Earlier I said that I believed that the Bible, in its original languages and copies, was inspired and inerrant (without mistakes). But I don’t speak Hebrew or Aramaic, so I have to trust what another fallable human has translated into English. The process of translation has been going on for hundreds of years, and the techniques to produce an accurate translation are widely known and employed. What’s more, lots more fragments of scripture copies, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, have become known during the last hundred years, providing a broader and broader basis of comparison. This isn’t the place to go into the details, but I’ll refer you to a classic that covers this and much more that every believer should know — Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell.
When we look at modern English translations there are lots of variations in how closely they stick to what we know of the original languages, what previous translations they were based on, and what the translators’ purpose was. Whole books have been written on the history of translations of the Bible. I’m not going to go there, either. Instead, I’m going to list the translations that I prefer, and why.
It’s always a good idea to have several translations available. Comparing notes between them can often give insight, and sometimes confusion! It’s this very problem that eventually drove me to learn a little New Testament Greek over a very long time. In trying to find out what a troublesome passage really said in the original language, I discovered a wealth of blessing that had been unavailable to me before. I’ll discuss this more in the posting called “Study Tools”.
- New American Standard Version (NASB) was translated from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages to retain the original grammatical order even if it produced awkward English. It’s not a smooth read, but it’s an accurate one. This is the version I will most often refer to in this blog site.
- New International Version (NIV) was translated from the original languages for smooth, easy reading. You may find whole phrases of a given verse switched in order from the original language, but it is pretty accurate. This is a widey popular Bible among laymen.
- The King James Version (KJV) was translated at the request of King James of England in 1611. It was translated from the Latin Bible used in the Catholic Church, and so it is once-removed from the original languages, uses a vocabulary that is 400 years old, and does not benefit from the thousands of manuscripts that have been discovered since then. Still, it’s faults are clearly known, and it is dearly loved by many believers. (Some denominations and churches believe that this translation is itself inspired and inerrant, and to use any other translation is sinful. Sorry, boys, I think that’s just silly.) You can certainly use it for Bible study, as long as you take the trouble to acquaint yourself with its shortcomings.
- New King James Version (NKJV) is a recent revision of the 1611 KJV, bringing its language and scholarship up to date. Still, it is clearly tied to its predecessor. I like it in many ways, but always feel like I need to check it against the NASB to keep from being misled in small ways. That’s just my opinion.
A final word about paraphrases — these are not really translations, but move toward interpretations. While we may enjoy reading them (they are often more colorful and entertaining), what we are receiving is often a human expansion upon what the Bible actually says. We want to be careful to inspect what it actually says when we study it. Read paraphrases if you like, but not before you know what the Bible says at face value. They should certainly not be your primary study Bible.