The ‘evolution’ of/from Nida

So-called “Dynamic Equivalence” (better: “Functional Equivalence”) Bible translation as developed by Eugene A. Nida has “evolved” in some UBS circles over the years and has been considerably supplemented (some would say, transformed) into the cognitive “frames of reference” approach (see for example, Contextual Frames of Reference in Translation, St Jerome, 2008). This inclusive methodology recognizes that no translation, whether Functional Equivalence or Formal Correspondence, is sufficient unto itself. Rather, it must inevitably be supplemented by various paratextual tools, such as, section headings, cross references, glossary entries, illustrations, maps, diagrams, and explanatory-descriptive notes.

The last mentioned in particular provides a way of supplying vital information about the biblical text (vocabulary, structure, genre, etc.) and situational context (customs, history, geography, etc.) in order to prevent as much as possible of this background from being “eradicated” from the minds of contemporary readers of the translation. This is not a perfect solution (must still be complemented by the preaching-teaching ministry of the church), but at least it helps bridge the gap between the biblical text and world and that of today’s receptors (or consumers).

The point is that probably no translation per se can do justice to a passage like Romans 16:16 (and many others like it in the Scriptures), though such an evaluation would depend also on what sort of interpretive frames of reference its primary readership/audience bring to such a text. For example, how biblically literate (or the opposite) are they? In any case, an expository footnote is probably necessary–for a formal correspondence version, to explain the significance of “kissing” in an early Christian setting; for a functional equivalence version, to reveal the actual cultural symbolic form (“kissing”) of the original text that lies behind, for example, the “warm greeting” (CEV) of a contemporary translation. Thus, any version needs to be adequately “contextualized” in view of its primary target audience.

Perhaps that is a cop-out in a way–any English translation will do, as long as it has enough well-conceived and worded footnotes, etc. to supplement the text. On the other hand, perhaps it is simply an honest recognition that we cannot achieve all that we would like to achieve within the text of a translation itself. So-called “study Bibles” can help, but only if readers can understand and apply the notes and other paratextual resources provided. On the other hand, what can we do to provide a corresponding audio (+/- visual) frame of reference for non-readers?

But someone might ask: “Is it not of more value to the readers of the translation to see a footnote that explains the Jewish holy kiss in the text of the original readers as something like hearty handshakes in churches today for the contemporary readers? Why erase the culture from the text and explain it in footnotes when the text could retain its culture and readers get the perhaps-near function of that culture in the notes?”

This perspective and its application in Bible translation is probably the ideal. However, the final decision still depends on the primary target audience (or readership). For most (educated, competent) English readers of the Scriptures, perhaps, this is the right way to go–though I would still advise a lot of pre-project research of the readership that you are trying to reach with the Word. I don’t think that we can make blanket, across-the-board decisions in such major cases of procedure: “ALWAYS do this for EVERY English translation.” It all depends on the particular project in view–that is, its translation “brief” (job description) and “Skopos” (principal communicative goal) within a specific communicative setting of conveying the Scriptures to a given constituency.

Here in SE Africa where in many cultures the public “kissing” of adults is not traditionally practiced, I’d much rather put the intended meaning in the text and try perhaps to explain the original custom in a footnote. And even then it depends on the type of version you are producing; in the case of a translation that cannot, for economic reasons, allow a lot of footnotes, the one for Romans 16:16 might well get left out. I must hasten to add that it would not be up to me as a translation consultant to make this decision. Rather, that would be left up to the mother-tongue translation team along with the project’s editorial committee.


About ewendland

I am currently an instructor at the Lutheran Seminary, Lusaka, ZAMBIA (since 1968). My academic training has been in biblical studies (BA, Northwestern College; MST, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary), Bible translation (several SIL courses), linguistics (MA, University of Wisconsin, Madison), and African languages (PhD, UWM). I am a “retired” translation consultant for the United Bible Societies (having worked with projects in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). I currently still serve as an external examiner in Zambian languages (University of Zambia) and as visiting professor in OT, NT, and Ancient Studies at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, with an affiliation to the Centre for Bible Interpretation and Translation in Africa ( My research and writing interests focus on the literary (structural, poetic, rhetorical) analysis of biblical texts and their oratorical translation, especially in southeastern Bantu languages (
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