Drinking Deeply

Tuesday, February 28, 2006 at 3:15 PM

Which Bible translation to use?

So sometimes someone asks me via email (and by sometimes I mean once) which Bible translation to go with.

There are some excellent resources online that help us distinguish what makes a good translation and what may be better left on the shelf.

Bible Research has been particularly useful for myself.

But as for me, to summarize, there are probably a few questions to ask:

What translation philosophy?

In general translations lie upon a nice spectrum from "paraphrase" to "literal." Some translations prefer "thought for thought" where the thoughts underlying the text is translated rather than the words. Others prefer "word for word." Since every translation is in a sense an interpretation, there is interpretation in all translations, even the most "literal" ones.

As a whole, the more paraphrasic (new word!) a Bible is, the easier it is to read straightforwardly. The danger of course is that the more paraphrasing going on, the greater the possibilities of introducing a concept into a text that is foreign or eliminating a concept that is biblical.

The big benefit of a more literal translation is fairly obvious: closer adherance to the original words reduces that possibility (but it is still there). Another side benefit is the ability to look across various literal translations (KJV, ESV, NASB etc) and see what other translators have done with a specific word, with a thought for thought that is a bit difficult. The English words we are reading may not have a direct Hebrew/Greek equivelent.

Of course, the tradeoff is that some passages are difficult to understand because of the inconsistency in the grammer structure. There are also a great number of phrases in the Bible that require commentary to clarify what it means. (I'm thinking particularly of girding the loins of the mind).

Ultimately it boils down to "What are you looking for?" For a study Bible where you want to dig individually into verses to understand Paul's closely reasoned arguments and the direct literary word parallels in the OT, a literal translation might be your best bet, for a Bible that you want to keep on your bedside for reading casually simply to gain big pictures of the entire Bible, maybe it would be easier to go with a thought for thought.

Another question that one probably should ask is "What translation is preached out of on Sundays?" It is incredibly difficult to follow a pastor who is doing a word study in a particular verse if you don't even have that word in your thought for thought Bible!

One final note: the King James Version is not inspired or especially preserved by God. Many of the arguments about this don't really hold up to a simple question "Why did God preserve an English translation but not any other language?" If you enjoy the KJV for it's literary style, or because you prefer the translation philosophy, go with it. But if you think that all other translations are heretical and wrong, you should talk to James White.

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Blogger Puritan Belief said...

I noticed you fixed up the layout for IE.

Yes I particularily enjoy the NASB and the KJV. We all have bias about which translations we like I think.

One sentence can have a totally different meaning depending on who reads it. This is why when Jesus reveals to us the true meaning the christians are in fellowship, agreement and unity.  


Blogger Joanna Martens said...

Hey friend,
thanks for that run-down of Bible translations. It was very knowledgeable! I understand that the NIV is thought for thought- and one of the translators for the book of John said don't read it b/c of the amount of "thoughts" that were left out/changed...
Just a thought.
God bless!  


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