13 March 2006


Don’t trust statistics. They can be manipulated. They can present a complex situation so simply that they deceive. When it gets down to specifics, they are just plain untrustworthy.

However, every once in a while there is one that grabs you, one that is so drastic that it makes a point even when you build in all the caveats. I recently discovered one of these using my trusty BibleWorks 6.

Total number of words in the standard editions of the Hebrew and Greek testaments: 447,996

Total number of words in the NASB, the self-proclaimed “most literal” translation in English: 775,306.

To me, it looks like for every four original words the NASB has added nearly three more. Why? They do it to make the translation intelligible. The funny thing is that Young’s Literal Translation (which is so literal as to yield incorrect and unintelligible English pervasively) has even more words than the NASB (786,937).

Rendering one English word for every original word does not seem to be a real possibility. Don’t get me wrong: inspiration extends to the very words of the original autographs. But those autographs (and the copies which are leftover today) were written in three foreign (and/or dead) languages. These languages cannot be drawn up into precise mathematical equivalence with English. Article usage, case usage, mood usage have different ranges in each of them. The words themselves have different ranges. If strict formal equivalence is so nearly impossible to attain, perhaps we should be nice to people who are not quite so caught up with linguistic formalities, people, for instance, who use the NIV (726,109 words).

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