Study Bible notes provide a contextual framework for the biblical text

One of the early problems with the Dynamic Equivalence (DE) approach was its focus on “content” (however deep or layered) or “the message” (without always clearly defining what that meant). This was coupled with the assumption that it is (or was) possible to communicate all of the intended (or inscribed) “meaning” of the biblical text (Hebrew or Greek) in a translation. Over the years early DE advocates (like myself) have come to see the inadequacy of these perspectives. There’s much more meaning in terms of the text and its presumed extratextual context than meets the eye. One solution that we have been promoting then is the use of “study Bibles” with expository notes that can provide at least some of the necessary hermeneutical frames that the translation cannot give and yet are needed for its fuller understanding. I appreciated all the examples that you took the time to give us, in particular, those that reflect the Bible’s Jewish background throughout.

As to what type of version to use as the text, a Formal Correspondence (FC) or a DE version, again, it depends on your primary target readership. Here in my part of Africa, we favor a DE (“common language”) version as the text, but then refer to the already existing and familiar FC (“missionary version”) regularly in the footnotes, especially when there are major differences in wording between them. In the case of English versions, you may well wish to reverse this procedure, as some have suggested—that is, use a more literal version like ESV as the text, and then give a selection of DE (or functional renderings) in the notes (e.g., GNT, NLT, CEV, even “The Message”). These translational citations would be in addition to other types of source-context-oriented background notes (historical, political, Jewish cultural, etc.). I think that this would be a very helpful procedure. In my area I have even proposed the production of a diglot version, that is, the FC and DE versions side by side as co-translations with the footnotes referring to both—the aim being to produce a more complete reference version for local pastors and Bible teachers who have very little access to such study resources. However, such a version may well prove to be too complicated and expensive to produce—perhaps also too sophisticated a tool for efficient use.

That brings up a related point and all the effort (and expense) necessary to produce a good study Bible. Having worked on two such versions in the NT (Chewa in Malawi and Tonga in Zambia), I can verify that concern. Both versions have taken us a decade, just for the NT! In many ways your note composers and editors have to be even more qualified and competent than your original translators because they must be able to generate meaningful, readable, contextualized, non-controversial, and concise (!) commentary with reference to the biblical text via its vernacular translation. I better not go into more detail about this elaborate process here, but if anyone is interested in some of the major challenges involved, I might refer you to chapter 7 in “LiFE-Style Translating” (the 2nd, 2011 edition).

A final note: Eugene A. Nida, probably himself recognizing the limitations of the DE approach to Bible translation, who introduced the basic theory and practice of study Bibles production to Africa in a 1987 (as I recall) workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. This led to the development of the first sub-Saharan study Bible in an African language, Swahili, and then the second, Chewa. Many more are currently in production all over the continent. Again, I am grateful to Dr. Nida for his foresight and initiative in this regard.

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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