Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What Bible Translation is Best?

One of the greatest gifts that God has given us is his Word - the Bible. Some of the only things that might be better than the Bible are God’s love for us, and the salvation Christ accomplished by his work on the cross. Beyond that, I cannot think of much else in this life that is a greater gift to us than God granting us the revelation of himself in writing for us to study.  

However, with so many translations to choose from, how do we know what is best for us? It can be completely discouraging to someone who doesn’t know much about choosing a Bible.

There are many English translations on the market. Many Christians have a preference, most preferences seem to come from what they used as a child or when they first came to faith. Hopefully, this short message will help you in choosing a translation.

Every Bible we have today is a translation from ancient manuscripts: these ancient writings have been around for hundreds to even thousands of years. To get them into English, or any other language that you and I can read, they have to be “translated”. There are two  main “types” (styles) of translations: “dynamic equivalent’ and “literal equivalent”.

Dynamic Equivalent vs. Literal Equivalent 
A “dynamic equivalent” translation is a “thought-for-thought” translation. The scholars who use this method read a sentence or paragraph, basically a full thought, and attempt to translate it into common language so that it is both true to the original intent, and readable in the new language. 

A “literal equivalent” is a more “word-for-word” translation. The translators take the original language and attempt to translate every word from one language to another. This is not always as easy as it sounds, as one word in a language may have multiple equivalents in another language, or really no word that is the “literal equivalent”.

Let me say this before we move on: no translation is perfect. Anytime you translate from one language to another, no matter what style of translation you use, you inevitably run into some problems. However, you can make an educated decision based on what you know and choose the Bible that is best for you.

Pros and Cons:
Dynamic equivalents often make a very readable translations, that flow well verbally, and land well in the ear of the reader. They flow really well because of their design. Whole thoughts are translated at a time, so when they are written out they are written with the design of being read together in the new language. The clunkiness of word-for-word translation is overcome here. 

The problem that can arise with a dynamic equivalent translation is that you are getting interpretation mixed in with translation. When one person takes someone else’s “thought”, and tries to find the dynamic equivalent to that “thought”, there is inevitably the translators own “thought” added to it. Those that have sought to do this have worked very hard at keeping their own biases out of it, but some inevitably bleeds through.  

Literal equivalent translations of the Bible are often the choice of teachers. The reason for this is accuracy. Those who prefer this style of Bible want to know what the Bible “says” (translated), not what the Bible “means” (translated). This style of translation makes it a better teaching tool.

The problem you can run into with a literal equivalent is that it can read a little clunkier than dynamic translations. There are also sometimes problems with words: some words have more than one meaning, others have more than one counterpart in the new language, and still others have no real words that are the equivalent in the new language. This means sometimes you have to take a word and create a phrase, or vice versa. 

A good example of a word translation issue is the English word “love”. There are at least three words in Hebrew, and four more in Greek, that we translate into love in English. Hebrews and Greeks had different words for familial love, physical love, and unconditional love. We have “love”. So, the question is, do you define love (add meaning) or do you simply use love? If you add for clarity you are going beyond literal translation (word-for-word). If you don’t, have you not only carried the word, but the meaning correctly?

There are no real right or wrong answers here (but there are some very highly opinionated people about translation issues!). Let me give you some common translations.

Popular examples of “dynamic equivalent” Bibles are: the New International Version (NIV), Living Bible (TLB), New Living Translation (NLT), Today’s New International Version (TNIV), and “The Message” by Eugene Peterson (no abbreviation).

Popular examples of “literal equivalent” translations are: the King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), American Standard Version (ASV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the English Standard Version (ESV).  

Choosing a Bible
The first question I like to ask people that ask me about choosing a translation is simply what they will read. Any Bible that you will read is better than you not reading a Bible. Now, that being said, there are some that are better than others. 

My preference is to stay with literal equivalent translations for what has been already said above: I want to know what the Bible “says” not what it “means”. I want to be able to derive the meaning from the words God actually chose to be written. 

ESV (www.ESV.org)
First, my preference in a Bible, is the English Standard Version. That is what we use every Sunday in the church, and what we stock in the pews. The reason for that is that is a literal equivalent translation that has the best scholarship behind it. The other literal equivalents like the KJV (400 years old), and even the NKJV (32 years old), are good, but do not have the best scholarship of the last several decades. The ESV grows out of the Tyndale-KJV legacy, with a more accurate and more readable translation. 

NIV (www.NIV.org)
If you are going to choose a dynamic equivalent translation, I will suggest that the NIV is your best choice. The New International Version was originally published in the 1970s after about 10 full years of effort. There were 100 scholars engaged, from across all streams and theologies of Christianity, as a way of balancing bias. They also made for a very scholarly translation. The second thing they did that I like was to balance “word-for-word” translation with “thought-for-thought” translation, to get the best result.  The NIV underwent another “update” that was released in 2011 to address some issues that were found after its release. Overall, this is a good, very readable, accurate translation.

Study Bible Suggestions:
The following are three of my favorite study Bibles. They have great articles 
(note the last one is available only in digital format)

May you grow in your study of God’s Word!
Pastor Jeff