Bible translation


People often ask me to recommend a Bible translation to them.  It is often very difficult to just recommend one translation.  Oftentimes it is more about what you are looking for in a Bible than just what is the best translation.  So, I am going to spend time in several newsletter articles talking about Bible translations. 


            Before even talking about translations it is important to understand that there is a huge difference between a paraphrase and a translation, though both are often referred to as versions.  The Message by Eugene Peterson and The Living Bible are both paraphrases whereas the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the English Standard Version (ESV) are translations. 


            In a paraphrase the interpreter seeks to give the meaning of entire phrases, sentences, or even passages rather than individual words.  They do not seek a literal interpretation of each word.  Paraphrases are often easier to read because they are expressed in a more natural speech rhythm.  The main drawback is that it can often result in being more of a commentary because the translator is not just translating words but also interpreting the overall meaning.  


            A translation gives a more reliable sense of what the words of the original text were. The disadvantage is that sometimes the text can be confusing in English.  Sometimes it is because there are a lot of words in the original languages that are not in the English language.  It can also be that the tense of words are used differently in their original language than in English.  So, it can be very difficult to even portray a word faithfully in English and this often results in sentences that do not flow well.   


            Interestingly there are many approaches that interpreters take.  Sometimes translators seek word for word or sentence to sentence interpretations that are as literal as possible.  Other translations (like the New International Version- NIV) seek a dynamic interpretation which seeks a balance between the literal and the paraphrase.  Of course the least literal is the paraphrase where the emphasis is about conveying the message rather than the integrity of the original text.  If you take time to read the introduction in the translation or paraphrase that you are using or considering, you will find the approach of the translators for that version.


            Of course any English bible is a translation but not all translations are created equally.  Some versions are just updates in language.  Others use only manuscripts for direct translations.  The Old Testament was mainly Hebrew and the New Testament was Greek.  However, there are many ancient manuscripts in Aramaic and some in Latin.  There are some single source translations that are only from a single manuscript source.  Whereas those like the NRSV have multiple sources and include in footnotes various differences in ancient manuscripts.  The most up-to-date translations will even have updates that refer to differences that have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls that were discovered last century.  Again, you will find how well a version is by simply reading the introduction. 


Blessing, Michael