Is a literal translation the best translation?

SAPAR kids reading deeply their NT

The styles of translation can be put on a continuum. A literal translation would form one end of the continuum and a free translation might form the other end.

In a literal translation, the form of the language is preserved. The words are translated with little consideration for cultural meanings or language structure. For example, in Philippians 3:2, Paul warns the believers to ‘watch out for those dogs…’ (NIV). In English, we understand Paul’s warning to be against evil men but many cultures would not equate dogs with evil men. A literal translation would use the equivalent word to ‘dogs’ and leave the audience to figure out the meaning Paul wanted to convey (of course we know dogs can be dangerous!).

In Filipino languages, the normal word order of a sentence is verb-subject-object, unlike English structure which is subject-verb-object. It is possible to translate a sentence literally following the English word order, but the meaning of the sentence changes when that is done and it also sounds awkward.

On the other end of the continuum is a free translation. This translation style does not attempt to retain the form and may add or change the meaning of the text. This style might be called an adapted text and could be useful for other types of translated materials, such as an agriculture or health brochure, but not for Bible translation.

Both of these extremes need to be avoided. A literal translation sticks too closely to the form of the language; a free, or adapted, translation takes too many liberties with both form and meaning.