptor language.


8. DE exalts the Reader Instead of the Author  The consumer-oriented Gallup-poll mentality of our culture has led translators and publishers to give readers what they want—rather than what they need. DE (Dynamic Equivalence) wrongly prioritizes the reaction of the reader instead of the intent of the Author. It’s all about you, the “target audience.” This exaltation of the reader is at the heart of the DE philosophy and is obvious in the endless number of “niche” Bibles.

  • “The NIV Adventure Bible. Kids can’t get into grown-up Bibles. But this revised edition is perfect for your 8-12 year old! Give kids the Bible that speaks their language!”
  • “The NIV Teen Devotional Bible. Why do young people make such a strong connection with this Bible? Because the 260 dynamite daily devotionals were written by teens—you can’t get any kid-friendlier than that!”
  • “The NIV Teen Study Bible. Cool and colorful, this Bible speaks clearly to the issues your 11 to 16-year olds face. ‘Dear Sam’ advice column, ‘Direct Line’ to God on various topics, ‘Jericho Joe,’ the cartoon character.”

These promotional pieces emphasize the egocentric response of the reader to the text—how it makes him feel—rather than the objective meaning of the words and phrases. Contrast this flippant and self-centered attitude with the words of the psalmist: “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory” (Ps 115:1 KJV).

9. DE Oversimplifies and Trivializes the Bible  According to a promotion piece for The Message, “Eugene Peterson’s fresh paraphrase is written in the informal rhythms and easy idiom of contemporary English—the way you’d talk to your friends, write an e-mail, or discuss the big football game.” DE translations make the Bible a casual book. These versions mesh nicely with a pervasive laziness that expects all pursuits in life to be easy. While essentially literal translations (e.g. KJV, ESV) require a high school reading level, DE translations patronize their readers by writing at a third or fourth grade level. They write as if their readers are incapable of serious thinking and impatient with any sentence that is not immediately understandable.

God’s Word demands our utmost, not our least. It is not a magazine. It contains things “hard to be understood” (2 Peter 3:16). In fact, the writers themselves did not always understand what they were writing (1 Peter 1:10-11). The Ethiopian eunuch could not grasp the meaning of Isaiah 53 without the help of Philip and the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:26-35).

A good translation elevates the people to the Bible, rather than lowering the Bible to the people. The Bible tells of events and reveals truths that are worth building a life on and staking eternity on; its words should convey gravitas—weight, authority, and power. Look at Genesis 22:1-2: “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, ‘Abraham’: and he said, ‘Behold,here I am.’ And he said, ‘Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah…’” Compare the featherweight tone of the CEV: “Some years later God decided to test Abraham, so he spoke to him…The Lord said, ‘Go get Isaac…’”

1 Samuel 15:22 illustrates the same principle. First the KJV: “And Samuel said, ‘Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?’” Now the CEV: “‘Tell me,’ Samuel said, ‘Does the Lord really want sacrifices and offerings? No! He doesn’t want your sacrifices. He wants you to obey Him.’”

With the DE renditions, the awe is lost. The KJV is dignified not because it is archaic, but because it employs timeless wording and stately rhythms. Moreover, an archaic ring is not necessarily a flaw—it better fits the telling of events that occurred thousands of years ago, and helps to check what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”—our constant tendency to overvalue the events and beliefs of our own era, and to dismiss the significance of all that has preceded us.

10. DE Blurs the Gospel Message  While the gospel is in every version, and God has blessed His word in DE form, there is still a danger here.


Consider Psalm 32:1-2 

  • ESV: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”
  • The Message: “Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be—you get a fresh start, your slate’s wiped clean. Count yourself lucky—God holds nothing against you and you’re holding nothing back from him.”

We face the same concern with John 3:5. 

  • ESV: “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”
  • The Message: “Jesus said, ‘You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the “wind hovering over the water” creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.’”

Does forgiveness of sins really come from getting “lucky” with God, or from submitting to “this original creation”?


DE translations clearly do not measure up and really should not be considered as proper Bibles. We may find a use for them as commentaries, because that is truly what they are. In contrast, Essentially Literal translations (KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, and the New Translation by John Darby) have carefully preserved the accuracy (2 Timothy 2:15), majesty (Psalm 29:4-5), sufficiency (Matthew 4:4), and power of the Bible (Psalm 119:11).


David Vallance MD

Used by permission