Bible Translations! Which One Works Best?
We can argue to no end on the different positive and negative qualities of each available Bible translation. There are many popular versions that I think some like and some do not like. I do not profess one to be the best for you. Only you can determine what works best for you. I would probably say that it would be best if we could all read the original Hebrew and Greek and study based upon only the original words that were recorded for us. But since there are only a few people in the world that have this ability to read and study Hebrew and Greek, that forces the rest of us to read translations which all have some short comings to them.
The next thing I would like to point out is a translation is not the same as an interpretation. However, after years of study in the Bible I have discovered how interpretation has definitely crept into translations. Because translator’s are human and subject to errors, many of them have allowed their personal belief system to influence what their translations say. This in affect causes certain and specific areas of the translation to be slanted or skewed toward some belief that is contrary to the rest of the Bible. Let me be bold and describe an example of a major translation error in the NIV Bible. I’ll start by saying I’m not saying don’t read the NIV. A scripture that most everyone is familiar with and that is John 3:16. I use to see signs in the end zone at the football game on TV with “John 3:16” in bold letters. I think the devil has tried to stop these signs, but anyway that is not my subject. In the NIV John 3:16 makes one critical mistake that some might say is a minor change, but it changes everything and contradicts many other verses of the Bible. This word that is translated incorrectly is “Only”. It basically says Jesus was the “Only” son of God. Says Who? The original Greek word which was translated as “begotten” in the KJV actually means “born”. So what is the big deal? Well Islam says God has no Son. The NIV says God only has ONE Son. Where does that leave the rest of us? What is the difference between One and None. The only difference is single letter “N”. That omits the rest of the body of Christ and leaves them on the outside of God’s family looking in, wondering how do I get to be in the family? I’m sorry if I picked on your favorite Bible translation, I didn’t mean to put it down. I simply wanted to make a point with one example. I could certainly find similar problems in other translations.
So what would be helpful to you may not be helpful to me. Nevertheless, I will tell you that there are generally three types of Bible translations that we can choose from. Let’s look at these briefly so that we can better understand how to choose what we study.
|Literal||Formal Equivalence||Word for Word|
|Dynamic||Functional Equivalence||Thought for Thought|
|Free||Paraphrased||Concept for Concept|
We can see from the above chart that there is generally three different approaches to translating the Word of God. The first paradigm is many times called a literal approach. In this approach a translator attempts to take an original Hebrew or Greek word and then to find a corresponding English word that will convey a similar meaning. In my opinion, this is actually, the best possible approach to Bible translation. However, even this approach can fall short and cause problems. If you study the original Hebrew you will find that sometimes a Hebrew word will be translated one way in one verse and then a totally different way in another verse. For example, the Hebrew word “H120” in the Strong’s concordance is usually translated as “man” in the majority of verses. But did you know that the Hebrew word “H121” is also the same word. But this time it is translated as “Adam”. Interesting problem, how do you know which one to translate where. It seems that it could be very subjective and sometimes it depends upon your beliefs or other scriptural knowledge on which one God is talking about.
The next translation paradigm is referred to as dynamic. Sometimes this can be a positive approach to translating the Bible and sometimes negative. The general approach in this method is a “thought for thought” translation. That means the translators read the original verse and then attempts to put the primary concepts and thoughts within that verse in the English translation. The only problem I see with this approach is that no one man can potentially understand everything about a single verse. God’s word is so much more complex than that. A single verse can potentially have an infinite number of thoughts associated with it. There are always implications to every verse of scripture. There are always multiple applications to every verse of scripture. There are so many possible thoughts behind every verse that it shocks me to think that men think they can even attempt to translate the key thoughts of God. God said my ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts. So there is a way that seems right to men, but to God, He declares it to be wrong.
The final approach to Bible translation is called “Free”. This approach in my viewpoint is the least useful of them all. If this is the only translation that you think you can read and understand, then I say stick with it and go for it. For me, I do not use these types of translations. The primary reason why is it is based upon a concept for concept translation and it gives the most freedom to the translator to interject their theological beliefs and project concepts, thoughts and ideas that can potentially be contrary to what God actually says. You can still find good things in every translation as long as you are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each. After all it is better to read any Bible translation than to read none at all. Perhaps you have thoughts on this subject and would like to leave your opinion in a comment on what translation works best for you and why.