Eugene Nida , Vader van moderne Bybelvertaling sterf
Eugene Nida dies
By Dr Philip Stine
Eugene Nida, the giant of Bible translation in the twentieth century, died in hospital in
Brussels early this morning. He was 96. Conveying the news in a brief message, his widow
Elena said, “My adored husband has passed away 10 minutes ago. Thank you for your
prayers. He was a saint. The Lord is with him.” Photo (WAS96C23_20): Eugene A. Nida,
born November 11, 1914, died August 25, 2011.
Starting in 1943, for more than 50 years Eugene Nida was the leader of the translation
program of the American Bible Society, and subsequently the intellectual leader of the global
program of the United Bible Societies, as well as consultant to that organisation.
Dr Nida will be best remembered for the revolution he brought about in the field of Bible
translation in the mid-twentieth century. The resulting impact on the growth and development
of the Church continues to be felt as millions of people in hundreds of languages around the
world have access to the Bible because of the approach he developed and promoted.
Using concepts from linguistics, cultural studies, communication sciences and psychology,
Nida developed a practical approach to translation he called dynamic equivalence or
functional equivalence, the goal of which was to make the translation clear and
understandable as well as accurate. But his contribution did not stop with Bible translation.
He also influenced the emerging field of modern translation studies and is generally
acknowledged as having set in motion the developments that led to that discipline. Through
his numerous books and publications and extraordinary lecture schedule at major institutions
around the world which continued even when he was well into his 90s he was able to help
scholars, translators and specialists in Christian missions find new ways to think about
effective communication. Toward a Science of Translating (1964) and Theory and Practice
of Translation (1969) were translated into several languages and continue to be basic texts for
Nida graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1936, summa cum
laude, with a major in Greek and minor in Latin. He obtained one of the highest ratings in the
University’s history and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He spent that summer preparing
for missionary linguistic work with the organization that became the Summer Institute of
Linguistics (SIL), and subsequently began work on the Taramuhara language of Mexico.
However, health issues forced him to return to California. While continuing to train
translators with SIL in the summers, he began graduate study, receiving his Masters degree in
New Testament Greek in 1939 from the University of Southern California and doctorate in
linguistics from the University of Michigan in 1943.
In 1943 he joined the American Bible Society and immediately
embarked on extensive travel to work with Bible translators in
languages around the world, gradually developing the dynamic
equivalence approach. He was an extraordinarily effective
communicator, and was able to train translators with a wide range of
educational backgrounds how to use his approach. The resulting
translations were both accurate exegetically and understandable. The Bible has thereby
become available and accessible in an unprecedented way. This is equally true for languages
in Asia, Africa and Latin America which had had no previous translation as for English and
other major languages where there is a long tradition of translating. The Good News
Translation and Contemporary English translations in English, both produced by the
American Bible Society under the direction of Nida, are examples. But others such as the
New International Version and the New Jerusalem Bible also show his influence.
When a number of national Bible Societies, including the American Bible Society, joined
together for mutual support and formed the United Bible Societies in 1946, Nida was present
at the founding meeting, and subsequently was responsible for shaping the translation
programs of the new organization.
Nida recognized the need for translators to have the very best base texts to work from, and
led major projects on both the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament. These
projects resulted in The United Bible Societies Greek New Testament, the major Greek text
now used by scholars and translators, and in the Hebrew Old Testament Textual Project
which through the systematic approach the committee developed provided translators with
helpful discussion on over 6,000 difficult textual issues.
He was also responsible for a new approach to lexicography. The Greek-English lexicon
project that he headed up was based on the concept of semantic domains, related areas of
meaning, rather than on glosses. The result was an invaluable tool for translators who could
now more easily distinguish between multiple meanings of words.
It was no wonder that he was at various times honoured by both the Linguistic Society of
America – he served as president in 1968 – and the Society of Biblical Literature, and was
awarded numerous honorary degrees and other honours from academic institutions all over
His legacy continues in the Eugene A Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship at the American
Nida’s wife of 50 years, Althea Lucille Sprague Nida, passed away in 1993. Some time later,
he met a distinguished translator and interpreter, Dr Elena Fernandez-Miranda, whom he
married in 1997 and who survives him.
Philip C. Stine
Dr Philip Stine is the author of ‘Let the Words Be Written: the Lasting Influence of Eugene A
Nida’, (Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, 2004). He was Director for Translation,
Production and Distribution Services for the UBS from 1992 to 1998. Prior to that he was the
UBS Translation Services Coordinator (1984-1992), Africa Regional Translation
Coordinator (1982-1984) and a translation consultant in Africa (1968 to 1982