An Opinion on the Various Translations of the Scripture
By Jeff Klick
"We believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God; that it is inerrant in the original manuscripts and has been supernaturally preserved by God, and that, as such, it is the Supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct." This is a typical wording that you will see in a Bible-believing Church's statement of Faith. The Bible is the highest authority we live under and we spend our lives reading, studying, and praying from it.
So the question naturally arises, "which one should I read, and which one is the most accurate?" While a straightforward question, the answer is somewhat more complicated. The Christian today has multiple choices of Bibles to read. I have lost count on how many different translations there are, but there are many and they are varied. One thing they all have in common is that they are a translation. Each and every one is attempting to translate the languages of the Bible into English (or Chinese, Spanish, or whatever other language is needed.) The Bible was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic and therefore must be translated. Anyone that has ever tried to learn a foreign language knows the difficulty of translation from one language to another. The words do not always translate exactly and often it takes many words in one language to say the same thing meant with one word in the source language.
A partial answer to why there are so many translations is that each one is attempting to reach a different audience. When the KJV translation was written in 1611, the translators were trying to put the Bible into the common language of the ordinary people and not simply the clergy. The clergy primarily functioned in Latin and the common man used Elizabethan English. There were several successful English translations before the KJV but none had the backing of the King of England. The KJV has stayed with us for almost 400 years now with only a handful of major updates. The 1611 version included the Apocrypha, which was eventually dropped. The translation was updated in 1613, 1629, 1638, 1762, and the version that is still in use today was published in 1769. While beautiful in prose and language, most people today do not speak or understand, Elizabethan English. To truly understand the KJV one must purchase a companion volume to explain the over 875 words no longer in use in our English today.
If you read the Preface of the translation you are going to read, you will find what the translators and editors were trying to accomplish with their work. There are basically three different goals in the various translations. A work may try to be "literal" or a word-for-word translation. KJV, NKJV, NASB, RSV, all try to accomplish being as literal as possible, while still making sense in English. A translation may attempt to use "dynamic equivalence" which is trying to capture "thought-for-thought" and not necessarily a word-for-word understanding. NIV, NCV, and NEB are examples of this type of translation. And finally a translation may be a "paraphrase" or "free" translation. Very little attempt is made to translate the words of the original but only the concepts. LB and GNB are translations in this style.
Which one is best and which one should you read? I attempt to read all of them! I have been reading through the Bible every year for over twenty years and I pick a different translation every year! In every message I prepare I consult as many translations as possible to try to glean the meaning of the text. Each translation has had multiple experts, which have given their lives to translation, spend vast amounts of time pouring over the original languages and trying to uncover the shades of meaning behind every precious word in the Bible. By reading the various attempts to translate the text, a picture of the original intent comes into view. When a more in depth study is going to be made then the student must go back to the original language, and with the tools available today, anyone can research out the Greek and Hebrew with dictionaries, lexicons, and interlinear materials. By doing this, the student then becomes the translator and follows the same road walked by the translators of the various versions. He must make up his own mind what the words and phrases mean.
The Word of God is living and active and is wondrous in scope and majesty! We will spend the rest of our lives trying to understand the Scripture. I pray your search will be a profitable one. Read often and as many translations as you can!