A tower of translations

Why are there so many translations of the Bible in English? This was a question asked of Dr James White. His answer was, ‘There was no need for anymore translations into English, we have enough already’. But the fact that so many were being published was that there may be a monetary gain behind the enterprise. I agree with him somewhat but I am not as cynical as him in this respect. But the question that I have been asked and maybe you have asked yourself is, ‘Which translation is best or should I use?’ There is a host of information on the internet and a whole swathe of books written on this topic and I’m only giving a very basic presentation here, otherwise this would be a very long and, perhaps boring, blog. If you want to explore this further, one book I would recommend is ‘How to read the Bible for all its worth’, I can’t remember the author, but if you Google it you will find it. Otherwise search the net and dive into the mountain of information available on this important and interesting subject.

The question of ‘which translation is best or which should I read?’ has two considerations to it, one simple and the other complex. So let’s start with the simple one first. It comes down to the style you like to read, level of reading and preference. It’s always good to choose a translation that you understand. It would be like trying to read French with little or no understanding of French. You have to be able to understand what you are reading. That is the style and level of reading part of the equation. The second half is preference. Some people prefer certain versions over others. In my early days as a believer the choice that was prevalent was the NIV (This was in the 90’s). There is nothing wrong with having a preference but when that becomes the ONLY version one should read it enters into the realm of ‘cult’. An example of this is KJV only-ism. If you don’t know what KJV only-ism is, I will give a very brief description here. KJV only-ism states that the KJV is the only inspired version of the Bible, everything else is a perversion of God’s word. There are more shades of colour to it than that, but that’s the basic premise of the KJV only-ism. A preference for a certain version of the Bible is fine, but it’s good to have more than one version, it helps with understanding and can bring ‘freshness’ to reading the Bible.

Now we come to the more complex part of the question, that of which translation is ‘best’. There is no ‘best’ translation. All Bible translations are done by scholars with a purpose in mind, and in academic circles this is called a ‘translation scale’. The scale starts with a literal word for word translation at one end and at the other end is the paraphrase.

Within the scale certain versions will be closer to one end or the other, some try to go for a middle ground approach, taking the best of each and combining them somewhat. This is called a ‘dynamic equivalent translation’, or a thought-for- thought translation.

So where do certain versions fit on this scale? Please refer to the chart below.


I hope you can read the chart. (If not let me know and I will see if I can get you either a hard copy or email you this one and you can enlarge it.) So which translation is best? As was said previously there is no ‘best’ translation but here is a word of caution; it’s good to use a literal translation for Bible study as it is as close as we can get to the original text into English. When we start to use a paraphrase we move away from its cultural context and may lose the original intent of the author. It is also good to have a ‘thought for thought’ version as well as this may make themes and ideas clearer than they would be in a literal translation. This type of version is good for reading and for memory scripture as it flows more naturally than a literal translation. Finally, a paraphrase is good to use as a devotional tool, but not so good as a Bible for study. Always have more than one translation you can go to that makes the word clear and understandable from every end of the scale. It doesn’t have to cost you anything. The Bible app Youversion has hundreds of English versions of the Bible for you to read, and some have audio so you can listen.

In recent times people have asked me what is my opinion on the Passion translation. To answer that question without putting my bias here, I will say ‘do some research’. If you want a very good analysis of the Passion version, check YouTube for Mike Winger; he gives a very good and thorough investigation into the text and the translator. His YouTube channel is called ‘Bible Thinker’.

I hope this has been of value and helpful to you as you read His word and journey with Him. If there is a topic you would like me to address or an issue you would like me to explore in these posts then leave a comment and I will attempt to answer it.

I do read the comments so please leave your thoughts and ideas below.

In Christ our Redeemer, Ps Jeff

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