Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bible Translations

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Bible Translations:

Q: With so many Bible translations available, which one should I buy? What are the differences between them?

The Bible was originally written in Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament) with a few verses in both testaments being in the Aramaic language. My church denomination and some others still require their pastors to learn to read Greek and Hebrew as part of their training. The English Bibles we read today are translations of these original languages.

When choosing a Bible translation, there are several factors to consider. The two primary factors are accuracy and readability. Buyers also might want to consider the preferred translation used by their church or other Christians with whom they study the Bible. As a Christian advances in their study of the Bible, they often find it beneficial to have several different English translations available to them for comparison.

During a trip to Algona’s local Christian bookstore this week, I was able to count seven English translations available for sale, and as I look at my office bookshelf, I find that I have fifteen English translations of the Bible at my disposal, in addition to Greek, Hebrew, German, and Spanish copies. In addition to these many translations of the Bible text, many of the translations have numerous optional resources, including cross references, study notes, devotional content, and other additional content.

Most pastors and Bible teachers place the accuracy of a translation to be of first importance when choosing a Bible to purchase. Some Bibles translate each word literally, while others may translate several words together in order to better convey the meaning in English. In addition to the varying translations, there are also bible paraphrases, which tell the story in the translator’s own words rather than literally translating. While these paraphrases, such as The Message, and The Living Bible can be easy to understand for casual reading, they are not good choices for deeper study because they rely heavily on the English author’s understanding of the words rather than the Bible’s original way of saying it. Translations such as the New American Standard Bible (NASB), English Standard Version (ESV), and New King James Version (NKJV) are highly respected for their accuracy in translating the Bible.

Although accuracy is an important consideration, a Bible translation also has to be understandable to the reader. For example, the King James Version of the Bible is highly accurate, but some people find it difficult to read because of the older language it uses. The New International Version (NIV), the best-selling Bible translation in America, is highly renowned for its ease of reading. Other translations, such as the New American Standard Bible (NASB) are not very difficult to read and study, but can be somewhat awkward to read out-loud in public. The New Living Translation (NLT) and English Standard Version (ESV) are also known as very readable translations.

A good balance between accuracy and readability is usually the goal. An accurate translation you cannot understand easily and a translation which is readable, but inaccurate will both be poor choices. The guidance of your own pastor, especially if he can read Greek and Hebrew, is a valuable tool in determining which translation is right for your needs. My personal preference in a translation to read aloud publicly or for casual reading at home is the ESV, and my preference for in-depth study is the NASB.

When picking out your new Bible, don’t forget to research all of the available options, such as cover materials, study notes, and other resources. A Bible which is attractive and has the options and resources you desire will be much more appealing to study with regularity. Since my current Bible has begun to literally fall to pieces, I am excitedly anticipating the arrival of my new copy of The Lutheran Study Bible (An ESV Bible from Concordia Publishing House), which I pre-ordered several months ago to be delivered when it is released in October.

Readers are encouraged to submit questions for inclusion in future issues. According to your preference, you may include your first name or submit questions anonymously, and I will do my best to answer your questions as my knowledge and research allow and according to their suitability for publication. You may submit questions by email to or by mail to P.O. Box 195; Burt, IA 50522.

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