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Concerning Bible Translations

I mentioned the value of various translations of the Bible a few posts ago. I was asked by a friend to clarify some of my statements there, so here is my attempt to do so.

Firstly, all translations of the text of Scripture involve transforming that text in some way. Translation cannot be a one-to-one process. Greek and Hebrew both work very differently from English. Not only do some words not come over well, but whole sentence forms struggle to come through. The cliché about something being lost in translation is cliché for a reason. Things get lost.

Since things always get lost in translation, anyone who champions a translation as being perfect has himself lost his marbles. There are no perfect translations. This means that for serious study of the Word, no single translation should be used. If you are trying to discern the precise meaning of a particular passage, you need a handful of translations, some tools to help you examine the original Greek and Hebrew words (concordances and dictionaries), a collection of other passages related to yours, a Spirit-wrought humility, and people within the Church body with whom you can discuss the text. Studying Scripture in this way is an important thing for Christians to do.

That should not, however, be all that you do with Scripture. Studying is important, but it does not replace regular reading or Psalm-singing. Too many Christians are like the jock at the gym who only works his upper body while ignoring his legs. Yes, you should dig into the truths of Scripture with a shovel. But you should also put on some running shoes and read like a marathon runner.

More literal translations like the Authorized Version and the New American Standard Version are very helpful for studying. They’re harder to read, but they give greater insight into the original texts. They work well as a shovel. Less literal translations, like the New International Version and the New Living Translation are very helpful as running shoes. I might add that the English Standard Version is a pretty good middle-of-the-road option here. It’s quite literal while remaining remarkably readable, but it can still get you bogged down in places like Leviticus and Lamentations.

In summary, most translations of the Bible are helpful if you use them for the right thing. There are dangers in neglecting detailed study, there are dangers in neglecting devotional reading, and there are dangers in using the wrong translation for either task. You should study the Bible in detail using mostly word-for-word translations and you can feel free to use easier-to-read translations for your daily Bible reading.

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This article was posted on 10/22/2014 . It relates to these topics:
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