Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Which Bible Translation Is The Best?

Picture this - someone decides they want to start reading the Bible for the first time. So, they go into a book store, find the Bible section, and whoa!!...all type of Bibles, several sizes, several styles, and most confusing of all, several different translations. They will most likely see King James Bibles, New King James Bibles, New International Version Bibles, New American Standard Version Bibles, Good News Bibles, Holman Christian Standard Bibles, New Living Translation Bibles, The Message Bibles, and on and on and on and on. Just to give you an idea, the YouVersion Bible app on my phone, one of the ones I use, has 42, that's right, 42 different English translations of the Bible to choose from! Mama Mia!

For someone who is trying to pick out their first Bible, their obvious question is most likely, "What's the difference between all these Bibles?" Hopefully, the store clerk would know, but I wouldn't count on it. They might just point you to the "most popular" ones, or to the best selling ones, and not have a clue. But, everyone, not just someone new to Bible reading, should really know the difference. 

First of all, what is a "translation"? By definition, it's the process of converting the text of one language into another. What's the challenge in translating one language into another? It's trying to be sure the exact meaning of one language can be related accurately to the other. And the danger is the possibility that a word, phrase, or thought in the source language has no precise corresponding word in the language it's being translated into, making it difficult to express true meaning. 

The source languages of the Bible- the original languages the Bible was written in - are mostly Hebrew (Old Testament and Greek (New Testament). They are, in original form, very precise languages. Every word has exact and intentional meaning. Every word was meticulously written. Not only that, the Holy Spirit inspired and guided the writers - brought to their minds what and how to express the writings. 

The problem for us who read, speak, and write English is this......the English language stinks! At least when compared to the accuracy of the Hebrew and Greek languages. We have too many words that are spelled exactly the same, but have different meanings. The word "love" for example. I love pizza, I love my dog, I love football, I love my friends, I love sitting on the beach, I love palm trees, I love my wife, I love God. We have one word for different types of love, but the Greek language has a different words for different types of love. So you can see, English Bibles, and for that matter, any language other than the original, will lose something in a translation. But, hey, which one of you can read Hebrew and Greek? No one I know.

So, back to the person in the book store trying to decide what Bible to buy. Well, here is the KEY....understanding that there are 3 general types of Bible translations. You can categorize all Bibles into these 3 types of translations:

1. Word for Word
These types of Bibles are those in which the translators are trying their best to accurately take a word in the Hebrew or Greek to a corresponding word in the English (still considering the limitations of the English language of course). Many call these 'literal' translations. 

Examples: Young's Literal Translation, the King James Bible, the New American Standard Version Bible, among others.

2. Thought for Thought
These types of Bibles are those in which the translators are more interested in the meaning of a phrase or thought in the Hebrew or Greek, expressed in a corresponding phrase or thought in the English language. These types of Bibles are much easier to read because they are written in a modern style. 

Examples:  the New King James Bible, the New International Version Bible, the New Living Translation, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, and more.

3. Paraphrase
These types of Bibles are those in which the translator takes a passage in the Hebrew or Greek, and expresses it in his own words, sort of rephrasing it in the English language. Many times these are written by one person, and is not written by a team of scholars as in most of the other types of Bible translations. 

Examples:  The Living Bible, The Message, among others. 

THE GOOD AND BAD..................

1. Word for Word
 POSITIVE:    Accurate; excellent for study; closest to the Hebrew/Greek
 NEGATIVE:  Sometimes difficult to read

2. Thought for Thought
 POSITIVE:    Much easier to read and understand. 
 NEGATIVE:  May use wording that is more general in meaning, although still accurate. 

3. Paraphrase
POSITIVE:    Very easy to read 
NEGATIVE:  May be too wordy and somewhat watered down; sometimes verses are grouped together. Not a good 'study' Bible.

Again, back to the person in the store. My recommendation if I were the salesperson? For a first time Bible reader, I would recommend choosing a "thought for thought" translation. Easy to read, but still retaining the general meaning. The New International Version (NIV) is probably the most readily available, although the New King James Version  (NKJV)and The New Living Translation (NLT) are popular too.

And as far as the question of which Bible translation is the best, it depends. Best for who? For someone who wants to accurately and seriously study, giving up an easier read,,,,,,, a word for word. For someone who wants and easy to understand read......a thought for thought. For someone who wants almost a fun read, but still understanding it's shortcomings..... a paraphrase. 

My current personal choice? I usually read from the New Living Translation, using the New King James and the New American Standard as a reference, and just periodically using The Message just to see what it says. But remember, none of the English translations are perfectly matched to the Hebrew or Greek simply because of the shortcomings of the English language. That doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit can't work through our English translations. So, read and read daily, even if just a couple of verses at a time.

And what if you come across a passage doesn't quite make sense? Then compare translations! It will help. Different translations may use different words, but the meaning should be the same.


1. Word for Word Translation (King James Bible) - Psalm 6:1
"O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure."

2. Thought for Thought Translation (New Living Translation) - Psalm 6:1
"O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage."

3. Paraphrase Translation (The Message) - Psalm 6:1
"Please, God, no more yelling, no more trips to the woodshed."