Tools, Part1: Which Translation of the Bible Should I Use?

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

Our last Soli Deo Gloria article talked about the original languages of the Bible, and it promised a longer look at English translations.  This article will attempt to guide the reader toward a Bible translation that is just right for a given situation.  A book that gives us information on how to get to heaven and how to live our lives on Earth the way God wants us to is a book that should be translated carefully.

There are two basic approaches to Bible translation: formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence.  Formal equivalence attempts to translate each word in the original language by an English word whose meaning is very close.  This is a ‘word-for-word’ translation approach that places the importance on the meanings of each individual word. 

The dynamic equivalence approach attempts to translate the thoughts of the authors into English.  This ‘thought-for-thought’ approach attempts to understand the idea of the original author and express that idea in easy to understand terms.  This approach yields a Bible that is easy to understand, but the original author’s idea is interpreted by the method of translation.  The reader does not understand the words so much as the translator’s understanding of the words. 

Bible translations fall somewhere along a scale between these two approaches.  The New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version follow a more formal equivalence approach.  The King James and New King James fall somewhere in the middle.  The New International Version and the New Living Translation lean toward the dynamic equivalence approach. 

The ‘paraphrase’ is ultimate expression of the dynamic equivalence approach.  A paraphrase translates ‘idea-for-idea’ in such a way as to make the translator’s idea of the meaning easy to understand.  Famous paraphrases include The Living Bible and The Message.

These paraphrases have limited use.  They can mislead someone because there are not very precise.  Some ideas are difficult to translate, and a more ‘word-for-word’ translation will yield slight differences in meaning that a paraphrase will completely ‘gloss over.’ 

My favorite Bible for everyday use is a large-print English Standard Version translation.  It gives me the strengths of a formal equivalence approach without being as difficult to read as an even more ‘word for word’ translation like the New American Standard Version.  I have a reliable text that is great for in-depth study.  I heartily recommend this translation for your use.

Whichever version you select, there are many other tools available to help us understand the meaning of the Bible.  Our next Soli Deo Gloria article will look at some of these tools.

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