Which translation of the Bible should I use?

12 02 2007

Holy Bible

Have you constantly struggled with which translation you should use?  Or are you the person who has landed on one particular translation of the Bible as the “ONLY TRULY INSPIRED TRANSLATION OF GOD”?  My purpose today is to briefly discuss translations.  I am not the expert, but this topic does need discussion.

These 3 links (pdf files) are excerpts from books that discuss translations.  I found them to be very enlightening.  Maybe you will too.
What are the differences in Bible Versions – do they matter?
Where does the Bible text come from?
How are Bible Translations made?

It is important for each of us to understand what a translation is, where it comes from and how it was translated … in order to keep us away from the unnecessary fear of apostasy or heresy if we are reading a misleading translation.  Better worded … we should not let translation-phobia keep us from reading and understanding God’s Word.

First, if you have one single translation that you stick to as the only and best translation where every other translation is wrong or inferior – YOU ARE WRONG!  Sorry to be so blunt, but this type of person is bordering on idolatry.

2 Timothy 3:16 (KJV)
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT)
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.

2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB)
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

No matter which translation you use above, they all say the same thing.  God’s Word is inspired.  What they DO NOT say is that a particular translation is more inspired over the other.  Let’s get real very quick.  In order to have the exact Words of God you need the original copies that were written down by the authors of the text.  And even then, you have to know the language to be able to read them.  And even then, you have to know the language well to understand the idioms that are there.

(Dictionary time … idiom is a term like “that politician is slicker than a greased pig”)

And here’s another important fact … even if you do know the languages well enough to even understand and know the idioms … WE DO NOT HAVE THE ORIGINAL TEXTS!  Don’t go hide in a corner now because you think we have inaccurate copies of God’s Word.  If you do any reading or studying about this, you will find that the actual book – the Bible – is more researched, better proved and more authenticated than ANY BOOK EVER!  If you want to read up more on this, check out Josh McDowell’s book The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict(This is a revision or update … or maybe it’s a translation … of his book Evidence That Demands A Verdict.)

Now … to the basics.

For those of you who do not want to do a lot of research on your own.

There are 2 ends of the spectrum that most translations fall into.  There are the word-for-word translations.  And there are the thought-for-thought translations.  Word-for-word translators try to translate the copies of the original texts as closely as they can word for word … yet, make it readable.  If they were to translate word for word exactly, we would not be able to make sense out of what we were reading.  Thought-for-thought translators take a text and try to say in the language they are translating into the thought the author was trying to convey.  However, most thought-for-thought translators do this while trying to stay word-for-word where possible.

Then, there are paraphrases.  These are Bibles that are usually completed by one or a few people.  Basically, they read the Bible and just write it in their own words to better express (in their view) what is being said.  While these are not evil, they are also not useful for actual Bible study.  They are good for reading though.  As a matter of fact, I have a copy of The Message on my shelf.

So, which is better – word-for-word or thought-for-thought?


They both have their strengths and weaknesses.  My suggestion is for you to use both.  Don’t get stuck on one translation.  Don’t lift another translation above another.  However, I will ask that you research where a translation came from and how it was translated?  Here are some questions to ask.

Who translated it?  If it was one person, I call that a paraphrase.  If it was a group of theological scholars educated in Greek and Hebrew who come from a myriad of religious backgrounds … I feel pretty safe with that translation.

What texts did they use to translate?

Why did they produce the translation?

What are the spiritual leaders of the day saying about the translation?

These are all good questions to ask.

As I finish this up … I do have a negative comment to make about one particular translation that may get me into a lot of trouble with some friends and some readers of this blog.

The KJV is NOT a good translation … today!  When originally translated, it was good.  It was the best English translation they had at the time.  But the KJV was translated using inferior copies of the original texts.  At the time of its conception, many of the Greek and Hebrew texts that we have today had not yet been discovered.  The KJV was translated from a Latin translation of the original texts.

But we can learn an important lesson from the KJV.  Although not perfect in its translation, God’s Word was taught well to English-speaking people for many years.  This translation was much better for the people than the Latin versions of the day because the people did not understand Latin.  What is important is that every person be able to read God’s Word.

It always amazes me that we can have such strong debates over the different English-translations, but have nothing to say about a Spanish translation or a German translation.

Going back to 2 Timothy 3:16 … God’s Word is inspired.  I’m sure that we would all benefit greatly from the ORIGINAL TEXTS if we had them.  But we don’t.  Therefore, our scholars strive to provide us with the best translations possible.  Archaeologists continue to dig and search for clues to help understand the original languages of the Bible better (and even hope to find an original text or two.)

Bottom line … I believe that when God says His Word is inspired,  He is not referring to the actual words of the original text but the principles those Words teach.  I believe that if He had meant the actual words were inspired, then a full understanding of Greek and Hebrew would have come with our salvation and we would all have access to the ORIGINAL TEXTS.

So … read the Bible!  Read the NIV, NASB, NLT, ESV, TEV, NKJV, The Message, TLB and even the KJV.  Read them all!  What’s important is that you are soaking up God’s Word.  Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is our teacher.

Go with God,
Donald B



6 responses

12 02 2007

For years I read nothing but the Living Bible. I took some abuse from a few who thought that was childish. What they didn’t realize is that it fed my hunger for the Lord and put the scriptures into easy-to-understand language.

I still have that translation and several copies of the Message Bible which I read when I’m not studying but just want to feel the closeness of the Lord through His word.

I use the KJV and New KJV for preparing sermons and studying. I’ve never gotten used to the Amplified although there’s a copy here.

Thanks for the post and the links!

12 02 2007
Donald B

Thanks for the comment! Although I was a little negative in my post about the KJV … the one thing I’ve learned is not to condemn or belittle those who do use it. Some of my spiritual mentors are fond of the KJV and continue to use it.

And I love the way you explained why you read the paraphrases. They are great for experiencing a closeness to the Lord through His word.

The real issue is that we – as Christians – should not divide ourselves based upon translations. If we do, then we are allowing satan to win a battle that should not even be fought. ;-)

Go with God,
Donald B

13 06 2007
Daniel (Boo) W

What book(s) do the three links above come from. I would like to look into buying these books for my library and would like to know title and author please. Thanks.

13 06 2007
Donald B

They come from a book entitle Essential Guide to Bible Versions.

Go with God,
Donald B

3 09 2007
Donald B

I have decided to delete a few comments from this post because they go in a direction that I never intended this blog to go. While I love discussion and debate, I do not want anything on this blog to influence people in the wrong way. And the wrong way – for the sake of this blog – are things that get far out of the purview of what I think is right. Does that mean that I am the all supreme on knowing what is right and wrong. No. But this is my blog. ;-)

The commenter basically believes that the NIV has removed many verses from the Bible, and he compares the NIV Bible with the Jehovah’s Witness Bible. His claims are based on the following verses.

Matthew 12:47; Matthew 17:21; Matthew 18:11; Matthew 21:44; Matthew 23:14; Mark 7:16; Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46; Mark 11:26; Mark 15:28; Mark 16:9-20; Luke 17:36; Luke 22:44; Luke 22:43; Luke 23:17; John 5:4; John 7:53-8:11; Acts 8:37; Acts 15:34; Acts 24:7; Acts 28:29; Romans 16:24; I John 5:7

Now, I challenge you to look these up in the NIV. For that matter, look them up in the English Standard Version (ESV), the New Living Translation (NLT) or the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Because they all either remove these verses or make a comment in the notes that the verse was not in the earliest manuscript.

The commenter made a couple of points that I think are misleading.

1 – The NIV Bible is comparable to the Jehovah’s Witness Bible.
2 – The NIV Bible REMOVED verses from the Word of God.

The first point is simply foolish talk. The Jehovah’s Witness religion is a cult. Their bible has been modified to reflect their beliefs. Therefore, what they have done to the Bible is sinful and what we are warned not to do in the Bible.

The second point is what needs to be discussed. There a few things to understand about making this accusation:
1 – The NIV, NLT, ESV and NASB pretty much agree on all the verses above.
2 – This point is simply an incorrect view of what really happened. Rather than these modern translations REMOVING … the KJV ADDED.

Now, do I believe the KJV translators were sinful people by adding to the text. No. They were translators. And they were translating from the best manuscripts in existence AT THAT TIME! The reason the NIV, NLT, ESV and NASB make footnotes in the Bible is because the verses above DID show up in some manuscripts – BUT NOT ALL MANUSCRIPTS! Even more … not even in MOST OF the manuscripts! And even more … not in the EARLIEST MANUSCRIPTS!!! This is very important when trying to understand translations.

If you have a Biblical manuscript, the thousands of manuscripts that were copied within 200 years of the originals are much more important and trustworthy than those copied 1000 – 1500 years later.

What I would encourage you to do is to read the preface of each of these translations. They tell you what processes they went through to develop the translation. They explain why things are footnoted or removed. Most of them even give you a list of the translators. It’s not just 1 or 2 people. The better translations usually have a group of scholars working on the translation.

That’s enough about this topic I believe.

Go with God,
Donald B

13 08 2008
Dan O

Great topic. I read a little book years ago, believe it was called “How we got the bible”. Helped me to realize the incredible amount of time and effort to preserve the scriptures. But that was as far as I took it.

I like the pdf resources. Thanks.


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