Friday, January 11, 2008

Versions or Translations of the Bible

I often hear two related questions regarding different translations of the Bible. One is why are there so many versions, and the other is which one is the best to use. Entire books have been written on the subject, so I won't go into detail here, and anyone who reads this can ask questions by way of the comments.

The first question is mostly a misunderstanding. The Bible has been translated into English by several different groups of scholars over the years, mostly because English continues to evolve. It is a little like translating it into different (but similar) languages. There is, of course, some differences in how the text is represented. Some of these scholars wanted to make it more reliable for study, and some wanted to make it more appealing to less scholarly readers. Hence, it is more correct to say these are different translations, than different "versions."

There are also, of course, some truly different Bibles. Bibles used by the Catholics and the Masons actually contain different added or subtracted passages. I am not addressing these, as I use only the Bible recognised by the Protestant, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran Churches. There are some additional writings (like the apocrypha and writings of Josephus) that others will encourage you to read, but for a beginner, these are more of a distraction than a help.
(I will write more on this subject later, if asked)

Michael Johnson maintains a list of Bible translations here:
In general, his assessment of these translations seem a little bit on the liberal side to me, but close enough to be useful.

There are basically three kinds of translations worth discussing.

First there is word for word translation. None of the translations listed below are perfectly word for word, but strive to be as close as possible, while still being readable. Ancient languages were so different in syntax and grammar from our own, that true word for word translation is difficult to achieve and would be next to impossible to read. The following are nearly word for word:

The King James Version (KJV) has an almost "cult" following that claims all others are a compromise. I don't subscribe to that thought, but the KJV is very accurate, and has some advantages for study, such as showing differences between "you" singular and "you" plural.

The New King James Version (NKJV), and the Webster Bible are both taken from the KJV, but use somewhat more modern words to make them more readable.

New American Standard Bible (NASB95, most recent, 1995 version is most recommended) is the one my Church keeps on hand. Accuracy is exceptional, and it is very easy for modern readers to read.

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). Of the four in this group, I haven't reviewed this one personally, but it comes with high recommendation from people I trust.

The second kind: Phrase by phrase or thought by thought translation provides much better readability, and if the Bible is to be read out loud to those who are not used to reading it for themselves, New International Version (NIV) is an excellent translation that is highly accurate. (see also my discussion on Study Bibles, will posted in a couple days). I have personally reviewed this translation and recommend it.

I have also reviewed the New Living Translation (NLT), and it is good for reading out loud. It does however, depart significantly from the original text, and therefore is more suited for storytime than studytime.

There third kind is Online Bibles.
The only two I know of at this time are World English Bible (WEB) and New English Translation (NET). Both seem to be excellent translations (I have not yet done a thorough review of them yet).

There are a few translations you should avoid.
One where I disagree with Michael Johnson (author of the above named FAQ) is Today's English Version (TEV), also called the Good News Bible or Good News for Modern Man. The translation has so many departures from the original language that I can not recommend it. He and I both agree the following should be avoided: The Living Bible (TLB) and The Message.

The question of which one is best is somewhat sticky because there are so many good ones. In addition, every Christian should have a "Study Bible." I will try to get to those questions in the next couple days.

UPDATE: In discussing this with my pastor, I discovered I had ommitted one more good word for word translation: the English Standard Bible (ESB)

No comments: