The American Bible Society, his longtime employer, announced the death. Mr. Nida, who also had a home in Brussels, had lived in Europe in retirement.
Widely considered the father of modern Bible translation, Mr. Nida (pronounced NYE-duh) was for four decades the head of the Bible society’s translation program. He was known in particular for developing an approach to translation — and a method of training translators — that has influenced translators of religious and secular literature.
What defined Mr. Nida’s work was his insistence that Bible translations be accessible to the people for whom they were intended. After joining the Bible society in 1943, he visited scores of countries, where he recruited native speakers and trained them as translators.
Previously, most Bible translations had been done by Western missionaries, who rarely had great familiarity with the local language. Not surprisingly, the word-for-word translations that resulted were often stiff, unpalatable and largely inaccessible.
“The genius of Nida was that he also developed a pedagogical approach,” Philip C. Stine, the author of a biography, “Let the Words Be Written: The Lasting Influence of Eugene A. Nida,” said in a telephone interview on Friday. “You could take people with very unsophisticated linguistic backgrounds and actually train them, using Nida’s methods.”
Drawing on linguistics, anthropology and communication science, Mr. Nida devised an approach to translation known as “dynamic equivalence.” (It was later called “functional equivalence.”)
Dynamic equivalence was intended to produce translations that read naturally, were rooted in the local idiom and yet retained fealty to the original Scripture. The approach, which took as its starting point Hebrew and Greek biblical texts, centered, quite literally, on the art of faithful adaptation.
Traversing the globe by plane, train and canoe, Mr. Nida set in motion the painstaking process of translating Scripture into more than 200 languages, among them Navajo; Tagalog and Ilocano, spoken in the Philippines; Quechua, an indigenous language of Peru; Hmong, spoken in Southeast Asia; and Inuktitut, an indigenous language of the Canadian Arctic.
Mr. Nida also played an active role in creating the Good News Bible, a colloquial English-language edition produced by the Bible society and published in two volumes — the New Testament in 1966, and the combined Old and New Testaments in 1976.
Sometimes criticized for its linguistic simplicity (“Behold the fowls of the air,” for instance, became “Look at the birds flying around”), the Good News Bible was originally intended for speakers of English as a second language. Embraced in unanticipated droves by native English speakers, it has sold millions of copies.
Eugene Albert Nida was born in Oklahoma City on Nov. 11, 1914. He earned a bachelor’s degree in classics from the University of California, Los Angeles, followed by a master’s from the University of Southern California in New Testament Greek. In 1943, he earned a doctorate in linguistics from the University of Michigan and was also ordained as a minister.
One of his first tasks at the Bible society, as he recounted in a memoir, “Fascinated by Languages” (2003), was evaluating a translation of the Gospel of Mark into Yipounou, a language of Gabon, in West Africa.
In linguistics, Mr. Nida did important early work in morphology, which studies the internal architecture of words.
Mr. Nida’s first wife, Althea Sprague, died before him. His survivors include his second wife, Elena Fernandez-Miranda, and stepchildren. Information on other survivors was not available.
Translated back into English, some of the Bible passages produced using Mr. Nida’s method yield a resonant poetry. As The New York Times reported in a 1955 article about his work, “ ‘I am sorrowful’ gets a variety of translations for tribes within a small area of central Africa: ‘My eye is black,’ ‘My heart is rotten,’ ‘My stomach is heavy’ or ‘My liver is sick.’ ”
A version of this article appeared in print on September 4, 2011, on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Rev. Eugene A. Nida, 96; Spurred Bible Translations.