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Which Bible Translation is for You?

Written by: Unknown    Posted on: 02/26/2003

Category: Bible Studies

Source: CCN

Are there many versions of the Bible?  Or many translations?

If you cannot read Hebrew or Greek in which the original manuscripts were written, you'll need a translation from those texts.  In order for your pastor to teach you from the Word of God, he also must use a translation.  In order to live for Christ, you'll need a translation so you can read what He said, and what's been written about him.

The English language has changed dramatically over the years.  In fact it has changed so much only with great difficulty could you read any of the Bibles translated a meer 600 years ago!  Because the English language is a living language - constantly changing - there is a continual need to translate frequently from the original text, as old words lose their sense of meaning, and new words come into being.

As new manuscripts are discovered, more understanding and accuracy is given to the texts we presently have.  Since the King James Version has been translated, there have been 3 very important discoveries. Since 1611 we have found more evidence that lends to more accurate translations, these are:

1.  The Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph), discovered in 1844 in the monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai peninsula by Tischendorf.  This was written in the 4th century and contained most of the New Testament.

2.  The New Testament papyri in 1895, discovered in Egypt, though fragmented, have proved to be valuable.

3.  The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 near the Dead Sea, provided nearly all of the Book of Isaiah, and many portions of the Old Testament.  These are hundreds of years older than previously known texts, and confirmed much of the Old Testament we already have. These are also duplicated BEFORE the birth of Jesus Christ.

Translation techniques and Biblical Scholarship have tremendously improved in the 100 years.  We can have a more precise and accurate translation now - than our forefathers ever dreamed of!  Other languages we previously knew little about, now we can understand and see the greater meaning of certain difficult words and phrases.

Today we need an easy-to-read translation - for those of us that are not linguistic scholars and stumble over those 27 letter words. Think about it....since the MESSAGE contained in the Bible is so important, then we MUST be able to give it to the poorest reader in a text they can read!  This is not re-interpreting the text, it's giving an accurate rendering from the Hebrew & Greek in a language they can simply read and benefit from.  For this reason alone, we need the BEST possible translation we can get...consequently, it must be readable.

This is a List of English translations, the translators and when done.

Bishops Bible...............Church of England....................1568 Rheims-Douay Bible..........Roman Catholic..................1582-1610 King James Bible............Church of England....................1611+ Youngs Literal Translation  (Robert Young).......................1863 English Revised Version.....Church of England (KJV revised)...1881-85 American Standard Version...American Revision Committe...........1901 Weymouth's Modern Speech NT.(R. F. Weymouth).....................1903+ Twentieth Century...........Inter-Denominational.................1904 Jewish Version of 1917 (OT)......................................1917 Moffat's New Translation....(James Moffatt)................1924, 1935 Smith-Goodspeed Version.....(Edgar Goodspeed & HM Powers Smith)..1931 Charles B. Williams NT......(Charles B. Williams)................1937 Ronald Knox's Catholic Vs...Roman Catholic....................1944-50 Revised Standard Version....(KJV revised later Roman Catholic)1946-52 Confraternity Version.......(Rheims-Douay-Challoner revision)....1948 New World Translation.......Watchtower Soc.(13% more words)...1950-60 NT in Modern English by J.B. Phillips............................1958 Berkeley version.................................................1959 New American Standard.......Lockman Foundation (ASV revision)....1971 Wuest's Expanded Trans. (NT)(Kenneth Wuest)......................1961 New English Bible................................................1970 NT in Plain English.........(Charles Kingsley Williams)..........1963 NT in Lang. of Today........(William F. Beck a Lutheran).........1964 Amplified Bible..................................................1965 Today's Eng. or Good News...American Bible Soc...................1966 Jerusalem Bible.............Roman Catholic.......................1966 Living Bible.....................................................1972 New International Version...New York Bible Soc...................1978

These are the English translations only.  There are thousands of translations in other languages, and still thousands of languages without the Bible in their own tongue.

Some of these are word-for-word translations (each word is translated individually), some of them are paraphrased (someone 'interperts' the meaning of a passage and then translates the passage into the second language), which is important for knowing which Bible to study!

Some are easy to read, some are difficult; some are majestic in vocabulary, and some are plain and simple.  Some are precise in meaning, and some loosely translated.

But sadly, some are unfaithful to the Original Text and some have added or subtracted certain words to reflect their own doctrine.  Some were translated by well known scholars, and some by people who couldn't read a sentence from the original manuscripts!

The King James Version, a word-for-word translation, is an excellent place to start for study.  While it holds true doctrinally as well as giving reverence to the Word of God with its majestic style, it is still the Standard in the majority of the churches today.

The New American Standard Version, also a word-for-word translation is translated in more modern english and very accurate in verb tenses that are difficult to understand in the KJV.

The New International Version is a paraphrase - but by far the best of its kind.  Paraphrases can convey easily the meaning of certian texts, and can reflect doctrinal viewpoints of the translators.  The NIV is an excellent paraphrase, easy to read, and a good supplement to helping understand word- for-word translations.

It would take too much time to describe the good & bad points in all the rest of the translations, and anyone who's really a serious student of the Bible, will sooner or later learn to use word studies, lexicons, concordances, or even the original languages themselves.

A concordance is simple to use, and can by comparison give quick insite into the meaning of a particular word and how it's used. Youngs Analytical Concordance & The New Strong's are easy to use. Vines Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words is also excellent and simple for any one to use.

With the wealth of Bible knowledge at our disposal, no one has any excuse not to daily read and study God's Word for themselves.  Many men have already given their lives so that you DON'T have to live in IGNORANCE of what God has said.  You personally are responsible for reading and studying the Bible - relying on another person is a sorry excuse for LAZINESS, not to mention the BLESSINGS of having God speak to you personally through the study of His Word!


From the Christian Research Institute

.    There are several questions one should examine in selecting a version of the Bible to use or give away. Here are a few of them:

1) How do I intend to use it?

.    For deeper study, fast reading, devotional reading or some combination? A version for broader reading and certain memory work should be in a vocabulary and style you are comfortable with and understand easily. Using at least two translations (one for study, one for other purposes) brings best growth and understanding for most people. The study Bible should be more literal to the details and actual form of the original, perhaps with notes and cross- references. Consulting it AND a freer translation together is a helpful method. This is because either type translation can lead to a wrong understanding of the meaning of the original. Here is how. .    ANY Bible version should be tested by the question "Is it faithful to the original text?" However, the question of fidelity can be divided into two parts - transfer of the meaning and of the dynamics of the original. Experienced translators John Beekman and John Callow in their classic work, Translating the Word of God, explain that when a translation transfers the MEANING it "conveys to the reader or hearer the information that the original conveyed to its readers or hearers." When a translation conveys the DYNAMIC force of the original, it "makes a natural use of the linguistic structures of the RL (language of the translation) and...the recipients of the translation understand the message with ease." (pages 33, 44) This does not mean there will be no ambiguous or puzzling statements at all. It does not mean that difficulty in understanding HOW something is true or how to APPLY it will be removed. The original readers had these problems as well. Translations that seek to maintain the meaning closer to the word level have more difficulty in capturing the dynamic force of the original or in using the natural expression of English (which, of course differs with time and locale, especially U.S. to Great Britain). Translations toward the idiomatic or paraphrase side do better with the dynamics, as a rule, but diminish the readers' ability to know "that's the way THEY said it (in Greek or Hebrew)," or follow the nuances of the original writers.

.    Special care should be taken in use of Bible versions on either extreme. Literal translations can mislead if one is unaware of the significance of elements of form (grammar, style) or idiom (unique expression) that are more like th original than English. Freer translations introduce more interpretation (although all translation demands interpretation) and sacrifice precision and consistency of renderings.

2) What was the goal of the translator(s)?

.    To reach a specific audience? To communicate particularly the force and impact of the original like J.B. Phillips, or to be clear and vivid like Ken Taylor? Often the preface will give this and other helpful information.

3) Who did the translating?

.    One man, a committee, or one man with a committee checking? A committee translation is generally freer of biased theological interpretations that can corrupt a translation but it will usually sacrifice some in consistency and artistic, stylistic expression.

4) What are the credentials and background of the translator(s)?

.    Did he (they) have expertise in the appropriate language(s)? If done by a committee, were they from the same denomination, similar ones, or widely differing ones?

.    One does not have to have complete answers to all of these questions before using a Bible version. In fact, some of the less dependable ones can have positive uses if one is aware of their deficiencies. The subject of Bible translation is a complex one and the previous questions far from exhaust all the considerations.The following brief summaries evaluating specific versions are very cursory, and not meant to be authoritative. The were produced by a comparison and combination of the remarks of a number of evangelical scholars, and in some cases, the personal observations of the author.


.    Translated from the original languages by committee. Unexcelled in literary quality, although now archaic. Does not reflect the best text base on recent scholarship (some editions give explanatory notes on the text).


.    From the original by interdenominational committee. Patterned after American Standard Version of 1901. Excellent precision in handling of verb- tenses but sometimes pedantic, awkward and lacking in style - "wooden" say many. Literalness, careful work and good notes make it one of the best study Bibles.


.    Revision of the Berkeley Version (1945). Good balance of accuracy of meaning with plain contemporary English. Helpful notes.


.    Translated with reference to both the original and an earlier French translation by Roman Catholic committee. Forceful but not stylisticly consistent or fully idiomatic English. OT text not the best. Notes are a substantial part of the work and are generally non-sectarian but should be checked.


.    From the original Greek (NT); revision of confraternity version (based on Latin Vulgate) in the OT. Catholic Committee consulted with Protestants in final stages. More conservative than JB but introductions to sections and to individual books "moderately liberal in tone" (Kubo and Specht, p. 164). Format differs with the publisher.


.    From the original, by a large interdenominational but conservative committee. Well balanced - good for study, faster reading, or public reading. Based on reliable Greek text. Somewhat inconsistent in modernizing terminology. Pleasing, very readable format (few footnotes). Many feel it will become the most used Bible of the future, especially for evangelicals.


.    From the original. NT by one man, approved by committee. Aimed particularly at English - as - second - language audience and those with little formal education. Achieves its goal well - very readable, good format. Translates dynamics well but not dependable for deeper study if used by itself.


.    From the original by interdenominational British committee. Exciting literary style, very readable but with distinct British flavor and idiom. Excellent for non-churched. Departures from the original text and too much liberty in certain renderings make it undependable as a study Bible.


.    Debatable whether more a revision of KJV or a fresh translation from the original (by committee). Probably more the latter in NT. Preserves some of KJV sound of "Bible English", but is somewhat modernized. Accused by ultra- conservatives of deliberate "liberal" bias (along with TEV and others) but has weathered the storm and is considered by some church leaders as the best all- purpose translation. Adequate, though not the best for deeper study in author's opinion.


.    From the original but definitely a paraphrase by J.B. Phillips, a competent Greek scholar. More than any other, makes the Bible "live" for educated or literary people, although in British expression. Does not read like a translation. Provokes new insight and understanding which should, however, be checked with more literal translations and by deeper study. Excellent for the educated, unchurched person as well as the thinking Christian.


.    Paraphrased essentially from the 1901 ASV by Ken Taylor but checked by Greek, Hebrew scholars. Serves similar purpose as Phillips' but reaches also to the less educated. Encourages Bible reading and helps older Christians express their faith in contemporary terms. Definitely not to be relied on for interpretations or study. Changes, sometimes significant, made between editions.


.    Amplified Bible done from the originals. Neither a true translation nor a paraphrase. This type version offers readers possible renderings or interpretations and can be helpful for study or deepening understanding. However, users must realize the original author had one meaning in mind, determined by context and usage in that language, not our personal preference or whim. These versions must not be substituted for responsible deeper study.

**** The following is an attempt to convey a chart from this article you are reading. It looks a bit like a list, but the idea is to list the different translations in the order of from the most literal to the least literal (or paraphrase).


--Word for Word -American Standard -King James

--Literal -New American Standard -New International Version -Today's English Version

--Idiomatic -New English Version -Phillips'

--Paraphrase -Living Bible


--Bruce, F.F., THE ENGLISH BIBLE. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. --Dennett, Herbert, A GUIDE TO MODERN VERSIONS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. Chicago: Moody Press, 1965. --Hawthorne, G.F., HOW TO CHOOSE A BIBLE. Christianity Today, Vol. 20, December 5, 1975, pp.7-10. --Kubo, Sakae and Walter Specht, SO MANY VERSIONS?. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975 (Paperback). --WHICH BIBLE IS BEST FOR YOU?, Eternity. Vol. 25, April, 1974, pp.27-31.

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