Some Christians would saw off their own mother’s head if they saw her reading anything but the King James Bible. Others will jump into a boxing ring with Mike Tyson just because the guy said he didn’t like the New International Version. With so many translations from Old English to LOLCat, each one has at least one advocate pushing for the “true” translation while beating down all the liars.
And it’s all a teeny bit stupid.
To say that there’s a “right” and a “wrong” version of the Bible would imply that they’re all saying different things. They’re not. Here’s Proverbs 16:1 in four translations.
NEW KING JAMES: The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
NIV: To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.
NEW LIVING: We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer.
MESSAGE: Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word.
See? The message is the same, just in different words. So why do we say the same thing a hundred different ways? Because the English Language, that’s why.
Let me explain how it really breaks down.
BIBLE TRANSLATIONS MADE STUPID EASY!
Bibles fall in to one of three translation categories.
1. FORMAL EQUIVALENCE (LITERAL TRANSLATIONS)–These Bibles are the closest to the original Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic language. That sounds like the way to go, right? Well, the language gets a little stuffier on that end of the spectrum, so it’s not the easiest to read. So while it’s technically the most accurate, it’s not good if you can’t understand it. KJV/NKJV are the prime examples, followed by NASB and RSV/ESV.
2. FREE TRANSLATION–On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have translations that are very modern and more fun to read. While this is good, you don’t always get the full power of the words, and it can seem a little watered down. If you’re more of a student of the Bible, you might not like this group as much, but they’re light on the eyes and sometimes that makes them greater. LB/NLB are the kings here. On the farthest end is The Message, which is so modern it’s almost silly, and more of a paraphrase than a translation. Still cool, though.
3. FUNCTIONAL EQUIVALENCE (MIDDLE GROUND)–These are right in the middle, not too stuffy, but not too free. You get the best of both worlds in that respect. However, you also get the worst. Sometimes, the language is too high, sometimes, it’s not high enough. None of the problems, but not many of the benefits, either. The primary contender here is the NIV, a popular favorite. NAB is also middle-ground.
In short, all Bibles fall somewhere on this spectrum:
SO WHICH IS THE RIGHT TRANSLATION?
The answer is…whichever works!
Different Bible Translations aren’t necessarily a matter of right versus wrong; it’s a matter of language. God created languages, and being divinely inspired, they are artistic. That’s why we have poetry. Language isn’t just for communicating information at a base level, it’s an artistic medium just like painting or dance. We have an entire spectrum of words at our disposal and it is only wise to cater all across that spectrum.
We have modern dance and ballet. We have Renassiance paintings and Cubism. We have opera and we have heavy metal. Why should we not also embrace the various uses of the English language?
You must find the version that you understand the best. Whatever it may be, read it and read it some more, for there is life in its pages.
ONE MORE WISE NOTE:
As a true artists studies many types of their art, the wise Bible student reads more than one translation. It’s not mandatory for your walk with God, but it is extremely helpful for digging into Scripture and mining out its greatest diamonds.
Parallel Bibles aren’t that much more expensive than a regular one, so try to get a two-fer in different categories. I actually was fortunate enough to get a four-way translation for Christmas that covers the entire spectrum (I’m a nerd and proud of it).
There’s also YouVersion, a free downloadable Bible app that has multiple versions, not to mention devotionals and such. If you’re a Smart Phone user, this may be the best tool out there since you can read any version for one low price of ZERO dollars. You can download it at YouVersion.com.
DON’T BELIEVE ME?
Still think one version is better than the other? Well, first of all, read several Bible passages side-by-side. They’re all saying the exact same thing, just in different words. Maybe you just understand your version better than others. Maybe you grew up with it and it has powerful value for you. But you cannot limit the experiences of others by making them do exactly the same thing you did all the time.
With any person, you must ask yourself how they grow. It’s not always the same way you do, in fact it seldom is. Jesus catered to the needs of his people, the Pharisees made people cater to what they themselves understood.
I’m sure there are radically wrong “Bibles” out there, but in my experience, false interpretations are way more common than false scriptures.
Happy reading, everybody.
Do you have a preferred translation? If so, why? Mine is NKJV because I like the language of it.