A look at the proliferation of Christian Scriptures over the last fifty years of the 20th century reveals that millions of people worldwide gained access to the Scriptures in ways that would previously not have been thought possible. In large measure, this came as a result of an increase in the number of languages where translation was carried out and the revolution that was taking place in the field of Bible translation.
As new resources became available, new methods of translating were taught, and translators were better trained. Bible readers across the globe benefited from translations that were clear, understandable and faithful to the original texts. While the Bible translation revolution required several great minds to attain the prominence it now receives, one name stands out as a pioneer and champion in the development of theory and praxis, that of Eugene A. Nida.
Born on November 11, 1914, in Oklahoma City, OK, Eugene Nida and his family moved to Long Beach, California when he was 5 years old. He began studying Latin in high school and was already looking forward to being able to translate Scripture as a missionary. By the time he received his Bachelor’s degree in 1936 from the University of California at Los Angeles, he was well on his way. Having earned his degree in Greek, summa cum laude, he enrolled in the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and discovered the works of such linguists as Edward Sapir and Leonard Bloomfield. Nida then pursued a Master's degree in Greek New Testament at the University of Southern California. In 1941 he began a PhD in Linguistics at the University of Michigan and completed it in two years. His dissertation, A Synopsis of English Syntax, was at that time, the only full-scale analysis of a major language according to the “immediate constituent” theory.
The year 1943 was a busy one for Eugene Nida. In addition to completing his PhD, he was ordained in the Northern Baptist Convention. He married Althea Nida, nee Sprague, and joined the staff of the American Bible Society (ABS) as a linguist. Althea Nida died in 1992. In 1997 Nida married an important executive in the translations program of the European Union in Brussels, Dr. Elena Fernandez-Miranda.
Although his initial hiring at the American Bible Society was experimental, Nida was made Associate Secretary for Versions from 1944-46, and from then until he retired in 1984, he was Executive Secretary for Translations. His contribution to Bible translation did not only include theoretical ones. He spearheaded efforts to create better source texts for the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Bible. He launched journals for practical discussions of translation and cultural problems. And together with Johannes Louw he produced a now standard reference work, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains.
Nida is also remembered as a driving force that brought the United Bible Societies together with the Vatican to work out an agreed statement on Bible translation that would enable cooperative ventures from the 1960s onwards. He died on August 25, 2011.