Seven LiFE Essentials—Principles of a “literary functional equivalence” method of Bible translating

This is a revision of an earlier post (January 5, 2013). I propose that there are seven (not “five” as earlier asserted) main principles, premises, or assumptions underlie a LiFE (“literary functional equivalence”)-style translation approach as applied to the Scriptures:

1. The foundational base text, the canon of Scripture, is demonstrably, hence arguably an excellent, “literary” document, consisting of many different genres (discourse types) and individual styles of composition, from persuasive prose to pure poetry and everything in between.

2. The available literary/oratorical resources of the TL are fully sufficient, when used judiciously and creatively, to match the literary qualities of the biblical text, whether on the phonological, lexical, syntactic, or discourse level of composition.

3. A “functional” approach to translation—supplemented by modified Skopos Theory, Relevance Theory, and an overall Frames of Reference cognitive model—can be effectively applied in any Bible translation setting.

4. Diverse degrees, or strategies, of LiFE translational application are possible with respect to rendering the original text, whether more or less literally or idiomatically, with respect to the Scriptures as a whole, or only selected portions.

5. Depending on the language involved, different features of linguistic Macro– or micro-form may be selected for specific “literary enhancement” (foregrounding, making more “relevant” or “domesticated”) in a LiFE translation.

6. The translation team must well-trained, capable, and competent in the various aspects of the LiFE method, while the primary target language audience must be educated as to the nature of this type of translation and fully supportive of its use.

7. A literary, sound-sensitive (“oratorical”) LiFE version is intellectually stimulating, emotively engaging, and spiritually satisfying for competent translators to use their diverse artistic gifts to produce.

The first premise provides the motivating and justifying force for all of the others: IF the text of Scripture is somehow “literary/oratorical” in nature (manifesting certain functionally significant artistic, rhetorical, and structural qualities), THEN this dimension of inclusive “meaning” needs to be taken into account when setting up a project and formulating its goals. This amounts to a significant ethical issue–being true, or “faithful,” to the source text and the compositional intentions of its original author (and in the case of Scripture, its divine Author). Project organizers must at least acknowledge the presence of this factor in the biblical documents, even if they are unable, for whatever reason, to take it into serious consideration within the scope of the translation itself. Various documents in support of the seven principles outlined above are listed at the following site:

This helpful definition was contributed by my doctoral student at Stellenbosch University, Milton Watt: “A LiFE translation is normally composed with the framework of a TL genre that is functionally equivalent to the primary SL discourse being rendered, but has its own distinctive stylistic features that operate as a formal ‘package’ to convey the principal communicative purpose(s) of the original text, resulting in a final product that has recognized artistic qualities on all strata of linguistic structure in the TL.”

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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