Here in the 21st century we have been blessed with hundreds of translations of the Bible. There are over 450 translations – and that’s only counting the English ones! So what translation should you read? How do you choose?
Some people can be suspicious of Bible translations, as if there is some kind of scandal and the translators are hiding the real meaning of Scripture from us. I don’t buy it. I am grateful for these amazing men and women who do the (often tedious) work of translating the Holy Scriptures from one language to another. They do the work so we don’t have to – they are a gift from God!
You will never find a perfect translation because no two languages are identical. There are a myriad of decisions that need to be made when translating each verse in the Bible. Therefore all translations are interpretations, we can’t avoid that.
All translations fit on a spectrum which ranges from ‘Word-For-Word’ to ‘Thought-For-Thought’. Word-For-Word translations focus more on translating individual words (while still being coherent) but, as a result, more interpretation is left for the reader to do. Thought-For-Thought translations focus more on translating the message (or thought) behind the text but, as a result, the translator is doing more interpretation.
”Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations.New Living Translation
”It is good for a man not to touch a woman.New American Standard Bible
As you can see, the NLT is easier to understand but it has done the bulk of the interpretation for you.
- It has included the word ‘yes’ which is not in the original text.
- It has interpreted the Greek word haptō (literally: touch) to mean ‘sexual relations’.
- It has removed the genders from the verse to universalise the meaning.
This is not wrong, there is no scandal, these are just an interpretive decisions. But we are made aware of these decisions by comparing translations.
So what translation should you choose? I think the best translation is the one you read. So pick a translation you will actually read but don’t stop there. It is great to get into the habit of comparing translations that are on opposite ends of the spectrum (because all translations are interpretations). For example, I like reading the NLT but I will often compare it to the ESV.
I pray that you will enjoy the endless adventure of reading and studying the Scriptures!