Which translation to choose?

Desert Rose asked (with some background):

I just found your website so this question has probably been covered and recovered but I think when it comes to questions about Bible translation I think it could still be asked.

I don’t think we can conclusively say that there is just one perfect translation. But I think that there are many who would stand by their translation as not only the best but the only translation especially the KJV-only group.

My question is: can you give a good analysis of why one might choose (specifically) the NIV, NKJV or HCSB over against the others?

When I was saved I only was given the KJV but then was given a NIV and used it exclusively until about 10 years ago when I started to use the ESV. I have since gone back to the NIV but have been using the NLT and the HCSB more as supplements.

Now I have joined a new church and the pastor is decidedly NKJV and somewhat tolerates my reading from these other versions.

I’m not trying to oppose him but I feel that he (and others in the congregation) hold to this KJV/NKJV mostly out of tradition and not true scholarships. They certainly do not see how hard it is for new people (the few there are) to read and comprehend the KJV or even the NKJV when it is read.

Would you say that the NKJV is a good translation to use? Does it really matter that it’s base document was the Textus Receptus and not the one’s used for the other modern translations?

Can you offer any thoughts comments on this?

Yes, I agree with you on the points you raised. No translation is perfect. Some people prefer a very literal translation like the NKJV, ESV or HCSB. They probably do that because they think these are the most accurate translations, because they are close to the grammar and structure of the original text in Hebrew or Greek. The downside of this feature is that they are not using normal English and therefore can be difficult to understand, especially in the New Testament Letters. People may also prefer these translations if they grew up with a literal version. Familiarity is important for some people because it gives a sense of security. However, familiarity with a text does not mean that one necessarily understands it.

Other people prefer a translation that is readable and understandable. This kind of translation has many names. They may be called dynamic equivalent, idiomatic, meaning-based or communicative. The difference is that this kind of translation will focus on bringing the meaning  across in a new language and not necessarily follow the form. Examples in English are the New Living Translation, Good News Bible, Contemporary English Version, New Century Version, and God’s Word. The NIV is somewhere in the middle, but closer to the literal side than the meaning-based side.

Much work has been done in the last 60 years in linguistics, communication and translation studies. Professional translators today all produce meaning-based translations, but some Bible translators and many pastors still prefer the literal type, partly because of tradition, partly because these translators and pastors seldom have training in linguistics and translation principles. Another aspect is what the majority will pay money for.

My evaluation as someone who has worked for the last 30+ years with meaning-based translations of the Bible is that the NLT is the most accurate translation of the Bible in English today (even though it is not perfect). When I say accurate, I mean in terms of communicating the intended meaning to a modern audience. The literal versions like NKJV put a smoke screen over the original text and thereby lose too much of the intended meaning.

That the KJV and NKJV is based on a slightly different Greek text is not nearly as significant as the different approaches to translation used by the KJV (NKJV) and, say, the NLT and GW.

Maybe others would like to comment or add their perspective?

31 thoughts on “Which translation to choose?

  1. John says:

    I prefer the middle translations, like the NIV, for the reasons you stated above. Too literal and you lose the original meaning, but too meaning-based and you run the risk of hearing commentary versus translation. i believe the middle approach is the best for people like me who have no training in the original languages or translating. They are as literal as they can be but still have normal English.

  2. David McKay says:

    I think we English speakers are so fortunate that we have such a variety of good quality translations available.

    But many Christians only ever read one version, and often this is because a pastor or youth leader once told them that a particular version is the only one that they should use.

    And, ironically, the information they were given in support of this one version is often misguided.

    Over the past six years I have been blessed by reading through the whole Bible in a variety of translations, including the NIV, TNIV, ESV, New Jerusalem Bible, Good News Bible, New Living Translation, 2nd edition and the Contemporary English Version.

    Each one of these versions has its own pluses and minuses. Each one has enriched my understanding of God’s Word.

  3. Peter Kirk says:

    I would like to add to Iver’s excellent post by suggesting that the issue with Desert Rose’s pastor might in fact be the textual basis. If he rejects ESV and NASB in favour of NKJV it probably is.

    Now I understand the argument that (for the New Testament) the text behind KJV and NKJV is the best, because it is “traditional”. But if one holds consistently to tradition in that way one would have to be Eastern Orthodox. Those of us who are not have to accept that the churches which copied the manuscripts of the “Majority Text” were in error in various ways, and so that changes in the biblical text introduced by them (deliberately or by mistake) cannot be considered authoritative.

    That implies that the best and most authoritative New Testament text is that found in the original manuscripts. As we don’t have them, we have to use our scholarship to get back as close as we can to them. In some places we can’t be sure what was in them, but we can be sure that in many places the reading of the original was not that of the “Majority Text” or the “Textus Receptus”.

    On that basis I, for one, would recommend translations based on something like the Nestle-Aland/UBS Greek text or the new SBL text. This is I think true of all the translations mentioned in this post except for KJV and NKJV.

    But the differences are not huge. This is not as big a deal as some KJV-only folks try to make it out to be. Personally I would not use NKJV as my main Bible, but I would not reject a pastor or teacher who preferred it.

  4. Desert Rose says:

    It seems here that translations like the NIV or NLT seem to carry more weight as a good translation while the KJV or NKJV does not.

    Am I right in saying that this is because the translator’s approach is more toward understandability (is that a word?) of the meaning than a literal translation of the text?

    If not (or if so) what are some reason’s for not using the NKJV (@Peter, et al) as one’s main Bible? If it is more literal then would it not be more appropriate for studying the original text?

    I confess to being a novice but basically I like the NIV because it feels to me like it does a good job of being literal but understandable at the same time. While the NKJV (I never actually read the KJV any more) still seems unnecessarily stiff or intentionally tries to be “romantic” in it’s presentation.

    Am I off-base in what I am thinking?

  5. Dannii says:

    In a recent post of mine I argued that it is bad to use an unqualified “literal” to describe translations. Instead we should describe what the translation prioritises in its attempt to convey the source to the target language.

    Translations like the KJV, NKJV, ESV and NASB all try to convey the syntax and morphology of the original. Their translations attempt to “mimic” the original’s syntax and morphology, under the impression that this makes it more accurate. I don’t think they could be further from the truth! With the exception of the occasional pun or chiasmic structure I don’t think there is any value in trying to mimic the original’s syntax (if you disagree, please explain how!)

    The bigger problem is not that mimicing the syntax is mostly useless, but that doing so makes it much harder to effectively convey the meaning of the original – these translations hinder the communication of a text’s meaning so that they can uselessly mimic syntax! Whatever words you want to use to describe such a translation, there’s no way this is a good thing!

  6. EricW says:

    Doesn’t “literal” almost imply that the underlying Greek or Hebrew text should be consistently translated with a preselected gloss for each word? I.e., almost like an interlinear, but in the order and syntax of the reader’s language? I see Bibles that will have a note that says about “sinful nature” (lit. flesh). But wouldn’t it be more accurate to say (Gr. σαρξ, which is often translated as “flesh”)?

  7. John Hobbins says:

    Hi Iver,

    You say:

    [T]he NLT is the most accurate translation of the Bible in English today.

    But take Jeremiah 2:3a. As far as I can see, an accurate translation might go like this:

    Israel is holy to the LORD,
    the first-fruits of his harvest;
    all who eat thereof will incur guilt,
    misfortune will come to them.

    Compare this to the Hebrew and you will see what I mean.

    But NLT has:

    In those days Israel was holy to the Lord,
    the first of his children.
    All who harmed his people were declared guilty,
    and disaster fell on them.

    There are three main problems with NLT.

    (1) NLT de-metaphorizes the source text. “First-fruits of his harvest,” which connects with “holy,” is rewritten almost without remainder: “first of his children.”

    How would you react if an editor made changes of that magnitude to a poem of yours? If the words rewritten were those of God himself?

    (2) NLT de-metaphorizes yet again in that a text that resonates with many others which speak about an enemy devouring prey is rewritten to speak blandly of harm.

    Every text that has ever been composed echoes off of many other texts. But it is meant to do so in terms of specific tropes and figures of speech. Remove the figures of speech, and you compromise the ability of the text to communicate as intended.

    (3) NLT’s past tense rendering, not to mention its attempt to improve the text by insertion of the phrase “In those days,” are problematic. Go here for details:


    NLT is a very clear translation. But, all too often, it sacrifices accuracy on the altar of clarity.

  8. John says:

    I would think if you wanted to read all the nuances of the original languages, you would spend years studying them and read the Word in only the original languages. If you are doing specific word study, you would probably use an interlinear. For the rest of us, I feel we can rely on professional translators to translate in a language we can actually read and understand. And more importantly, that non believers who don’t have a church background or who don’t understand ‘biblish’ can understand God’s Word. For me, that would be translations like TNIV or NLT.

  9. Mike Sangrey says:

    I confess to being a novice

    Welcome to the club. LOL

    With the advent of computers in the 1950’s (that was the last millennium, if you’ll recall [chuckle]) there were near utopian predictions that the language barrier between nations would finally be a thing of the past. They said it would be only a matter of a few years–the United Nations would be transformed, probably in the 60’s. They compared the ease of translation to the enormous complexity of chess. Chess, with more moves than the universe has atoms, was an intractable problem for computers.

    Today, a robotic player can move pieces and beat a Chess Master, and it’s old news that IBM’s Big Blue has beaten a World Champion. Computer generated translation still produces hilarious results. We now know language is complex.

    Translation is hard. The Tower of Babel worked. And it takes God’s Spirit to achieve an authentic Bible translation (cf Acts 2) that so many so desperately need.

    Language still isn’t well understood. But, and it’s a very important ‘but’, we know a LOT more than we knew 100 years ago, even 60, as Iver mentioned. The science of Linguistics has made many advancements. There’s Semiotics, Cognitive Linguistics, Discourse Analysis, Socio-Linguistics, Functionalist and Structuralist models, Speech Act analysis, Grice’s Maxims, Pragmatics, Relevance Theory, Lexicography, Lexical Semantics, and lots of other sesquipedalian[1] efforts. We have a better understanding today of Greek tenses, Eastern idioms, and macrostructure forms. Hebrew has been reborn. Cameron Townsend (the late Uncle Cam to many who are members of Wycliffe and SIL) started a movement to bring Bible translation to over 7,000 languages world-wide. When you have PhD level people doing research across hundreds of languages, a lot gets learned about language. And a lot has been learned.

    You mention that less literal translations appear to “carry more weight here.” I want to thank you for this observation (though I don’t think it comes as a large surprise to anyone). I’m sitting here thinking, “Why is that?” I’m highly analytical, and my “day job” requires I think in terms of “root cause” all the time. “What’s the real driver,” I ask? You’ve made an excellent observation, and it’s why I pointed out all that stuff above. Literal translations have taken no advantage of any of it. I find that incredibly sad.

    Literal translations are easy (and I honestly don’t mean to offend anyone). I personally believe literal translations are helpful. However, they require a certain skill set in order to use them effectively. All the hard effort is placed on the so-called “reader.” Very few people understand, or even acknowledge, the skills needed. For example, does the NKJV or NASB sound “stuttery” to you? When you read it, does your mind start and stop as you haltingly trip your way through it? It does for me. Now, pick up a difficult modern book and read it. Does the same thing happen? There might be difficult concepts; but, it’s not stuttery. Why is that?

    In order to use such a translation, one needs to develop the skill of observing the cohesion in the text. This skill will enable the text to form a much more coherent “picture” within the mind of the “reader.” Ironically, the “reader” (who doesn’t really read such a translation) has to nearly paraphrase the text in order to “make it flow.” There’s a number of skills necessary to accomplish this. However, as I said, I think literal translations are helpful. How can I say that? Because it’s this effort of “putting the translation into one’s own words” that produces good and solid, spiritual growth.

    I think we come across here on this blog as people who think literal translations carry little weight since we are so very interested, even passionate about, enabling people–normal everyday people as well as the exceptionally intelligent and capable people. It’s really not about literal versus whatever, though that is frequently the battle that is brought to us. It’s about people.

    Through promoting ideas for improving Bible translations we want people to derive the wonderful blessing from God they can have through understanding such an incredibly wonderful book. Perhaps these are people who will not part with their literal translation until someone peels it from their cold, dead hands[2]. Perhaps it’s someone who needs freed from the guilt of not understanding their literal translation (they’ve been told it’s the one true and accurate version). In both cases, without exception, they need the tools necessary to receive God’s message.

    Is a good bit of that reception of the fully formed message called “understandability”? Yep. I think so. There are different ways of achieving that. But, we’re up against a problem the size of the Tower of Babel. But, then again, there’s this person called God’s Spirit. 🙂

    [1] I think sesquipedalian is my favorite word. It means “overuse of big words.” I’ve often thought we should start a series of posts (maybe once per month) called, You know you’re a linguist when…. As in, You know you’re a linguist when sesquipedalian is your favorite big word. Or, You know you’re a linguist when you hear a comedian say, “Why does an alarm go off when it goes on?” and you don’t laugh, you think it’s soooo kewl.

    [2] Me? I’ll probably be holding onto several, very different, versions. Though, somehow, I’d like to think of myself with open hands, offering to help.

  10. Mike Sangrey says:


    Yes, I’ve often thought the same thing about the footnotes that say “Lit.: XYZ”. It seems to foster the wrong understanding that the underlying Greek (or Hebrew) word has a one-for-one semantic identity with the “literal” English word.

    Regarding homing in on a single gloss, that doesn’t work in anything close to a comprehensible way. So, every popular literal translation makes well reasoned exceptions. It seems to me that a thoughtful consideration of the exceptions leads one to appreciate a different method of translation. That’s not to say that literal translations are not valuable. It’s just to say that any science is furthered by a careful consideration of the exceptions.

  11. iverlarsen says:


    You mentioned Jer 2:3a in the NLT. I agree that “first of his children” is a mistake, and as I said the NLT is not perfect. Nor would I consider your translation of this verse to be perfect. The Hebrew verb system is difficult, and I am far from an expert in Hebrew, but it is my uderstanding that Hebrew does not have tense marking in its verbs, only aspect. You interpret them as future, every English versions I have looked at (except KJV) interpret them as past because of the context, especially the preceding verse. Who is right? Should I trust you more than all the others?

    You are concerned with keeping poetry. I agree with that, and part of the poetic style is lost in some idiomatic versions as well as in some literal ones.

    You think of “accuracy” partly in terms of keeping the original metaphors. I was using “accuracy” in terms of communication to an everyday audience. You are writing for a special and small audience, and that is good, but NLT is not intended for your kind of audience. It is not simply a matter of keeping all metaphors or dropping all metaphors. The crucial question is whether the metaphor uses a picture from the cognitive environment of the audience. It will always be from the cognitive environment of the originally intended audience, but the problem is that a translation is for another time and culture, not just another language. How many English people would get the same understanding of “first-fruits of his harvest” as the original did? What connection is seen between holy (whatever that is) and first-fruits?

    For this verse I prefer CEV to NLT as long as we are talking about meaning-based versions intended for common use rather than literal ones: “You belonged to me alone, like the first part of the harvest, and I severely punished those who mistreated you.” This kind of translation communicates to the majority what I think is the essential meaning of the text. Your translation rests on a different interpretation and uses different translation principles intended for a different audience. I would say that both have their place and use, but they are not really comparable because of their different purposes and audiences.

    I have 8 English versions in front of me every day in my work and I consult other versions in other languages, as well as the original texts in Hebrew and Greek. One translation may be good in one verse and another better in a different verse. That is part of what I mean when I say no translation is perfect.

  12. Ms. Jack says:

    Desert Rose ~ This was the part of your OP that really struck me:

    They certainly do not see how hard it is for new people (the few there are) to read and comprehend the KJV or even the NKJV when it is read.

    The New Testament was written in Koine, which was one of the common languages of the people at the time. The authors didn’t write it in Attic or Doric or an older form of classical Greek; they wrote it in something that would be accessible to the common people. For that reason, I firmly believe that whatever Bible translation is used for public worship, it should be accessible and easy to understand, and the fact is, many people have a hard time understanding the more literal translations, especially the old English of the KJV. Those who desire more literal translations can use them in private study to their hearts’ content.

    My late mother had a reading comprehension disorder and struggled with the more literal translations, but she did fine with an NLT, so I’ve had a bit of experience with this.

    Personally, I use the TNIV for family Scripture study and reading to my daughter and the NRSV for personal study.

  13. Tony M says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen:

    I often wonder if the endless discussion and study of the “best” translation is a tool that God uses to get us to study and obsess more over his word.

    I wish, as John suggests, that we would all learn Greek. But then I imagine that we would argue over which Greek texts to use.

    My conclusion is if one accpts the doctrine of inerrancy, one must also accept the doctrine of preservation. That being said, I must believe the the Holy Spirit will teach the reader regardless of which “legitimate” translation you use (NKJV, NIV, NLT, ESV, etc…).

    The information and opinions of the experts on this blog are the best I have found.

    My Church switched from the NIV to the ESV. Here is a link to their work and opinion: http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/Worship/BibleComp.pdf

    I use the ESV and a Greek interlinear for study, but prefer the NIV.

  14. Gary Simmons says:

    I don’t really have much to add other than saying this thread cuts to the very core of what I consider this blog to be about. It’s treading once more on elementary ground, but sometimes that can be refreshing. This is a good discussion.

    Desert Rose: More or less echoing voices of greater experience than myself, I’d say that your version of choice should be the version that impacts you and speaks to you in a way you understand. If you find yourself enriched in reading a particular version, go for it. Feel free to try a few other translations too and maybe adopt a secondary translation. You don’t have to, but it can be nice.

    Speaking as translator rather than theologian, I’d say that translations on the market today would receive a grade somewhere between a high C and a low A, if translations were school projects. The ones that truly deserve an F are ones you’ve probably never even heard of.

    I personally enjoy the semi-literal and middle-of-the-road translations for the most part. Contrary to what Peter said above, I do not find it useless to retain morphosyntactic [word-form and sentence structure] features of the original language. I love the characters in the ancient world in which God impacted them. I love them for their premodern thoughts. I love them for the quirks in how they speak (sometimes).

    I like having a reminder that the Bible does not fit in any one century or language, and is overall foreign to every language in every century. The “literalness” of the ESV, etc., is wonderful to me precisely because it creates a sense of “otherness.”

    For many readers this sort of translation just doesn’t “click.” I wish it clicked for them like it does for me. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make the Bible understandable to people who have no church experience, but since I have the privilege of reading on a high level, I want to read (and compose!) a translation that is itself a work of art, as the KJV was in its time.

    I *want* John and Revelation to sound mystical and removed from the normal flow of time and the way things work. I *want* Mark to sound terse and fast-paced. I *want* Matthew to sound alliterative and structured. I *want* Luke and Acts to sound dynamic and powerful (pun intended), yet also with a higher vocabulary than the others.

    If I had an ideal translation, it would not be the ESV or any version I know of on the market today. It would pay attention to style and rhythm more than clarity. I would be disappointed if there were not also Bibles that made clarity a higher priority than the one I idealize, though.

  15. iverlarsen says:

    Tony, M,

    A couple of comments. First, thanks for the link. I have only skimmed it so far, but I want to study it more. It is helpful not so much in judging which translation is “best” as giving examples that illustrate some of the theological assumptions behind each one. Theology DOES govern the translations, even the form-based ones, and this paper is itself based on a conservative, American Lutheran theology and evaluates translations from that perspective.

    I just want to mention two common misunderstandings expressed in that paper. First, it pretty much equates a “literal” translation with an “accurate” translation. This is a very common misconception, which ignores communicative effectiveness and accuracy. Second, it claims that “The most widely used dynamic-equivalent translation is the NIV.” This is incorrect in the sense that the NIV is not a dynamic-equivalent translation. It is only if you compare to the KJV, ESV etc. that is appears dynamic since it is relatively more dynamic than the very literal ones.

    It would be nice if we all spoke Koine Greek as our mother tongue. Then no translations of the NT would be needed. However, don’t think that all exegetical problems of the NT are solved even if you know Greek very well.

    I agree that the work of the Holy Spirit in helping people understand the Bible is crucial, but there is not much agreement among denominations about how one can receive such guidance from the Spirit. On the other hand, the word of God is like a two-edged sword. A communicative translation is like a sharp sword that penetrates easily. A more literal translation like NIV and ESV are like dull swords. They can indeed penetrate, but it takes much more effort from the swordsman to make them do so.

    It is more risky to produce and use dynamic versions, because the translators have more opportunities to miss the target. It is fairly easy to produce a literal translation, but it is very difficult to produce a good and accurate dynamic one. But they keep getting better. The NLT from 1996 was significantly improved in the NLT from 2004. And I expect it will be improved again in the next revision. The new NIV, recently relased on the Internet, is an improvement over the 84 NIV.

    I do not think the potential or actual misuse of a sharp instrument warrants its disuse.

  16. Dannii says:

    A few comment to Gary:

    In what ways does mimicking morphosyntax help show pre-modern thought or quirks in their language?

    Secondly, why would the easier-to-write and less creative syntax-mimicking translation be more artistic than a creatively rendered translation conveying the semantics and pragmatics of the source.

    Thirdly, the different sounds of the various Bible books you describe all sound like the issue of register. I agree that this is a problem – most translations are written in a single flat register! But surely this is yet another argument against morphosyntactic translations, as by mimicking their source in that way they neither recognise the different source registers, nor consider which target register is most appropriate to render the text in.

    Yeah, I’m making big statements against morphosyntax-mimicking translations today! It’s because I want people to fight back and show me they have value. As of yet I am totally unconvinced.

  17. Gary Simmons says:

    Danii: You’re right that the issue of register is something that the wooden translations don’t necessarily do better at. My last comment was far too long as it was, but somehow I knew someone would call me to elaborate on that.

    One example of premodern thought would be the question I gave about all the nefesh that Abram acquired in Haran. That is one premodern thought I don’t find particularly charming. Both the NIV and the ESV say “people” here, but surely considering slaves to be persons is something of an anachronism. The appearance of such a moral failing somewhat mitigates the dynamic hope of the sevenfold promise that came immediately before it. Right away, it says Abram left with all the lives he had acquired in Haran. (Or at least, to me that seems to be right.

    Another premodern thought is that worship in the temple was not a 50-50 thing of men and women. Given that things such as tampons, formula milk, bottles, and pacifiers didn’t exist, women were less likely to be able to move about freely. There’s nothing about this that’s particularly charming, either, mind you, but it does give an explanation for the masculinist language in the Bible such as Psalm 1. I have to wonder if Psalm 1 was priestly instruction, originally from a father to a son. If so, then that’s one charming thing about Psalm 1.

    I think, really, you hit the nail on the head by moving this discussion toward the subject of register. I would like to see saga be saga, or drama be drama. It’s the flatness of translations that bugs me more than any particular dynamic or wooden style. Yet, who is more free to consider style/register an issue? Those who translate at a lower reading level or those who translate for a higher reading level?

    I realize I’ve been conflating two or three separate issues here. Assuming that dynamic translations usually target a lower reading level and wooden translations generally target an unrealistically high reading level, who is more likely to be able to correctly handle genres that just don’t exist today outside of the Bible? Genres hardly known, such as John’s drama or Revelation’s apocalypse.

    If nothing else, retaining the cultural assumptions contained within the way the ancients worded things helps me remember how much harder their life was. Such as the preference of being “fat” as opposed to “scrawny,” or to the concept of watches of the night (what? they didn’t have police and 911?!), etc. If there was one thing I wish the text made clear, it’s how hard life was. That in and of itself would silence prosperity gospel preaching and perhaps other erroneous interpretations of Scripture. Yet as it stands, most people consider learning the background information to be an irrelevant thing for only scholars to do. I don’t think dynamic translations do much to fix that mindset.

  18. Tony M says:

    Mr Larsen:

    Thank you for your insight. It is this high level of scholarship and detail that makes this site such a unique place of learning.

    Yes, I understand that there is a certain ammount of theological, and dare I say, political basis in “The Comparitve Study of Bible Versions” that I attached.

    I would greatly appreciate any further comments that you or the other experts have concerning their methodology, accuracy, and conclusions.

    Thank you.

  19. volleyballdad says:

    I have read all of the comments and at the end of the day it really boils down to preference. All of these “Translation Wars” are tiresome and unproductive, I believe they do harm to the cause of the Gospel. I grew up in a KJV-only denomination and was thankfully delivered from that bondage. I moved to the NIV and used it from 1981 until about 2004. Since then I have bounced used the HCSB primarily with a couple of excursions with the ESV. The ESV “feels” so much like the KJV that I simply can’t use it as a primary translation though I consult it regularly.

    Gone are the days of a “common” English language Bible as we had with the KJV with all of its influence on the culture and even the NIV with it’s current domination of the Bible landscape. There are simply too many translations with too many marketing agencies pushing them.

    Though I would never use it as a primary version for study or teaching, the NLT has a place, though I will never use it again regularly so does the KJV as do all the translations in between.

    Instead of beating each other up over the translation we use, instead of suggesting, as some did in this thread, that “literal translations are dull swords”, why don’t we promote the reading, studying and memorization of Scripture?

    Hey here is a novel idea, let’s get the publishing houses out of the Translation Marketing business, that may take a little of the “We are the best translation since creation” out of the discussion.

  20. iverlarsen says:

    Tony M,

    You asked about the methodology, accuracy, and conclusions in “The Comparative Study of Bible Versions” that you sent a link to.

    That is a rather big subject that easily moves into theology which we are trying to stay somewhat clear of. Nor could I in a short comment here do justice to a 35-page paper.

    I did not find in the paper a definition of “accuracy” in Bible translation. You may want to look back to an earlier post here: http://betterbibles.com/2010/09/19/accuracy-what-is-it/

    Some people think of an “accurate” translation as one in which the translators only present “what the text says” without any interpretation. That is an impossibility and a contradiction. The only way you can present “what the text says” is by copying the Greek (or Hebrew) text. Every translation, even the most form-equivalent ones, involve interpretation. Although it is correct that the literal versions push more interpretation on to the reader, the fact that they have already made translation choices, at times make it very difficult for the readers to come up with an objective interpretation.

    When people do interpretation they start from a certain theological position. The authors of this paper say “Inaccurate translations can obscure doctrines that are vital to the Gospel”. However, they do not evaluate the translations so much from an objective translation point of view as from the doctrines already established in the tradition of their particular denomination. A translation that does not support their doctrines, is apparently deemed to be inaccurate.

    Their objection to the KJV is that it is based on the Textus Receptus, but other Christians believe that to be its strength. I am not interested in any “translation wars” or “textual wars”. In most cases of textual uncertainly, I think the modern Nestle-Aland (or UBS) Greek text is probably correct, but there are a number of cases where I think the Majority Text probably has the original wording. We can never know for sure, and in most instances the differences are not crucial, and quite often they are hardly reflected in translation.

    The paper is organized along doctrinal issues rather than taking one translation at a time. In terms of general evaluation of its methodology I would say that it conforms to normal scholarly theological discussions in that it focuses too much on individual words and too little on the underlying culture, time and situation, and the assumptions and ways of expression embedded in those cultures.

    If you have a question about the translation of a particular verse, we could take that up.

  21. Tim Chesterton says:

    I’d like to put in a word for those two minority translations, the (now elderly) New English Bible (1970) and its successor, the Revised English Bible (1989). I enjoy them because they read so well, and because they are not tied to the Tyndale/KJV tradition but neither do they ‘dumb down’ the text as some of the more simplistic translations do.

    I participate in a weekly Bible study group with a number of different translations being brought by the members. I bring my REB and another member brings his NEB, and I alway enjoy the different perspective these translations bring. Another member was bringing the NLT for a while, and I remember thinking on a number of occasions that its evangelical theological pedigree was showing through a bit too much at times.

    I also have to say that as I get into my fifties typeface matters more and more to me and I appreciate those translations that are available in reasonably sized prints and nice page layouts. To my mind the 1970 New English Bible is one of the best, with its one column format and verse numbers over in the margin where they don’t get in the way.

  22. John Hobbins says:


    Thanks for the conversation.

    You say:

    For this verse {Jer 2:3a] I prefer CEV to NLT as long as we are talking about meaning-based versions intended for common use rather than literal ones: “You belonged to me alone, like the first part of the harvest, and I severely punished those who mistreated you.” This kind of translation communicates to the majority what I think is the essential meaning of the text.

    That’s where we disagree.

    For example, te source text says “Israel is* holy to the LORD.”

    I don’t think you can remove “holy” in translation as CEV does, and still claim that the text’s essential meaning has been preserved. The removal thereof severs an essential connection with countless passages elsewhere in the canon.

    Unless you hold that the meaning of a passage in the Bible is unrelated to the meaning it has in the context of the Bible, it is not possible to remove a keyword like “holy” and claim that the essential meaning has been communicated.

    And if you remove “Israel” and “LORD,” register hasn’t been preserved. Not a minor matter as others on this thread suggest.

    It is because of moves like these that a free paraphrase like CEV is not recommended except for beginners and is read in fact by a small minority of people.

    Literal translations in the Tyndale-KJV-ESV tradition and median translations like NIV are read by, in aggregate, an overwhelming majority of people. While there is no perfect translation, as you say, perhaps this majority is on to something.

    *”was” on your interpretation; for the interpretation I follow, see the ancient versions and native Jewish commentary tradition]

  23. Dannii says:

    Gary: I don’t think those assumptions are valid. I would very much doubt that many morphosyntactic-mimicking translations are deliberately targeted at a high reading level. Instead I think that is an artifact of the translation methodology which creates hard or even nonstandard language, which is hard to parse. If someone can actually parse the language they then need to interpret it, and there are two possibilities there: they could either interpret it as if it were any other native text, almost certainly misunderstanding a lot, or they could struggle greatly to reach an understanding of the writers, decoding the text with their knowledge of Biblical cultures etc.

    While some “dynamic” translations certainly are targeted at a lower reading level, like the CEV, I think most are just targeted at the average native adult speaker, and aim to use standard and natural language to communicate to them.

    As to registers/genres which don’t exist, I’ve wondered if we could substitute other English registers for them sometimes. Something like register often affects the feel of a text much more than the meaning, so even if the register does not match perfectly, it may still evoke similar feelings.

  24. iverlarsen says:

    John H.

    You said: “the source text says “Israel is* holy to the LORD.”

    Why did you put a star? Is it to indicate that this word is not in the text, but supplied by you based on your interpretation? I am aware that the LXX uses a future tense later in the verse, but the LXX is a very poor translation in this place. Extremely literal.

    Maybe one reason we disagree is that you are translating for an audience who are familiar with Biblical English? What does “holy” mean to a person who is not familiar with this special brand of English? I am not a native speaker of English, but my guess is that to most people it means having no fault, always doing the right thing? Does that fit the context? I understand it to mean that Israel was to be dedicated to be the people of God, to belong to him, but now they have have left that dedication and gone to other gods.

    Another reason maybe be that you think in words, while I think in the concepts behind the words. It is important to keep a link between the same concepts throughout the Bible, but it does not have to be by way of the same word.

    A third reason may be that I am used to grappling with carrying concepts across to languages that are very different from English, Hebrew and Greek.

    I think what you are doing is fine for your audience, but it is not helpful to extend your particular philosophy to Bible translation in general. There are many people who appreciate translations of the Bible that are understandable and accurately comunicate the intended meaning – as far as the translators can get to that meaning.

  25. iverlarsen says:

    In my experience you cannot judge the quality of a translation by how many people use it.

    What people use in terms of Bible translations is determined by two main factors: tradition and pressure from the clergy.

    All over the world, our experience in hundreds of translation projects is that pastors are the very last people to accept a meaning-based translation for various reasons. One reason is that pastors are so used to their sermons including an explanation of what a more or less unintelligible translation is supposed to mean. We often hear pastors complain about a new translation that is understandable: Then what I am supposed to do?

  26. Sid Williams says:

    My favorite translations are: Tyndale NT, 1526, and Matthew’s Bible, 1534, and Geneva Bible, 1599, and Authorized Version, 1611, and Rheims NT, 1733 — because they all contained the Savior’s name, “Iesus.”
    Then I liked, “The Living Oracles New Testament,” 1826 — becauseit replaced archaic terms — like “immersion” for “baptism”; and “favor for “grace”; and “congregation” for “church” (which is not in the Bible); and “publish” for “preacher”; and — it wasc the very first Bible to translate the word, “gar” (for) which was omitted many times in all other versions [but, Campbell, despite all this good work, still “banned the names of the Gods” (Father & Son) as the Pope had done.
    I love the names of the Gods.

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