A question that I often get asked is “what translation should I use?” We live in a day and age where translations of the Bible abound. When you enter a Christian bookstore, you could find up to 15 or more of them. You want to be sure that you are reading and studying the right one. How do you go about mining through all of the translations that are available to ensure that you have the “right one” for you? That will be our focus in this month’s newsletter as I hope to help you “trek through all those translations.”
The reason for these numerous English translations is that, for one thing, none of us speak the languages that the Scriptures were originally written in. (Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic for the Old Testament and Koine Greek in the New.) In fact, those languages are not currently found to be spoken anywhere today. So, if we want to be able to read and understand God’s Word, then we need to have it in the language that we know and use. A Bible in a language that we do not speak will not do us any good. God wants us to know Him and that’s why He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. Men like John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, and William Tyndale realized this when they each risked their lives in order to translate the Bible into the language of the people so that they could read about our great God and His wonderful work of salvation through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In their cases, the only translation available at the time was in Latin which only the priests knew. We, in particular, owe a great deal of gratitude for the Lord’s work through Tyndale as it is on account of him that we have the Bible translated in English today. It was his life’s passion and work to enable each individual to be able to study the Scriptures so that the plowboy would know more of the Scriptures than the corrupted priests of his day. Much of the King James Bible actually uses Tyndale’s English translation word for word. (76% of Tyndale’s translation of the Old Testament can be found in the King James and 84% of his New Testament translation.)
While all of this explains why we have English translations, it doesn’t address why there are so many of them floating around at the present. Why isn’t just one sufficient? Why didn’t Bible publishers stop with the 1611 Kings James Version? We have to realize that words are constantly changing their meaning throughout history. Take the word “gay” for instance. What it meant in the theme song of the old Flintstones cartoon is not how it is understood today. No longer does it refer to a “state of happiness” but a “sexual preference.” The word has changed its meaning. Though the King James Version is a good and fine translation, several words can be found in its pages that don’t have the same meaning today as they did back in 1611 England. Like “gay,” their meaning has evolved into something else over time. Psalm 47:2 and 66:3 in the King James Version describe God and His works as being “terrible.” A teenager reading those passages today would not view this as a good thing. That’s because the word “terrible” in our modern English conveys a negative idea whereas in the 1500s (much of the English of the King James originates years before from the other English translations in existence previously), “terrible” meant “full of awe,” the equivalent to our word “awesome” which is what can be found used in many modern day translations. Do you see now why the development of modern translations are necessary? Just as the Old and New Testaments were written in the language that was commonly spoken in their day, we want to be sure that we have the Bible in the common language spoken today. Also, through more research, we have discovered older Greek manuscripts and how better to understand some words of ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek, making modern updates necessary in order to have a more accurate translation.
When it comes to modern translations, there are predominantly two different philosophies. What is called “formal equivalent” or “word-for-word” translations and “dynamic equivalent” or “thought-for-thought” translations. “Word-for-word” translations seek to find the English word that specifically corresponds to the original Hebrew or Greek and place them in the same order that they are found in the original. Of course, for some words, a precise equivalent can be very hard to find. The King James (KJV), New King James (NKJV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and English Standard Version (ESV) are examples of this kind of translation. The “thought-for-thought” translations, on the other hand, seek to convey the thought of the original without necessarily using the exact same words in the same way as the original. This type includes the New Living Translation (NLT), Today’s English Version (TEV), Contemporary English Version (CEV), and the New Century Version (NCV). Then there are some translations that attempt to do a little bit of both in order to be accurate and more readable. The New International Version (NIV), Holman Christian Standard Version (HCSB), the New English Translation (NET), and perhaps the newest translation on the market today, the Christian Standard Version (CSB), all fall into this camp.
What ultimately matters in choosing a translation to read and study is that it is just that; a translation. I would caution to stay away from paraphrases like Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” because they are not as accurate to the original. What you want is a translation that is accurate which you can understand. My personal preference is a formal equivalent or one that seeks to be a balance of both types. Translations such as the NASB, ESV, NIV, KJV, and NKJV. It has often been suggested that much benefit can be found in your personal study in consulting more than one translation to find out how different ones have rendered the text.
One final thing. Don’t stop when you find the translation that you can understand. Make sure to open it up daily and read it! The right translation for you will not profit you siting on the shelf or remaining unopened on the coffee table. The transforming power can be found in the words themselves as they are the living word of God which brings life and growth as we discussed last month. Happy reading!
Love in Christ,
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15
- I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.