03/31/2016 in: Educationalon
I’ll be upfront with you. I’m not actually 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 California surfer. 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 some 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.
The two primary metrics for how scholars have translated the original language into the the English Bibles we have today are based on:
1. How close the translation is to the original, literal word (word for word).
2. How close the translation is to the original idea being communicated (thought for thought).
The more technical terms are usually put into three categories:
These translations attempt to reproduce the Greek and Hebrew as exactly as possible into the English language. Words, figures of speech, and sometimes even the sentence structure of the original languages are reproduced in a much more literal and limited way in this type of Bible. These hold -in varying degrees- to a generally word for word approach.
These Bibles run on a more thought-for-thought philosophy than the Formal Equivalent translations, but not to the extent that a paraphrase would. Greek and Hebrew figures of speech are replaced with modern rough equivalents. They are typically easier to read, though sometimes in a freer translation passages may lean more toward an interpretation than a strict translation.
Not usually considered ‘translations’ but rewordings of the Scriptures that speak in a very earthy, common tongue. Those who advocate these note that the New Testament was written in the common language of the people and not by scholars or philosophers. The results can be the clearest expression of Scripture on par with the original. However, theological lenses can more easily influence the interpretation. Some paraphrases are based on the original Hebrew/Greek and some are based on more formal equivalent English translations.
The centuries old 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 to.” If my translator literally interpreted my statement to the audience and said, Hong Kong is the coldest city I’d ever been to, they’d probably think I grew up in the middle of the Gobi desert (Hong Kong never really gets cold). 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 for Bible translators has been to translate Scripture into thousands of languages worldwide, maintaining as literal an interpretation while still making it readable and understandable to the culture. So, unless you can read the Biblical Hebrew and Greek yourself every translation you have read has gone through this challenge.
Where does your favorite translation rank in terms of being word for word and thought for thought? Check out the *graphic below (click for larger image):
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 most Bible translations have an introduction that explains their translation philosophy. You can also check out the links below for more in depth thoughts on the differences between translations.
- How to Chose A Translation For All Its Worth
- How we got the Bible
- The Origin of the Bible
- The Challenge of Bible Translation
* 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