My Bible is Better Than Yours

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever wondered which Bible version was the best version? If so you’re in the same boat with most Christians. When it comes down to it, people usually base their choice on two factors: 1) what they’ve been taught by their pastors and 2) what they’ve grown up with in their own Christian life. There is sometimes a third factor: readability. Sometimes people will choose a version based on how easy it is to read and/or understand.

Let’s talk honestly about the different versions and what they mean. Hopefully you’ll be able to choose wisely and with discernment for your own needs.

The first real difference between versions has to do with the original manuscripts. The Bible was not written in English but in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. So any English translation is a secondary work. Most mainstream Evangelicals believe that the original manuscripts are what are inspired, not the various translations. That means that, while translations are different, no single translation is more anointed than any other.

It is important to note that among all of the differences between translations and the original texts they use (KJV uses some different manuscripts than the NIV, etc.) there are no real significant theological differences between any of them. That means we can have confidence that the Bible translation we are reading today is accurate to the Bible the early church was reading.

So then it comes down to a choice of personal preference. Let me walk you through some of the options and why they are the way they are.

There are three mindsets for translators working on a Bible:

1) Translating word for word as much as possible. This is called a literal or wooden translation. These translations would include the KJV, NASB, RSV, and ESV.

2) Trying to blend the literal wording with the actual meaning. This is called dynamic equivalence. These translations would include the NIV, HCSB, and (to a lesser degree) the NLT.

3) Trying to put the Bible into an easy to read version regardless of the original wording. This is called a paraphrase. An example of a paraphrase would be The Message. It is not actually a translation but rather loose approximation of meaning based off of other translations.

Most serious Bible students stay away from paraphrases. While they create an easy to read story, they place fast and loose with the actual text. Since we believe that the original text was inspired, I would rather not give an approximation. On the other hand, being too wooden becomes very burdensome to read and makes for difficult comprehension.

For this reason I prefer a version that is a dynamic equivalent – one that cares about the original text and seriously attempts to bridge the original text with a contemporary vocabulary and comprehension (like the NIV or HCSB). The problem with dynamic equivalent translations, though, is that the translation involves much more interpretation than a wooden translation. What I mean is this:

A wooden translation focuses more on getting the words translated accurately than on meaning. In order to get to underlying meaning, translators of dynamic equivalent versions have to make some educated guesses as to meaning, context, etc. This means that the translators’ personal theology or ideology has a greater chance of coming through in a dynamic equivalent version than a wooden translation. You may not like the woodenness of the ESV or NASB, but they are less likely to include the personal biases of the translators.

In the end, I always tell people that the best version is the one that they will actually pick up and read! No matter what your decision, I have confidence that you’re reading God’s Word to humanity. So find one that works for you – one that you can dig into and spend time with.

Happy reading!

Let your voice be heard: Which version is your “go to” version? Why?

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Leave Your Bible on Your Shelf

11 Replies to “My Bible is Better Than Yours”

  1. Thanks for this blog post. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding of the relative value of translations/versions, etc. My two cents on the topic:

    I would suggest that the distinctions between “wooden,” “dynamic equivalent,” and “paraphrase” are not really definable. It is a continuum. All translation involves interpretation. Word for word correspondence is impossible because each language functions differently. Sometimes being too “wooden” can skew the meaning of a text as much as trying to paraphrase it.

    Having said that, I like the RSV best. I have spend many years studying Hebrew and Greek, and more often than not, I feel the RSV best captures the original meaning. But not always. That’s why I like to translate a passage or at least consult the Hebrew/Greek texts when preparing for sermons or lessons.

    I can’t comment specifically on the Message, since the only bits I’ve seen of it were from FB and Twitter quotes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, FAR too many Christians are ignorant about this subject.

    Years ago, I did a 22 week study of Psalm 119. The author of the study encouraged us to read several different translations, and even wrote some of the questions in a way that you had to do that to properly answer. I soon wound up with a KJV, an NIV, an NASB and an NLT spread out as I studied. My bride got me a parallel Bible for my birthday that year, it has KJV, Amplified, NASB and NIV in columns.

    My go-to translation to teach and preach is always NASB, but I am very thankful that we have multiple translations for the purpose of study. I even have an old NIV (the 1984 non-heretical version) that I usually keep in “The Library” for reading.

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  3. I believe in the KJV, partly because I grew up with, but mainly because it is the most accurate, in my opinion. I am not a Bible scholar, but I have checked out several versions. Some of them drop off important words, because they deem them unnecessary: “verily, verily” means ‘listen up, this is important’. When you drop that off, you lose something of the importance of what is being said.
    God warns us in Revelation 22:18-19 that if any man add to His word, he will add plagues to him; or if any take away from His word, he will take away his part out of the book of life, out of the holy city, and from the things written in His book.

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    1. “Verily verily I say unto you” is an old way of translating Greek’s “amen amen lego soi”. It’s an expresion that emphasizes importance. It’s translated by others as “Truly I tell you…”. The other translations do a good job bringing the message into English.

      Thx for reading 🙂

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  4. Thanks for the blog. Good stuff. I also read the article that Jeff Stephens posted regarding the Message, which is a good rendition of much of the Bible, and it does bring it to life. However, it definitely is not a translation. It contains too much interpretive commentary to be considered a translation. But there is definitely room for good “renditions” of God’s Word. So now we have translations, versions, paraphrases, dynamic equivalents, and renditions. A lot of people get a lot out of it, and are inspired by it. I used the NIV solely until the 2011 edition came out. It’s calculated decision to “go vernacular” even to the point of incorrect grammar is repulsive. So, I used the 1984 edition on Biblegateway.com. Until, that is, they removed it a few months ago. So I tend to use the HCSB now. And when I really want to dig into the Word, I translate from the Greek. And THAT is inspiring!

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    1. When I was a young and brash man interviewing for my first youth pastor position a parent asked me which translation of the Bible was my favorite. I answered, “Mine.” That didn’t fly to well 🙂

      But I understand what you’re saying.

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  5. Good read! One thing…I believe Eugene Peterson is a bible scholar and he translated from the original language, so The Message is technically a dynamic equivalent. Though The Message is not my personal cup of tea, and it does feel like the translation is “fast and loose” at times, I would say that Peterson cared deeply about conveying the meaning of the original text. I wouldn’t say that it is nearly as reliable a translation as others mainly because it’s the work of one guy (as opposed to a team of scholars).

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    1. I never meant to impugn the spirit in which Peterson wrote The Message – I have no doubt that his intention was to provide the Bible to his church in a way that would be relevant. I agree with you there.

      That being said, I still would not place The Message in the category of “translation.” Even with his working from Greek, he did not attempt to convert the original language into a different language – he retold the story in a contemporary way. Paraphrase, but not dynamic equivalent translation.

      Thanks for the link to the Biblegateway piece. 🙂

      Like

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