Translating the biblical texts into English (or any other language) is not as simple as it may sound. For starters, the translator has to determine which philosophy of translation to follow. The two basic options are formal equivalence (also called word-for-word, literal, or essentially literal) and dynamic equivalence (also called thought-for-thought). And there is also a combination of these two basic philosophies (as often exemplified by the NIV and the HCSB).
The difference between the two translation philosophies can be seen in lots of ways. One is the question of whether it is appropriate (or even permissible) for the translator to add specificity in the translated text. Here’s a simple example in 2 Kings 24:19. I’m quoting first from the NASB, which generally provides a good word-for-word translation of the original text, and then from the NLT (dynamic equivalence):
2 Kings 24:18-19 (NASB95)
18 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah.
19 He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done.
2 Kings 24:18-19 (NLT)
18 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. His mother was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah from Libnah.
19 But Zedekiah did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, just as Jehoiakim had done.
Look at the first word of v. 19. The NASB translates the Hebrew text literally with the pronoun “He.” Incidentally, all formal-equivalence translations (e.g., KJV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, ESV; also NIV) join the NASB in rendering it “He.”
The NLT (joined by NCV, TEV; also HCSB) replaces the pronoun with the proper name Zedekiah. These dynamic translations feel free to translate beyond the literal wording to ensure that the meaning is accurately conveyed. (Everyone would agree that the antecedent to “he” is Zedekiah, who is named at the beginning of v. 18, even though the masculine name that immediately precedes the pronoun is Zedekiah’s maternal grandfather, Jeremiah.)
Is each approach appropriate? Is each permissible? Is one preferable to the other?
My answer is that each translation is simply following its own basic philosophy. The literal translations render the passage with a word-for-word correspondence. The dynamic translations render it with an expansion of the wording to ensure that the meaning is accurately conveyed.
If you use both styles of translation, you get the best of both worlds.