First of all I want to state up front that I’n not a pastor or theologian nor do I know Hebrew or Greek, I like most of you am just a layman, but I do take my bible study seriously and I do want to be a good Berean and I want to study to show myself approved. As to bibles and translations, I have quite a few. I have at least 14 translations on my Kindle (an electronic book reader) and several translations in print. I also use a Greek interlinear New Testament, a Strong’s exhaustive concordance and a Vine’s dictionary of New Testament words. I also use bible apps like Bible Hub and Bible Gateway which provide a wealth of in depth study tools. I also am very proficient in English and read at a 12th grade level.
What the Bible says about Bible Translation:
Before we go into the basics of different types of translations, I want to see what the Bible actually says about it. There are not many verses about what kind of translation is best, in fact I’ve only ever found one verse in the entire bible dealing with bible translation, and it’s a very telling verse (King James Onlyists probably will hate it) The verse is found in Nehemiah 8:8 which says, “So they read from the Book of the Law of God, translating and explaining it so that the people understood the reading.” (Amplified Bible). So it comes down to what is your proficiency in English and which translation is written for that proficiency level and that’s the one you should read. Now with that said there’s an important thing to note and that is there are some very bad translations (usually in the form of paraphrase) that you should avoid. If you are a child, if your first language is not English but you are learning English or if you have a learning disability then a reasonably accurate paraphrase bible may be right for you. If this does not describe you then you should stick to either a thought for thought or word for word translation depending on your reading and comprehension skill set.
The Three Main Types of Translation:
The three types of bible translation methods are 1. Formal Equivalence, 2. Dynamic Equivalence and 3. Paraphrase. Formal Equivalence is the most literal and some would say the most accurate type of translation there is because it is a word for word translation. The problem with Formal Equivalence is first that the syntax is completely different in Hebrew and Greek from English, so an absolute word for word translation like in the Interlinear Greek or Hebrew bible will read like something said by Yoda in Star Wars. Here’s an example, this is 1 John 1:7 in the NIV (a Dynamic Equivalence translation) versus the Greek Interlinear: NIV: “ But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Greek Interlinear: “But if in the Light we should walk as He is in the Light fellowship we have with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ son His cleanses us from every sin. This is the most literal translation you can get and as you can see the syntax is a bit jumbled from how most modern English speakers would talk or write, however there are places where things get really jumbled in the Greek Interlinear. I usually don’t have a problem with it but as I’ve said I’m pretty proficient in English, but not everyone is. There are other problems with word for word translations. A big struggle in this kind of translation besides syntax is the fact that there a re words in Greek and Hebrew that have no analog in English or there are multiple words that have only one English word that can be used. Foe example in English we only have one word for Love (love) but in Greek there are four words for love (agape, Phileo, Storge and Eros) in Greek . These are just a few of the problems translators have to deal with in making a Formal Equivalence translation. Formal Equivalence is also know as Word for word translations and would include versions like the Interlinear Greek, NASB, Amplified Bilbe, KJV, NKJV, Young’s Literal and the ESV.
The next type of translation is called Dynamic Equivalence. As I’ve mentioned before, this is a thought for thought type translation. Here the translators try to give the reader the gist of what the original authors thoughts were encompassed in the original writings in order to help the modern reader to comprehend the passage better. The drawback to this kind of translation is that it looses a varying degree of accuracy found in Formal Equivalence, but what it looses in absolute accuracy it tends to gain in readability, understanding and comprehension. A more serious problem can creep into the Dynamic Equivalence translation method that is less often found in Formal Equivalence. That problem is these translations can be colored by the translator’s doctrinal positions. If a translator is more liberal or conservative or has Pentecostal or Reformed leanings (to mention a few) these doctrinal positions held by a translator or team of translators can tint a given translation. It’s not that this is wrong or sinful per se but understanding where a translation team’s doctrinal leanings or biases fall can be helpful when reading a thought for thought translation. We all have differences in perception and we have certain doctrinal bents, as do translators because we are human but being aware of these and of the translator’s leanings I think is a good safeguard and it is especially important when we talk about paraphrase versions of the bible. Dynamic Equivalence (Thought for thought) translations would include the NIV, RSV, NIrV, CSV and the NLT.
Paraphrase versions of the bible are the easiest to understand (most are written at a third grade reading level or lower) and they are the least accurate versions because they are a paraphrase and not an actual translation from the original languages. These bibles are at high risk (in my opinion) from influences of those doing the paraphrase and the danger of this is that biblical error can be very high. I have found in my own reading that the Easy to Read Version is one of the best paraphrase bibles. The worst paraphrase in my opinion is the Message Bible, this version along with others like the Voice and the New Century Version I would steer clear of. Paraphrase bibles would include the ERV, The Message, The Voice and the Living Bible.
Older Vs. Newer Translations
There has been some controversy of late with those who strictly adhere to the King James Bible as the most accurate, most beautiful translation and it should be the only Bible English speaking people should read. These people believe that modern translations have been corrupted and some extremists have gone so far as to actually burn other translations! They do have a bit of a point when it comes to paraphrase versions but when it comes to modern scholarship and modern discoveries of very early biblical texts, they are way waaay off! The King James bible is over 400 years old and the English spoken then is not the English we speak today and many of the words are so outdated or the meaning has so changed that you need an old Oxford English dictionary to get the correct definition and meaning of many of the KJV words. The other problem is that the KJV is not based on the oldest most reliable bible fragments. All of the text in the KJV is based on much newer texts and in certain places, like in Revelation it is a translation of an incomplete translation by Erasmus. I’m not saying the KJV should be put out to pasture or that it’s an invalid bible, to the contrary it is the word of God. However when it comes to modern language usage, better scholarship and a larger, older collection of bible manuscripts and fragments today’s modern bibles (Both Formal and Dynamic Equivalence) give the most illumination to the modern English reader.
My personal favorite translation is the NASB because after reading other translations it’s the one I always come back to. I personally like to read passages in several different translations. What I find interesting is that many of the Formal and Dynamic translations are in some places identical word for word. In other places they differ slightly but you realize they’re all saying the same thing in just slightly different ways. The biggest differences are in the Paraphrase versions that sometimes don’t even convey anything close to what either the formal or dynamic translations state. Ultimately the most important thing is to not only have a translation you can easily understand but that you read it daily. Most important is that the Bible is like no other book in that it is living. If you are truly spiritually regenerated (born again) you have the Holy Spirit who can give you insight, illumination and understanding you would not have on your own. If you don’t understand ask the Lord to teach you and He will!
Elder of Spiritual Life
Sebring Friends Church