I’ll be upfront with you. I’m not going to tell you what Bible translation I think is the best. I won’t even tell you which one I prefer or if it may or may not have colorful illustrations that make Jesus look like a surfer from Southern California. I tend to agree with Pastor Rick Warren when he said, “The best Bible translation is one that is translated into your life.” In saying that, there are a couple of things that are worth knowing that may help you decide what you use for study, what you recommend to new believers, and even what you read to your kids.
Centuries of scholarship have gone into the English translations we have today and there are even some great books written on how to choose a translation.
The two primary metrics for how translators have interpreted the English Bibles we have today are based on:
1. How close is the translation to the original literal word – word for word.
2. How close is the translation to the original idea being communicated – thought for thought.
The challenge for scholars is how do you translate the original manuscripts in a way that makes them accurate and literal, but also readable and understandable?
For an example of this challenge imagine that I’m speaking to an audience in China through a translator and say, “Hong Kong is the coolest city I’ve ever been too.” If my translator literally interpreted my statement to the audience and said, Hong Kong is the coldest city I’d ever been too, they’d probably think I grew up in the middle of the Gobi desert. I would want my translator to understand my culture and west coast slang enough to take the liberty to translate my thought, as opposed to my literal words; “He really likes Hong Kong”.
And so for centuries the challenge has been to translate the Bible into thousands of languages worldwide, maintaining as literal an interpretation while still making it readable and understandable. So where does your favorite translation rank in terms of being word for word and thought for thought? Check out the *graphic below:
You’ll notice this chart doesn’t say one translation is better than another but it is a useful graphic to understand where the different translations lean in how they interpret the original manuscripts. If you want to dig deeper, check out the links below for more in depth thoughts on the differences between translations.
- A guide to popular Bible Translations
- How we got the Bible
- A History of Bible Translations
- The Origin of the Bible
*Image courtesy of Zondervan
** Also, please note that there is no specific difference (other than their place on the continuum) between the orange and green Bibles listed in the graphic