Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why are there so many Bible translations, and how do I choose one?

The multitude of Bible translations on the market can seem overwhelming. But there are good reasons for having so many versions of Scripture available.

Perhaps the most important reason is that different translators have different translations philosophies. Some believe that it is best for an English Bible to reflect the sentence structure, style, and expressions of the original Greek and Hebrew—a word-for-word translation. Popular word-for-word translations include the Revised Standard Version, the English Standard Version, and New American Standard Bible. On the other hand, some translators believe that it is unnecessary to maintain the sentence structure and style of the original Greek and Hebrew. In fact, they think original structure and style can obscure the meaning at times. So they attempt to give the meaning of the original text using modern idioms and sentence structures—a thought-for-thought translation. Some of the popular thought-for-thought translations are the New Living Translation and The Message.

Between word-for-word and thought-for-thought translations are those that attempt a combination of the two philosophies, translating word for word where possible but using modern phrasing where the original is confusing or antiquated. In this family of translations are the New International Version and the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

Another reason for different Bible translations is to reach different audiences. For example, the Good News Bible was intended for people whose first language is not English, and the Living Bible was intended for children originally.

Also, different translations rely on different Greek and Hebrew texts. Most of the recent translations use Greek and Hebrew texts that combine the best readings from many early manuscripts. Others, like the King James Version and New King James Version, translate the entire Bible from one Greek and Hebrew text known as the Textus Receptus.

So how do you select the right translation for you? It depends on what style of language you prefer and how you intend to use a particular Bible. Here are a few recommendations:
  • Do you want traditional poetic language? Try the King James Version.
  • Are you planning to do in-depth studies of individual words? A word-for-word translation like the English Standard Version or New American Standard Bible is likely your best bet.
  • Are you going to be discussing the Bible in a group with varying denominational backgrounds? The Revised Standard Version and New Revised Standard Version are both widely accepted among many Christian groups.
  • Do you need something that is easy to read aloud in a worship service, without excessively long sentences? The New International Version would be a good choice.
  • Are you going to read large sections of Scripture in a single sitting and want a modern-English paraphrase? The New Living Translation might be just right for you.
Remember that there isn’t just one correct Bible translation. God has blessed modern English readers with many good options to suit different purposes. So don’t be intimidated by the variety.

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