About Bible Translations

“What translation do you use?” Is that some secret code I need to know? Is there a litmus test among Christians that reflects one’s maturity based upon the translation you use? Is it a sign of intelligence or spiritual growth? Perhaps different spiritual gifts respond better to different translations.

When people use to ask me that question of translations I use to answer “umm, Greek for the New Testament and Hebrew for the Old Testament. You?” They would look at me cross-eyed as if I had just spoken Greek to them. As they walked away shaking their head I would call after them, “Wait! Wait! I didn’t mean it…” But it was too late, they were gone. And while extremely cool for reading the original languages of the biblical text, I found myself all alone. But that is what I get for hearing the words that are coming out of yo’ mouth.

Now when people ask me this question I hear this question instead, “If you didn’t know Hebrew or Greek which translation would you use?” But what I really answer is “Based on what you know about me, what translation would you recommend?” That’s when I pull out my handy-dandy white board and start drawing stick figures and say “Man-Adam…Woman-Eve.” Then I give a few grunts for emphasis. Sometimes, if it seems appropriate, I’ll actually find a table to climb and start beating my chest as I scream like a chimpanzee. It all seems proper to me.

I love this intramural competition between translations. Mine is better than yours. Why isn’t there a trophy that has a representation of a representation of a bible on it and which ever translation wins that year would be considered the “authorized version” for the year? There could be multiple categories to decipher the winner. Categories to determine the winner would include:

  1. The Best Selling Bible Translation of the Year: Easy enough category, which translation sold the most that year – NIV, KJV, ESV, etc… – one point
  2. The Best Growth in Sales for a Translation in the Last Year: Which translation experienced the greatest growth in sales in the last year. Probably a newer translation, maybe the HCSB or NIrV? One point.
  3. The Best Study Bible Translation: Take inventory of all the study bibles out there and which ever translation has the best study bibles committed solely to that translation gets a point.
  4. Translations that have exhaustive concordances dedicated to them – two points.
  5. Bible study literature (SS literature counts) paying royalties for use of bible version – one point.
  6. Bible translation created so you don’t have to pay someone else for royalties – five points.
  7. Number of revisions for translation – one point per revision.
  8. “New” versions of older translations: Like the New King James or the New American Standard – one point.

Then you take the top three versions and put them into a final round where some arbitrary verses are picked utilizing a lottery ball vacuum cage thingy. The first ball sucked up into its tube would pick the book of the bible. The next ball would pick the chapter. The third ball would pick the starting verse and the last ball would pick the ending verse. There would also be a power ball that would pick a comparison text elsewhere in the Bible. Which ever translation did the best job with the text and its comparison text, as chosen by our celebrity guest Christian judges, wins! Then none of us would have to worry about which translation to rely on in the upcoming year.

Sadly, I don’t see this happening any day soon. So until then I have a few pointers that I think are worth considering as you chose a translation in your personal study.

  1. Use multiple legitimate translations: The reality is that by referring to multiple translations you will get the underlying issues the interpreters wrestled with as they sought to accurately translate the Greek and Hebrew of the Bible into your modern day langauge.
  2. Have a word-for-word base translation that you are comfortable with in doing your verse-by-verse studies. It will then simply become your compass in that you have a version you can continue to come back to when you need to regain focus and familiarity. I like the NASB for this use personally. In part because I find the “awkwardness” (the version’s primary criticism) of the text an aid in forcing me to focus and think through what the text is saying. It is much harder to gloss over the text in a version you have to labor over.
  3. Have a readable translation you can curl around with a cup of coffee (or tea…I guess) that you don’t have to work so hard to read for those times in the day when you need to read through long passages, an entire book or as you do your “read through the bible in a year” plan. Have that really readable version. One of my friends is a big New Living Translation fan for this.  Notice the difference in rule 2 and rule 3. Rule 2 likes to look at the tree and Rule 3 likes to look at the forest. I keep changing my readable translation but I like the NET right now.
  4. Have a memorable translation. By memorable I mean one that seems to read the way you think. This way it is easier for you to memorize. My translation for this is the HCSB. After the HCSB I probably would go with the ESV and the NIV. But I’m just simply giving you examples. Many people like the KJV here because they love the beauty of the old english and find it easier to remember. What ever works.
  5. Stay away from the mentality of “authorized version.” I’m not talking about the KJV when I say this, but the idea that “my translation is the best translation.” It is a ridiculous statement. There simply is no such thing as the best English translation. It confuses the issue, creates arrogance, makes us boastful, becomes resistance to change, can result in idolatry and probably a litany of other things.  If you disagree with the decision of the translators on a specific verse in a specific version than good for you. You probably should, whether it is a difference in punctuation or word choice, but that opinion doesn’t delegitimize the translation, rather just strengthens the need to consider multiple translations.
  6. Wrestle with this issue. So far this entire blog has been academic to most of us because we simply don’t even deal with this issue of translations. We stay largely apathetic. I’m glad to know many people will disagree with me after engaging in their own study of the versions. So don’t take my word for it…

And a neat video promoting the HCSB that does a good job explaining the driving ideas behind translation philosophy.  Enjoy

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “About the HCSB Translation“, posted with vodpod

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2 Comments to “About Bible Translations”

  1. “One of my friends is a big New Living Translation…”

    Wonder who that guy is? 😉

    Seriously Iz, great article. You really do have a tremendous gift of writing. I always enjoy viewing your posts.

    Just recently I’ve jumped on the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation bandwagon. I look at it as the best of both translation worlds; a good mix of ‘word-for-word’ and ‘thought-for-thought’. Hopefully, with the release of the updated HCSB this year, Holman will get around to marketing it like the ESV so others can see what a joy it is to read.

    Oh yea, great video! 😉

    • I didn’t want to sell you out, but since you’ve stepped forward….this ladies and gentleman is Erik K, and he is a Bible addict. I wonder if that makes you a biblioholic?

      I was going to mention to you that A Mohler collects pages from some of the earliest printed bible translations in existence. There are some exquisite pages among his collection. I took special note because it was something I thought about doing at one time – and I wanted to start with a reproduction of the Geneva bible, which at the time was selling for a poultry $400, but being a seminary student then $5 was more than I could afford (and still is).

      Thanks for the link to HCSB.

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