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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Bible Translations

Don Stewart :: How Does a Person Know If a Bible Translation Is a Good One?

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How Does a Person Know If a Bible Translation Is a Good One?

Bible Translations – Question 5

There are many good translations of the Bible. The ultimate test of a good translation is faithfulness to the original text. But what if a person does not know Greek or Hebrew? How can one know whether a translation has been faithful to the original? What should they do?

The following guidelines should be applied in a case like this:

1. One Should Compare the Various Translations

To begin with, the reader should compare translations. As this happens, it will immediately be recognized that most of them will be very much alike. In other words, they all tell the same basic story in slightly different words. Those that differ radically from the majority should not be considered reliable.

2. Read the Preface of the Translation

The preface of almost every translation of Scripture lists guidelines by which the translators set about their work. The reader should find out what these guidelines were. Questions that should be answered include: “Why was the translation made? What specific things were they trying to accomplish? What are the Hebrew and Greek texts in which the translation was based upon? What is the theory of translation that is used? Is it a more word-for-word translation, or a thought-for-thought?” All of these questions are usually answered in the introduction.

3. Find a Translation That Is Readable for You

Another thing the reader should look for is a translation that he or she understands. Does the translation convey the message in an understandable way? Each reader will have his or her own particular likes or dislikes concerning different translations. Some will prefer the more straightforward, literal renderings while still others will lean toward more thought-for-thought translations. While this should not be the only criterion used in choosing a Bible, it should be a consideration. Each reader should ask himself the same question that Philip asked the Ethiopian eunuch:

Do you understand what you are reading? (Acts 8:30 TNIV)

Each of us must ask ourselves this question as we are reading God’s Word.

4. A Good Translation Survives the Test of Time

Many new translations of the Bible attempt to reach particular groups of people by “using their own language.” Unfortunately, due to the changes in language, most of these translations are out of date by the time they are printed. This type of translation is not recommended. A good translation will stand the test of time. This does not mean that it will never go out of date.

All translations will eventually become dated. This is because languages are always changing, they never remain the same.

Summary – Question 5
How Does a Person Know If a Particular Bible Translation Is a Good One?

A good translation is one that is faithful to the original text of Scripture. It takes the message of the Bible and puts it in a readable and reliable manner. There are a number of ways to discover whether or not a translation is good.

First, translations should be compared with one another. A comparison will demonstrate they are all relating the same message.

Next, it also helps to read the preface of the translation. This gives an idea of what the translators are trying to accomplish. The preface usually provides important information about the goals of the particular translation.

However, a translation, no matter how accurate, must be readable. It is crucial that a person understand what they are reading.

Finally, a good translation is one that does not go out of date soon after it is published. While all translations will need revision from time to time, a good translation is one that is written in a readable way that will survive the test of time.

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