Which Bible Should I Use?

As a preacher I am often asked the question, “What Bible Do You Use?”  Inevitably the conversation will at some point turn to the next question, “Is There Really A Difference” or “Does It Really Matter?”  After a great deal of personal study on this topic my answer is, yes, yes it does matter!  Unfortunately, many today who are seeking the truth of God lack knowledge about all of the different versions that are offered today.  For example, in regards to a poll taken about Bible translation among students at a religious college the author wrote – “they(college students) begin with the premise that all modern translations are equally accurate as renditions of the original text, and that the only basis for preferring one over another is the criterion of readability” (Choosing a Bible, Ryken, pg.5).  Let’s take a look at the differences in translations that are offered today to see if the only difference is truly just “readability.”  My hope is that this will help you make a more educated decision on what translation you choose to read and study from.

Goal Of Each Translation:

1)      Literal – the rendering of text from one language to another “word-for-word” rather than conveying the sense of the original. 

  • Available Options – Interlinear, Young’s Literal
  • ExampleJohn 3:16Young’s Literal ” for God did so love the world, that His Son — the only begotten — He gave, that every one            who is believing in him may not perish, but may have life age-during.”

2)      Thought for Thought  (Also Called: Dynamic Equivalent, Functional Equivalent) – “commonly results in paraphrasing where a more literal rendering is needed to reflect a specific and vital sense”  (NKJV Preface).  These translations often make interpretive decisions for the reader and often add personal commentary to the text not inspired by God.

  • Example of Differences:

              Matthew 25:13 

New International (Thought for Thought) “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

New King James (Word For Word)- “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

  • Available Options – New International Version, Today’s NIV, New Living Translation, Contemporary English Version, Good News Bible…

3)      Word for Word  (Also Called: Essentially Literal, Formal Equivalent) – “the most complete representation of the original has been rendered by considering the history of usage and etymology of words in their contexts… seeks to preserve all of the information in the text, while presenting it in good literary form(NKJV Preface).

  • Example of Differences:

              Acts 8:37

New American Standard (Word for Word) “And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I               believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

The Message (Paraphrase) ” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that                  Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

  • Available Options – New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version, King James Version, New KJV, Revised Standard Version, New RSV…

3)      Paraphrase For whenever the author’s exact words are not translated from the original languages, there is a possibility that the translator, however honest, may be giving the English read something that the original writer did not mean to say. This is because paraphrase is guided not only by the translator’s skill in simplifying but also by the clarity of his understanding of what the author meant and by his theology. For when the Greek or Hebrew is not clear, then the theology of the translator is his guide along with his sense of logic.”  (The Living Bible Preface)

  • Example of Differences:

              John 3:16 –

The Message (Paraphrase) ” This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no              one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his                  Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who                trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And                  why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.”

New American Standard (Word for Word) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in              Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

  • Available Options – The New Testament in Modern English, The Living Bible, The Message, The Street Bible…

Does It Really Matter?

Yes!  God is extremely interested & concerned about how we treat or translate His words.  For example God tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:12 through the pen of Paul, Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, (NASB).  May we also remember the words of Jesus as he responded to Satan in Matthew 4:4, …Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (NKJV).  Notice, Jesus warns us to live by the words of God and not by man.  Yet many translations are filled with men’s thoughts instead of simply the words “that proceeds from the mouth of God.  Revelation 22:18-19 also warns us, “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life,… (NKJV).

We must also be aware of Gender Neutral translation.  Some Dynamic Equivalence versions take thought-for-thought a step further to remove what they believe to be culturally unacceptable ideas from the past.  Phrases like son of man have been changed to mortal because using a masculine phrase to represent men and women is considered to be politically incorrect.  Examples of gender neutral are: New Revised Standard Version, Contemporary English Version, Today’s New International Version, & New Century Version.

Strengths & Weaknesses Of Each Translation:

1)      Dynamic Equivalent (Thought for Thought)

  • Strengths
  1. A substitute for a more modern way of phrasing the idea.
  2. Opinion of some is that it is easier to read than other translations.
  3. Continually being revised.
  • Weaknesses
  1. Sacrifices accuracy for readability and the translator’s opinions are added.
  2. Translators believe they have the duty to make interpretive decisions for the ignorant reader.
  3. Does not mark or italicize what is translation and what is opinion.

2)      Paraphrase

  • Strengths
  1. May help explain in a modern way.
  • Weakness
  1. Not a true translation.  Rather what you have is a running commentary on the text. Many paraphrases are based off of other English translations.  A few go back to the original languages, but no attempt is made to say precisely what was said, only what the translators thought was meant.

3)      Essentially Literal (Word for Word)

  • Strengths
  1. Transparent to the Original Text – except where a completely literal translation would have been unable to be understood to the reader, the Essentially Literal is transparent to the original text.
  2. Does Not Simplify – does not try to dumb down the actual words out of fear the reader may not understand.
  3. Steward Not Editor – operates on the premise that a translator is a steward of what someone else has written, not an editor for the Holy Spirit.
  • Weakness
  1. KJV – out dated language
  2. NKJV – updated language but still did not update.  Did not make actual changes to the text based on newer manuscripts.  They did                   consult, but any changes are in the center column or footnotes.
  3. NASV – maintains “thee” & “thou” when God is addressed.  Thee & Thou are not holy words, just Shakespearian old English.
  4. ESV – Does not capitalize words when referring to God/Christ.  A matter of preference for people.

Oh, and if you have not yet concluded… this writers choice is to study from “Word for Word” translated Bibles.  The choice is a personal one, but may I suggest using the translations that seek to preserve God’s word, not update it as the translator sees fit.  “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” Proverbs 14:12 (NASB).  May God bless your studies and understanding of our one and only God and His Son, the Savior of the world.

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