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

Don Stewart :: How Should a Person Choose a Bible Translation? Which Bible Translation Is the Best?

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Question 8

How Should a Person Choose a Bible Translation? Which Bible Translation Is the Best?

One of the most often-asked questions about the Bible is, “Which translation is best?” Is there one translation above all the others that someone should buy? If so, which one is it? There are a number of points that need to be made in answer to this question.

  1. There Is No Single Answer to This Question

    There is no answer to this question. Actually, the question can be turned around. Which translation is best for whom? Is it for adults? Is it for children? Is the translation for literate people or illiterate people? How about for people who use English as a second language? We can ask further questions. Is it the best for study or best for reading? What about the best for memorization? Is it the best for Protestants? It is best for Roman Catholics? Or is it best for Jews?

    Consequently, there is no single Bible translation that is best for all of these different interests. The answer depends upon who is asking the question.

  2. Each Believer Should Own a Number of Translations

    Each believer should own a number of translations. These translations should be those who have different philosophies of translation. For example, there should be a more formal equivalent, or word-for-word, translation—such as the New American Standard Bible (NASB) or the English Standard Version (ESV).

    Also, there should be at least two that are more of a dynamic equivalence, or thought-for-thought translation, such as Today’s New International Version (TNIV), or the New English Translation (NET Bible).

    Another good translation is the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). It attempts to be somewhere in-between a more literal translation and a dynamic translation.

    In addition, it is recommended that an even more dynamic rendering, such as the New Living Translation (NLT), and God’s Word, be consulted. While these are more commentaries than translations, they do shed much light on God’s truth. However, we recommend that they are always read alongside a genuine translation since these are more paraphrases than actual translations.

    By comparing one or more of these from each group, the reader will gain a more clear understanding of the meaning of the text. Since no one translation is perfect, it is best to compare a number of these translations.

  3. Translations That Attempt to Promote a Particular Viewpoint Should Be Avoided

    There are some translations that should not be used. They include biased translations such as the New World Translation by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Jehovah’s Witnesses. This translation, which is produced by a non-Christian cult, mistranslates a number of passages in order to promote their non-biblical doctrines. This type of translation should be avoided.

  4. Be Careful of One-Person Translations or Paraphrases

    There are also a number of translations and paraphrases that were done by one individual. They include translations from James Moffatt, Richard Weymouth, Edgar Goodspeed, J. B. Phillips, Kenneth Wuest, and the Berkley New Testament. One-person paraphrases include Kenneth Taylor’s the Living Bible and Eugene Peterson’s the Message. While there can be benefit derived from reading these translations and paraphrases, they should always be used with translations that have been done by a number of individuals. A translation or paraphrase made by one person is more likely to reveal the individual bias of the translator or person doing the paraphrase. Indeed, an evaluation of these works will find this to be the case in each one of them. Therefore, it is wise to use works such as these as a secondary source for Bible reading and study.

  5. Translations That Are Aimed at a Certain Group Should Be Read with Caution

    There have been a number of translations that have been made that attempt to reach a certain segment of society. Therefore, by definition, these would only reach a limited group of people.

    For example, in the 1960’s there was an attempt to reach “street people” with the message of Jesus. The New Testament was translated into the language they were speaking at that time. The title of the work was God Is for Real, Man. The language used in the translation was aimed directly at a subgroup of society. Reading the translation today shows how quickly this type of language becomes out of date!

    Another translation that had a very limited appeal was known as the Cotton Patch Version. It was aimed at a certain group of people who lived in a small geographic area in the southern part of the United States. In this translation, the names of biblical places were changed to local references and the names of some of the biblical characters were changed to more understandable terms.

    The city of Jerusalem is called Atlanta. Simon Peter’s name is also changed. Peter means rock. Bar Jonah means “son of John.” Therefore in this translation Simon Peter is called “Rocky Johnson.” The letter to the Romans is the letter to Washington. While this translation certainly gives a new perspective on the message of the New Testament, it is limited by its goal.

  6. Realize That Translators Have to Make Difficult Choices

    When a translator makes a choice in a passage that has difficult or ambiguous terms in the original, he has to make a choice as to how to best translate these terms. One philosophy of translation attempts to clear up difficult words and passages by simplifying the language. Others keep the difficult words in an attempt to properly render the original. Each of these positions has its strengths and weaknesses. There will be both gains and losses with whatever decision is made. This is a fact that everyone has to understand.

  7. Most Translators Are Not Entirely Satisfied with Their Work

    Most translators are not entirely satisfied with their work. Indeed, they realize there is room for improvement. This is why many of them want to have feedback from those who have read and studied their translation. Since they want to make the translation the best that it can possibly be, they will, at times, revise the previous translation.

  8. Realize That Those Who Critique Translations Have Their Own Biases

    Most translations state their goals in the preface. They attempt to the best of their ability to meet these goals. It must be appreciated that some people who criticize certain translations may believe that these translations should have different goals. If the critic rejects the translator’s goals, then obviously the translation will be evaluated in a negative light. This must be understood by all who read critiques of translations. We need to know the credentials, as well as the bias, of the person critiquing the translation.

Read the Bible!

This sums up some of the things to look for in choosing a translation. The key is to find what works for you. This can only be discovered by a continuous reading of the Bible. Read the Bible!

Summary - Question 8
How Should a Person Choose a Bible Translation? Which Bible Translation Is the Best?

It is not possible to answer the common question, “Which Bible translation is the best?” There is no one single translation that is best for everyone. Consequently, each person should use at least three translations to understand what the Scripture is saying. We suggest that you should have a more literal or word-for-word translation as well as two translations that are more thought-for-thought. A paraphrase such as the New Living Translation or God’s Word can also be helpful. However, they should only be read alongside an actual translation.

In addition, certain translations should be avoided. This includes the biased and unscholarly New World Translation by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

Care should also be taken with one-person translations, or paraphrases. The personal biases of the individual usually come through in these works. Furthermore, one should also be careful of translations that are specifically directed at certain segments of society. These usually become out of date by the time they are published.

It is evident that most Bible translators are not satisfied with the final result of their work. Improvements can always be made and they are the first to recognize this. Translation is a difficult business and those who do the translating should not be criticized too harshly unless they have made obvious errors in their handling of the Word of God.

Consequently, it is good to read reviews of translations by other experts in the field. This can be helpful in evaluating translations. Yet, it must be kept in mind that reviewers also have biases.

It is best to read as many translations as possible to discover which ones work best for each individual reader. The key is to read the Bible and keep reading the Bible!

What Are the Major Theories of Bible Translation? (Formal Equivalence and Dynamic Equivalence) ← Prior Section
Are Translations Really the Word of God? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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