to Choose a Bible Translation
in 2007 we did a series entitled “How We Got the Bible.” This series lays the groundwork for understanding
why translations differ.
One of the key factors that was explained
in that series, is what is called the textual basis behind translation. What this refers to
is how much weight is given to modern manuscript discoveries. If a manuscript has some differences should
we conclude that it is closer to the original, or do we take the view that
standard texts preserved through history are closer to the original? If translations
of the New Testament give more weight to modern discoveries, they could be said
to use a “critical text” as their textual basis. If a translation relies more on standard
texts as they have been preserved through history, it uses the “received
text” (or Textus Receptus)
as its textual basis. (Note: I’ll
make a comment on this later in the lesson, but if you would like to talk with
me more about this, feel free to let me know and I’d be happy to discuss
it in more detail).
Why Do Translations
Differences in language. Languages communicate different things
in different ways. Idiomatic expressions can be unique to a particular
language. How can that idea be
carried into another language? Even within the same language, meaning can change over time.
A different textual basis. If
a translation relies on modern discoveries, variants will occur. A word will be added or left off. Spellings may differ. One may say “Christ” where
another says “Jesus.” Note: These variants should not lead doubt the reliability of the
text. 99% of biblical variants involve minor differences in word order,
spelling, and synonymous wording.
Different doctrinal perspectives. No matter how one might try to avoid it, we can not remove
ourselves from the influence our beliefs have on our choices. As a result, if I
am translating something and encounter a couple of ways something could be
rendered—one which supports my beliefs and another which does not, I am mostly
likely to choose that which supports my beliefs.
Style of translation. I
want to devote the focus of our study tonight on this area. We are going to
survey some English translations and consider how different philosophies of
translation, affect the outcome, value, and profitability of a text for use in
Different Styles of
I. The Paraphrase. To paraphrase, is literally to state something
“beside” (Gr. para)
something else. It is to summarize a text or put it in one’s own words.
preaching involves paraphrase. A preacher must explain a text as he understands
it—in his own words.
In 1 Cor.
2:9 Paul (through the direction of the Holy Spirit) paraphrased Isaiah 64:4-5.
Jewish texts called the Targums were
interpretations or paraphrases of Old Testament books.
Scholar Erasmus, whose work laid the foundation of the KJV did a paraphrase of
the New Testament.
is not translation in the strictest sense, in that it does not attempt to bring
the exact words or thoughts of one language into another. Yet, it is a method
employed in translation of biblical and secular texts. It is not sinful in and
of itself. However, of all styles of translation it is the most vulnerable to
bias, misinterpretation, and blatant error because it is the words of man about the word of God, and not the word of God itself.
times have seen two major examples of Biblical paraphrases:
Living Bible (aka.
The Book, The Way). By
Kenneth Taylor. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Pub. 1971. Taylor was a Baptist who first began
writing paraphrases to explain Scripture to his children. This eventually led
to a complete paraphrase of the entire Bible. Taylor was conservative but many
of his paraphrases reflected his Calvinistic background.
51:5: “But I was born a
sinner, yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” The Hebrew says, “I was brought forth in sin” but
it does not specify if his own, his mother’s, or the world’s sin is
meant. The Bible does not teach inherited sin (Ezek. 18:20). This same bias is
5:12: “When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. His sin
spread death throughout all the world, so everything began to grow old and die,
for all sinned.” The
Greek says, “through one man sin entered the world” going on to
explain that “death” (not physical but spiritual death)
“spread to all, because all sinned” (using the same form of the
word for sin as that found in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall
short of the glory of God.” It is a different thing to say sin entered the
world, than to say it
“entered the human race.”
Eugene Peterson. Colorado Springs: NavPress Pub. Group. 1993. Peterson, a former Presbyterian preacher,
and professor at Regents College in British Columbia, did his own paraphrase with
no verse divisions as an evangelistic tool. It is much less conservative than
the Living Bible, employing
modern idioms totally foreign to the original text.
Matthew 9:23 he changes the “fluteplayers” and “noisy crowd
wailing” to “neighbors bringing in casseroles.”
2:41 Peterson says of the 3000 who were baptized and “added to”
them that “they were baptized and were signed up.” Where does Scripture teach a signing-up to obey the gospel? We might see these examples
as innocent enough, but a paraphrase can fuel error.
16:18 Peterson has Jesus telling Peter, “You are Peter, a rock. This
is the rock on which I will put together my church.” This is exactly what the Roman Catholics believe with regard
to Peter, claiming he was the first “pope.” What this fails to
bring out is that Jesus uses two different words for “rock,”
inferring that it is the confession Peter makes, not Peter himself, upon which
the church is built.
also reveals his Calvinistic leanings, rendering Eph. 2:8, “Saving is
all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do
uninformed may come to believe from such words that salvation is by faith
alone, or that even faith is something God forces upon man.
might consult a paraphrase to consider human opinion on Scripture it should
never be used as Scripture.
II. Interlinear Translation. If we thought of paraphrase as one
extreme on a scale the other extreme would have to be what is called an
“interlinear” translation. An interlinear places an English
word-for-word translation under every word in the original language. Whenever
possible, one word is under the word in the original language. The challenges to this approach
Not all foreign
words can be translated by a single word.
is dramatically different from one language to another.
original language words are grammatical markers and have no corresponding
equivalent in English.
of these challenges, interlinear translations are good study tools but far too
awkward for use in teaching, reading, or preaching. One of the most readily available interlinear Bibles is The
Interlinear Bible, by
Jay P. Green. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982. Green utilizes the Textus Receptus as his textual basis for the New
printings even include Strong’s numbering below each original language
this spectrum from paraphrase to interlinear translation, the next step up from
paraphrase is what is known as…
III. “Dynamic Equivalence” (thought for thought). A step away from a paraphrase is an approach known as
“dynamic equivalence” or “thought for thought”
translation. This approach is more dependent than a paraphrase upon the actual
text of the original language, but allows itself more flexibility to express
the meaning (or what the translators believe the meaning to be). All
translation involves some of this. For example, 2 John 12 reads, “I hope
to come to you and speak face to face,” yet the Greek literally says
“mouth to mouth.” Obviously that means something different in
English than it did in Koine Greek.
Translators judgments about how much freedom to allow themselves in this
determines whether a translation moves closer or further away from a paraphrase. The more freedom that editors allow,
the more vulnerable the text becomes to bias, misinterpretation, and
error. Let’s start with the
more extreme examples of this and move towards a more literal approach.
Voice New Testament. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub. 2008. One problem with many dynamic
equivalence translations is their
reliance upon gimmicks to attract an audience. A relatively new project, called
The Voice, presents
the text of the New Testament in screenplay format.
It uses the
term “Liberating King” throughout in place of “Christ.”
“baptism” it refers to “ceremonial washing” with a
footnote in each place that it literally means “immerse.” Now, baptism
is immersion, but it doesn’t clarify misunderstandings about baptism to
call it a “ceremonial washing.”
Although it does not present itself as a
paraphrase, it incorporates so much commentary into the text that it becomes a
paraphrase. For example, many
translation use the custom of italicizing words supplied by editors. Notice how
it renders Acts 20:7: “The Sunday night before our Monday departure,
we gathered to celebrate the breaking of bread. Many wondrous events
happened as Paul traveled, ministering among the churches. One evening a most
unusual event occurred.” Two
entire sentences are inserted in italics!
This is commentary, not translation.
Amplified Bible. Ed.
Francis E. Siewert (+ 12 scholars).
Lockman Foundation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. 1965. This text attempted to bring out some of
the nuances that can be found in certain grammatical forms in the original
language. Sometimes there is value
in this. For example…
18:18: “Truly I tell you, whatever you forbid and declare to be improper and unlawful on earth must be what is
already forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit and declare
proper and lawful on earth must be what is already permitted in heaven.” Here the Gr. future with the perfect does
express “will be in a state of having been bound.” However,
sometimes this allows too much commentary. For example…
“Behold, I was brought forth in [a state of] iniquity; my mother was
sinful who conceived me [and I too am sinful].”
3:21: “And baptism, which is a figure [of their deliverance], does now
also save you [from inward questionings and fears], not by the removing of
outward body filth [bathing], but by [providing you with] the answer of a good
and clear conscience (inward cleanness and peace) before God [because you are
demonstrating what you believe to be yours] through the resurrection of Jesus
presents denominational commentary as if it is expressed in the grammar of the
text. It is not!
American (and United) Bible Society, the major publishers of foreign language
translations, have done two dynamic equivalence translations.
Good News Bible (aka.
Today’s English Version).
Robert Bratcher (NT) and six others (OT).
New York: American Bible Society, 1976. It was written on a six grade reading
level and made broad use of interpretation rather than actual translation. For example, Acts 20:7 reads, “On
Saturday evening we gathered together for the fellowship meal.” The Gr. text says “first of the
Sabbaths (the term for a week).”
In calling this
“the fellowship meal” it reads into the text, the false view that
Christians first combined a full meal with the Lord’s Supper. First Corinthians 11:17-34 condemns
English Version. New
York: American Bible Society, 1995.
This text utilized more translators than TEV but was still aimed at a
children’s reading level.
This text yielded to the mounting pressure exerted by feminists to
eliminate “gender specific” references in Scripture.
Ephesians 5:22 the command to wives to “submit” is weakened to a
charge to “put their husbands first.”
Corinthians 11:10 in Paul’s discussion of the head covering, reference to
a “sign of authority” is changed to “a sign of her
In 1 Timothy 3:3 and 3:12 roles in the
church restricted to those who are “the husband of one wife” are
opened to those “faithful in marriage.” That is not what the text says. These are
alterations of the text.
Living Translation. Wheaton,
IL: Tyndale House Pub. 1996 (rev. 2004). In 1996 Tyndale House, under the guidance of Mark Taylor
(one of Kenneth Taylor’s sons) published a new work entitled the New
Living Translation which
sought to retain the readability of the older Living Bible but avoid the stigma
of being a paraphrase.
initial efforts met with some success, but in 2004 Tyndale House issued a revision
of the NLT which (in some cases) became more of a paraphrase than the original
original Living Bible
(LB) and the 1996 edition of the NLT were fairly literal in their rendering of
Acts 2:38. Both described baptism
as “for the remission of sins.” The 2004 edition of the NLT,
however, went beyond the point of paraphrase and read its own biased commentary
into the text. It has Peter commanding the people to, “be baptized in
the name of Jesus Christ to show that you have received forgiveness of
sins.” This is
Christian Standard Bible. Nashville:
Holman Bible Publishers, 2004. Given
the dangers of bias and misinterpretation in dynamic equivalence translation,
some have sought to attain a balance between a “word-for-word” and
a “thought-for-thought” approach. Under the influence of the
Southern Baptist convention, Holman Publishers has produced what it calls an
“optimal equivalence” translation. In practice, there is still denominational bias that reveals
“Indeed, I was guilty [when I] was born; I was sinful when my mother
conceived me.” Scripture
does not teach that anyone is born “guilty.” Only a few Psalms
before in this the same translation David says, “I was given over to
You at birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb” (Psalm 22:10). How can David be “guilty” and yet “given
over” to God at the same time?
“And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins
by calling on His name.” Calling
on the name of the Lord is more than just saying words. It is a complete
commitment (cf. Rom. 10:13). Even so, many denominations teach that it is
prayer, and one can be saved “by calling on his name.” To read this
into this text denies the role baptism plays in forgiveness and reflects
denominational teaching and not Scripture.
New International Version. International
Bible Society. Grand Rapids:
Zondervan Pub. 1978.
This has become the most popular translation among many Protestants in America.
It did not absolutely reject the Textus Receptus, but it did rely heavily on critical editions
of the Greek New Testament. Although it promotes itself as the product of
translators from various religious views, it demonstrates a blatant Calvinistic
“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on
what that nature desires…” The Gr. sarx means
simply “flesh.” This rendering is a reflection of the Calvinistic
doctrine of Total Hereditary Depravity to speak of the “flesh” as
the “sinful nature.” Jesus shared the same sarx with mankind, yet, He had no
“sinful nature” (cf. Heb. 2:14).
The NIV in
the last few decades has become embroiled in controversy over gender-neutral
language. In 1996 NIV issued an
“inclusive language edition” with gender-neutral language, which
was opposed by many American religious leaders.
the originally read, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son
of man that you care for him?”
edition called the New International Reader’s Edition (1994) aimed at children reads, “What is a human being
that you think about him? What is
a son of man that you take care of him?” (NIrV).
New International Version (2005)
abandons all gender
references, reading, “What are mere mortals that you are mindful of
them, human beings that you care for them?” (TNIV).
might seem innocent enough in this text, but it reflects a willingness to
reject gender distinctions, roles, and references which are present in the
original text in order to appease modern prejudices and preferences. We
don’t have that right!
of Dynamic Equivalent Translation.
Leland Ryken, in
his work entitled, Choosing a Bible, offers “Five Negative Effects of Dynamic
Equivalence.” These are: 1) Taking
Liberties in Translation;
2) Destabilization of the Text;
3) What the Bible “Means” vs. What the Bible Says; 4) Falling Short of What We Should
Expect; and 5) A
Logical and Linguistic Impossibility. Note
a couple of thoughts he offers in this section:
equivalent translators believe that the translator has the duty to make interpretive
decisions for the ignorant reader. Eugene Nida, for example, claims that ‘the
average reader is usually much less capable of making correct judgments about .
. . alternative meanings than is the translator, who can make use of the best
scholarly judgments on ambiguous passages.’ But if this is true, why is it that translators, with their
allegedly superior and reliable knowledge, cannot agree among themselves?
Instead of leading the Bible reading public into a better grasp of the original
text, dynamic equivalent translations have confused the public by multiplying
the range of renditions of various Bible passages” (15).
on the fact that dynamic equivalence remove indications of the actual wording
of a text he quotes, Ray Van Leeuwen, from his article “We Really Do Need
Another Translation,” to say, “It is hard to know what the Bible means when we are uncertain about what it says. . . . The problem with [functional
equivalent] translations (i.e., most modern translations) is that they prevent
the reader from inferring biblical meaning because they change what the Bible said” (17). We agree wholeheartedly!
of the danger of bias, misinterpretation, and error, a dynamic equivalence (or
thought for thought) translation should not be used in teaching, preaching,
public reading, or as a primary source in Bible study
IV. “Formal Equivalence” (word for word).
A “formal equivalent” (or literal) translation seeks to
overcome the awkwardness of an interlinear translation while representing the
actual content of the original text. Whenever possible a word for word
equivalence is established in language which is clear, but parallel to the
content of the original. The degree to which a text maintains this
correspondence moves it up or down on the scale between a paraphrase and an
No translation is flawless, however,
translations which seek to establish a formal equivalence between the original
language and the English translation are less prone to bias, misinterpretation,
and blatant error. In our consideration of “How We Got the Bible”
we followed the steps which led to the production of the King James Version.
While recent years have seen renewed interest in pre-King James translations,
we will start our consideration of literal or “formal equivalent”
translations with a consideration of the…
James Version (or
Produced in 1611 by 64
scholars under the authority of King James I. Revised in 1873 by the Church of
England into the form generally used today. Undoubtedly the KJV is the most
influential English Bible in history.
Based on the Textus Receptus in the New Testament, it built upon the earlier works of
Tyndale and others, while avoiding sectarian commentary and over-reliance on
the Vulgate. It remains the basis for countless Bible study resources and has
shaped the vocabulary of religious vocabulary in English. It is a wonderful,
literal translation which preserves the content and basic structure of the
original languages, but it does have its own problems.
consistently translates hades
and sheol “hell.” Acts 2:31: “…of the
resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell…” The Gr. hades does not refer to final judgment, but to
the place of the dead prior to judgment (cf. Rev. 20:13-14).
some names and expressions which are anachronistic (i.e. misplaced in terms of
time). Acts 12:4: “…intending after Easter to bring him forth to
the people.” The
Gr. pascha refers to
the Jewish feast of Passover, and not to “Easter,” which was a man-made
development after the New
Testament as a memorial of Christ’s death.
a doubtful passage. 1 John 5:7 (the so-called Johnannine
Comma) : “For
there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy
Ghost: and these three are one.”
While this text reflects a truth taught in the New Testament, there are no
ancient Greek manuscripts (prior to the eleventh century) which have this
reading. It was not in Erasmus’ first editions of the Greek New Testament
and was only inserted when a late manuscript (which may have had it inserted
into it from the Latin) was brought to him.
uses language which has changed meaning over the 400 years since it was first
produced. For example, Lewis
Foster, in his book Selecting a Translation of the Bible, points out the following:
(Acts 21:15) means baggage.
(Mark 6:8) means wallet
a compass (Acts 28:13)
means sailed around.
(2 Thess. 2:7) means restrains.
(1 Thess. 4:15) means precede.
(Mark 6:25) means platter.
(James 3:13) means conduct.
have a book in my library called The Language of the King James Bible, which is essentially a dictionary
defining the meaning of the Middle English wording for modern English readers.
This is a serious obstacle when it comes to teaching, preaching, and private
study. To resolve this, a number
of modernized versions of the King James Version have been produced. The most popular of these is…
New King James Version. Nashville:
Thomas Nelson Pub. , 1982. This translation retains the style and
flow of the KJV while eliminating obsolete words and expressions. It is close
enough to the older KJV that the reader can readily use resources based on the
KJV without confusion.
The NKJV is
not perfect. It retains the
doubtful text of 1 John 5:7.
its use of Textus Receptus
as a “weakness.” In my
judgment, it is a rash conclusion to assume that any text which is older is
closer to the original. This presumes that flawed or altered manuscripts would
receive the same wear and use that accurate manuscripts would receive. That is
a dangerous assumption to make.
does cite in footnotes all pertinent evidence from modern discoveries.
that the NKJV is the best choice currently available which maintains a
connection to the vocabulary, influence, and resources of the KJV while using
contemporary English that corresponds directly to the wording and structure of
the original text. It is literal without being awkward. It is readable while
maintaining the content of the original text.
Standard Version 1901.
Was the first American
translation which utilized 19th century manuscript discoveries into
a revision of the KJV. It was one of the most literal translations ever done,
even to the point that it was somewhat awkward to read. It broke the convention
of translating the Hebrew name for God “LORD” and rendered it
“Jehovah.” It retained the Old English forms “thee” and
“ye” to distinguish singular and plural forms of the second person
pronoun. The ASV was widely used by many brethren in the 20th
century. Now it has become harder and harder to find in print. Star Bible Publications is the only publisher currently producing
the ASV, although it is easily found in various electronic formats and online.
American Standard Bible. Lockman
Foundation.1971, rev. 1995.
To overcome the awkwardness of the ASV and to utilize discoveries made since
the ASV was produced the NASB was produced. It remained highly literal but
improved the readability of the ASV, utilizing more contemporary vocabulary
that the ASV.
The NASB is
an excellent translation but moves some readings of the Textus Receptus into the footnotes. This, becomes awkward
in study when such readings are encountered.
Thomas Nelson Pub. 1952. This text was the first revision of the
Tyndale-KJV-ASV tradition produced by liberal scholars influenced by the
National Council of Churches. Its translators did not hold a conservative view
of inspiration. H. Leo Boles, the
Gospel preacher who authored the commentary of Matthew for the Gospel Advocate
Commentary series, was asked to participate and declined after one
meeting. This liberalism
demonstrated itself in passages such as
Isaiah 7:14. Instead of affirming the prophecy of the virgin birth
(quoted in Matt. 1:23) it rendered the passage, “Therefore the Lord
himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a
son, and shall call his name Imman'u-el.”
Revised Standard Version.
In 1989 the National
Council of Churches produced a revision of the RSV which utilized discoveries
made since the original RSV. It retained the liberal elements of the RSV such
as “young woman” in Isaiah 7:14 and moved closer to dynamic
equivalence by incorporating gender-neutral language in references to humans
while retaining masculine references in to Deity.
Standard Version. Standard
Bible Society. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books and Bibles, 2001. This is one of the newest literal
translations which describes itself as “essentially literal”
striving to be “transparent to the original text.”
The ESV is
very similar to the NASB. It
utilizes the same textual basis and maintains a conservative “word for
word” correspondence to the original text.
deliberately resisted efforts to impose “gender-neutral” language
into the text.
of the ESV, made the unfortunate decision not to follow the custom of
italicizing wording supplied by translators. This can deceive the reader into
thinking that a word or phrase (which may be inferred in the text) is present
when it actually is not. For
example, Romans 8:5, “For those who live according to the flesh set
their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the
Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” This is an accurate translation but it
duplicates the words “set their minds on” when the Greek does not.
If this was in italics it would be clear.
The ESV is
inconsistent in some choices. For example, in Matthew 16:18 it incorrectly
translates hades, “hell”
even though it correctly renders it “hades” in Acts 2:31 and Luke
so, the ESV maintains a careful respect for the content of original text
avoiding biased translations of controversial passages.
Conclusion. Translation is a difficult matter. If it
was possible it would be wonderful if every student of Scripture could learn
Koine Greek and Biblical Hebrew. This can’t happen. Even so, while a
student of the Bible should use great caution regarding his or her choice of a
translation, we should never imagine that God’s word can not be
understood in its simplicity. Even the worst translations preserve the force of
this simplicity. Because of the danger which paraphrase and “dynamic
equivalence” translations risk of bringing bias, misinterpretation, and
error into the text, such versions should never be used as our primary source
in study, teaching, preaching, or public reading. Among formal equivalent
translations, the Revised Standard, and New Revised Standard demonstrate a far
too liberal view of inspiration and gender distinctions. While the English Standard Version
would have been stronger with the use of italics to indicate editorial
editions, it stands with the King James Version, American Standard, New
American Standard, and New King James Version as good translations for study,
reading, preaching, and teaching. In my judgment, by retaining readings from
the Textus Receptus, while
noting variants in the footnotes, the New King James Version is the most useful
formal equivalence translation currently available.