It is sometimes said, in conversations on Bible study, that the most literal translation is the most accurate but can be more difficult to understand, while a dynamic-equivalent translation is more readily understood but further removed from the actual source text. There is truth to this, but it is misleading.
In some cases, in fact, the most literal translation will be the most deficient, not just because it is difficult to read but because the idea of a ‘direct, literal translation’ is itself misguided, as we’ve explained above. That is why translations, in and of themselves, can never be trusted, as if they placed the reader in possession of objective data that anyone with a working knowledge of both languages could follow in order to arrive at an accurate understanding of the text in question.
On the contrary, if the translator does not possess a complete understanding of both mentalities, including their differences, and if he does not fully comprehend the meaning of the work he is translating, then he cannot possibly succeed in his task. Because of this difficulty, in order for a text to be translated it really must cease to be a translation and must become a commentary, which is to say, it must involve not just translation but interpretation. This allows the translator to make up for the discrepancies between languages, and to ‘fill in the gaps’ that the translation itself cannot possibly be expected to fill.
The problem with the assumption mentioned at the outset—which is that ‘dynamic-equivalent’ translations involve a mere modification of vocabulary—is that it is a naïve oversimplification that hides the magnitude of the interpretive task being handled by the translator. The ‘Bible student’ at this point will think that he’s simply been given an equivalent rearrangement of words which he can then set about interpreting, without realizing that he is not being told what the text says but rather what it means. He is only adding his own arbitrary nuance to an interpretation that took place without his involvement.