Which Translation Should I Use?

04.17.13 | by Clint Wagnon

Which Translation Should I Use?

    Choosing a translation to read and study the Bible might seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be.

    The Bible was not written in English. It was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine (common) Greek. What we hold in our hands today is a translation, and there are many of them. Some are excellent scholarly and faithful translations. Some are not. Some are versions that are published by sects, changing the translation as it suits their dogma (for example, the New World Translation by the Jehovah's Witnesses.) Some are paraphrases written by single individuals, which again, will reflect the individual's personal viewpoints and lack the checks-and-balances of a team of scholars.

    As Christians, we believe that God has preserved his word for us, and that it is the final authority on matters of faith and life. It reveals to us God himself. So choosing a good translation(s) is important.

    You should know that there are two types of translations: 1) formal-equivalent [a strict word-for-word translation] and 2) dynamic-equivalent [a thought-for-thought translation.] Both are good and helpful for Bible study. And both have their limitations.

    Word-for-word translations are very accurate, but the modern reader may not understand certain euphemisms, figures of speech, or the certain nuances or meanings of words that have changed. (English language is a very fluid, rapidly changing language. Many contemporary words and expressions have changed a great deal. For example, the words "aweful" and "awesome" used to mean the exact same thing.) Examples of these translations are the New American Standard and English Standard versions of the Bible.

    Thought-for-thought translations are also accurate, and they help in this area as the translators (large teams of linguistic scholars) use their expertise to help help convey not just the word, but the actual meaning of the original text. But they are inspired as the original authors were, so they can mistakes. An example of this kind of translation is the New International Version.

    Neither translation is perfect (only the original texts are perfect), but they are both reliable. The good news is that you do not have to know one word of Greek (although it is very helpful, especially in seeing nuance and color) to understand God's word. Using basic Bible study principles, you can get to the plain meaning of the text and understand what the Holy Spirit is saying. He intended it that way.

    As for myself, I read the Bible in my mother tongue, which is English. Primarily, I use the NIV and the ESV for reading. I usually compare them, and that helps a lot. For serious study, I study the original languages and compare them with several translations. I suggest using a website like BibleGateway to compare several translations at once.