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Bible Translations, Which Translation is Best?

“We believe the Bible to be the divinely inspired, infallible, inerrant, supreme and final authoritative Word of God the Father for faith and life.”

Choosing a Bible is hard. There are so many different translations and study helps available. The following information provides an overview of the two basic types of translations. A comparison of the text of John 1:12-13 provides examples of the end products that result from the various theories of translation.

Each type of translation has its value. The dynamic equivalence translations often provide wording that we can relate to on an emotional level more easily than the word for word translations do. However, one needs to check any dynamic equivalence translation against a word-for-word one in order to be sure of the exact meaning intended by the original authors.

The introduction or preface to a Bible will tell you what type of translation it is.

I. Word-for-Word translations seek to maintain the 1/1 relationship between the words of the original languages to their meanings in English. The following are the best known of this type. Note the close similarities of the translations in these word-for-word translations of John 1:12-13.

A. The New American Standard Bible: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

B. King James Version: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

C. New King James Version: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

II. Thought-For-Thought Translations or Dynamic Equivalency Translations seek to communicate the thoughts of the original writer. This process often requires more interpretation of meaning than the straightforward, word-for-word approach. The following are some quotes of John 1:12-13 some popular thought-for-thought translations. Note the wide variation in wording.

A. New International Version.”[The translators] have striven for more than a word-for-word translation. Because through patterns and syntax differ from language to language, faithful communication of the meaning of the writers of the Bible demands frequent modifications in sentence structure and constant regard for the contextual meanings of words.”

John 1:12-13. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--Children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

B. The New Living Translation: “In making a thought-for-thought translation, the translators must do their best to enter into the thought patterns of the ancient authors and to present the same ideas, connotations, and effects in the receptor language. In order to guard against personal biases and to ensure the accuracy of the message, a thought-for-thought translation should be created by a group of scholars who employ the best exegetical tools and who also understand the receptor language very well. . . The translators have made a conscious effort to provide a text that can be easily understood by the average reader of modern English. The result is a translation . . . written generally at the reading level of a junior high school student.”

John 1:12-13. “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan—this rebirth comes from God.”

C. The Message: (Translated by Eugene Peterson) “If there is anything distinctive about The Message, perhaps it is because the text is shaped by the hand of a working pastor. . . Out of necessity, I became a “translator”, daily standing on the border between two worlds, getting the language of the Bible . . . into the Language of Today that we use to gossip and tell stories. . .”

“But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.”

III. Concluding Observations:

A. Since the very words of the original text of the Bible are declared to have been “God-breathed,” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) we need to consider the exact wording of Scripture to be extremely important.

B. Any translation of material from one language to another will result in some changes in meaning because language is a mirror of our belief systems and of our environment.

C. With these facts in mind, it is essential that meaningful Bible study be based on the most accurate texts available. All of the word-for-word translations were done by groups of scholars and checked by other scholars for accuracy in communicating the message of the original texts.

D. The better thought-for-thought translations were submitted to the same editorial scrutiny as the word-for-word translations. These are quite trustworthy.

E. Those that are the work of a single person or members of a single denomination should be carefully checked against a word-for-word translation.

F. Simplifying vocabulary may water down the message of Scripture. Good writers carefully choose the exact words necessary to precisely communicate an idea or image. A student of Scripture would do well to expand his vocabulary in order understand the best translation possible.

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