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Choosing a Bible Translation?

We are blessed with a lot of choices for bibles in the English language. But how do we know that the translation we're using is good? Is the King James still the best bible translation, and if not, what's the best bible translation?

There really isn't a perfect bible translation. It's better to think of bible translations as tools that work in different situations. There isn't a perfect one-size-fits-all bible translation, but there are a lot of adequate choices for our needs.

The ancient languages of the bible can't be perfectly translated. Translators are forced to make compromises between accuracy and readability. Translators must also make educated decisions about what they think the original text is trying to say. Further the manuscripts themselves aren't perfect, and so translators must also make decisions about the sources they're translating from.

Picking a good bible translation can be intimidating. We are forced to trust the work of the translators, and bad translators could certainly do a lot of harm. However, most translators are people of faith who honestly try to produce correct translations of the original texts. They are forced to make difficult decisions, and everybody can't be pleased with every part of a translation.

Translators generally know a lot more than those who criticize them. Most of the "real" bible translations that have been produced are good works. Accusations that certain bible translations are works of the devil are often groundless.

One should keep in mind that a lot more doctrinal disagreement comes from interpretation than translation. Even among people who read the bible in the original languages there is a lot of disagreement. Often the translation is clear, but the meaning is elusive. Translation adds a layer of complexity to understanding the bible, but it's certainly not the root cause of false ideas.

There are two basic types of English bible translations.

When it comes to picking a bible one should know that there are two main types of English bible translations. There are literal "word for word" bible translations and not so literal "thought for thought" bible translations. It's not as though one group is better than the other, as they serve different purposes.

Less literal "thought for thought" translations seek to translate the text so that it's easy to read and understand. They are by their nature more interpretive than literal translations. Because of this there's more of a chance that errors and false ideas will be introduced into them. These types of bibles might be easier to read, but they aren't as suitable for scholarly purposes.

There are some thought for thought bibles that are so non-literal that they are aren't actual translations. Instead, they're someone's commentary being presented as a translation. They make no effort to convey the actual words of the text, but only someone's interpretation of it. Fortunately these bibles aren't very popular.

Word for word translations are better for studying the bible.

The other main type of bibles are literal "word for word" translations. These bibles seek to translate the text as accurately and rigidly as possible, while maintaining some level of readability. They're preferred for scholarly and academic work, because they're closer to the orginal text. However they aren't always the easiest to read.

One of my favorite literal translations is Jay P. Green's Literal Translation Version (LITV). The late Jay P. Green was a Greek and Hebrew scholar who created an excellent independent bible translation. His formula was simply to translate the text as fairly, accurately, and consistently as possible, while leaving it up to the reader to form their own conclusions.

A discussion of literal translations can't be complete without mentioning the King James (KJV). The King James is one of the oldest and still one of the best word for word translations ever done. It certainly has mistakes, but it's clear that great care was taken to produce a precise English translation from good manuscripts.

The KJV is so old that the English into which it was translated is itself outdated. This leads to people thinking that its a "poetic" translation, but this isn't its intent. It's a quality word for word translation, and even though its over 400 years old, it still has widespread acceptance.

Even literal translations have changes in them to make them more readable. If one still isn't satisfied with their accuracy, then there are options that are even more literal. Certain bibles, called interlinears, contain a copy of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, alongside a close as possible English translation. They are the most literal translations available for serious study.

What translation of the bible should I choose?

One should use the bible translation that best suits their particular needs. If one is new to reading the bible or wants to cover a lot of ground quickly, then a thought for thought translation is a good choice. If one wants to read certain parts of the bible in a deep and thoughtful way, then the word for word translations are preferred.

Among literal bibles I prefer the ASV, LITV, NASB, KJV (and KJV derivatives), WEB, and YLT. I don't have as much experience with non-literal translations, but I've found the NIV and NLT to be okay. As stated before, certain non-literal bibles such "the message" aren't real translations and shouldn't be used as such.

Because no translation is perfect, it's probably a good idea to use more than one, especially for serious study. This is where parallel bibles come in. Parallel bibles contain different translations side by side for comparison. Often parallel bibles will contain a non-literal translation for easy reading, alongside a literal translation for accuracy. A parallel bible is a good choice for both new and advanced bible students.

Comments: (9)
Topic: A Good Bible Translation
Jane Christy
The KJV remains to be the only holy, infallible, pure, and inspired by GOD Bible in the whole world!! The rest Bible versions are corrupt, full of mistakes and inspired by Satan! Haven't you wondered why there are lots of Bible versions today?
I'm a king James Bible believer and I do believe that the KING JAMES BIBLE is the WORD OF GOD in English and that other bible versions are corrupt perverted words of God! Before, I used different versions of the Bible also thinking all of them says the same thing but i've learned that not all versions of the Bible are the same. The Bible itself is being used by Satan to tempt the people, to bring confusion.
Words been changed in these many Bible translations taking out the real message or passage of the Bible. Most of the time, translators translate the Bible only for them to gain money, and not to help the reader better understand the bible. Isn't it that two things different aren't the same so different Bible translations don't have the same doctrine on it?
18th November 2010 10:32pm
Doug Buckley
All English bibles are translations from the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, and they aren't perfect. When you translate something from one language to another there is always a loss of fidelity.
19th November 2010 2:35am
Jane, the King James Bible is not the Word of God. If you want to know the Word of God, then learn ancient Greek and Hebrew. That's the ONLY way to truly read God's Word how it was given.

Many of your claims concerning translations are very unfounded and mostly hinge on this weird idea many have that "If the King James Version was good enough for Paul, then it is good enough for me." The KJV was written 15+ centuries AFTER Christ was even on this earth. Not to mention thousands more AFTER God even spoke this world into existence.

I do not believe anyone has the authority to say "This is the Word of God in English." It wasn't written in English. That does not make the translated version any less powerful, but to truly understand it means more than just reading words. It means understanding history and culture of the ancient civilizations.
20th February 2011 3:38pm
Gary Sellars
The assumption that the KJV is "the Word of God" (without error) has left all who have heard it exclusively preached (where the preacher didn't have the knowledge or willingness to expose and correct errors) with great misunderstandings, wrong ideas, wrong thoughts, wrong perspectives and even wrong doctrines.

It's FAR past time for people to understand the KJV is wonderful *sometimes* and sometimes it's horrible and anyone mature enough to understand the substitutionary atonement is mature enough to understand the KJV is the work of sinful men and is NOT authorized, ordained, approved or endorsed by God because the Scriptures have not done so and the Scriptures are our "Supreme Authority" or "final rule for faith and practice."
17th August 2011 4:54am
Doug Buckley
Yes, the KJV has some egregious and obvious errors! One of the worst is how it translates "eon" as world. However, it's still a great literal translation. A lot of people are well served using only a KJV bible and a Strong's concordance.

Jay P. Green Sr., who did the LITV, loved the KJV so much that he did his own version (the MKJV). A lot of modern translations use the KJV as a starting point. I even have a Jewish translation of the OT where the translators praise the KJV in their introduction. I'd certainly take a KJV over something like the Message or Living Bible.
17th August 2011 11:13pm
rodney sullivan
Interesting discussion on translation's of The WORD of GOD. As a man of GOD for over thirty year's I've obtained several different translations of The Holy writing. The issue between Bible translation's is touchy. Without going into the mechanics of text verse's text, I would like to suggest a couple N.T. scripture passage's that have helped me in this delicate area. In the apostle Paul's letter to the Romans chp. 9:1-5, he gives clear definition on the spiritual and scriptural matter of determining the correct text for translation. The subject is Christ Jesus and the apostles grievance over his Hebrew kinsmen to the flesh. In (v.5) Paul declares the final factor which everyone who professes Christianity must agree, no matter what the subject or text would be. This being Jesus Christ is GOD. If we as the body of Christ cannot get the Deity of Jesus Christ right, then text and translation is of no value. The main stay of our Christian faith is dependent on this being set forth from the apostolic time until now. Please see 2 John (v.v. 7-11). Therefore correct text is determined by the correct understanding of The Godhead. So it would seem to me that the correct choice in text for translation would be found in the understanding of the Deity of Christ. This as I said has been a great help to me and I hope it will be for other's also. Thank you very much, sincerely a fellow Christian and Man of GOD.
2nd July 2016 6:25pm
Right on Jane!
What was the first thing the serpent did to beguile Eve? He twisted God's word and called Him a liar - the 'liar' calling God a liar. That's what the revisions of the HOLY BIBLE do, they twist God's meaning, exclude verses, leave out the blood, lessen the Deity of Jesus Christ, a revision of what happened in the Garden. Look into the KJB version and compare the verses w/ the NIV all the rest, even the NKJV and you'll find BIG differences.
'But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.' 2 Cor 2:14
Check it out! Do a search. Either you're reading God's Word or you aren't.
21st July 2016 11:52pm
Doug Buckley
Thank you posters for the comments on bible translations. One thing to bear in mind is that there are "manuscript" differences and then "translation" differences.
There are some differences in the different sources or "manuscripts" that the bible is translated from. A number of them seem to be lacking certain references to the deity of Christ. This is in clear contradiction to other scriptures.

Now let's say we agree on the right version of the manuscript. Then, when it comes to translation there can obviously be variations. Why? Because there are many options with how to say something in English. Some options are slightly different and some are almost exactly the same.
The sense or meaning of the passage often transcends language.
22nd July 2016 1:36am
I found the LITV or better known as the KJ3 is the closest to the original writings of the bible. Even the the KJ has some corruptions in it: Acts 12:4 "easter", also everywhere it says "first day of the week" like in the NT- Mat.28:1.: the word "day" is in italics, which should say the "the first of the sabbaths" like the LITV/KJ3 says.
6th July 2017 4:01pm
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