Bible translations are a balancing act. How far do you go? There are English Bible translations that can be considered paraphrases; you can also get a Bible translation that is nearly word-for-word from the original languages. Both ends of the spectrum have problems.
If you know anything about translation from one language to another, you realize that each language has enough of its own differences that translation can be a very tricky business. One language has a word for this, but the other language doesn’t, so the translation will inevitably be an explanation for that word. Each language has idioms as well, which only make sense in that language. For example, if I say in English,”cut it out”, to someone who speaks German, he will probably find a pair of scissors and try to cut something out. That idiom only works in English. The same is true for all languages, including the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek of the Bible. And so some of the words and phrases we see in the original languages simply do not make sense in English. This problem renders the true interlinear translation of the Bible nearly unusable in English, so the translators have to make compromises in order to make the Bible understandable.
Bibles at the word-for-word end of the spectrum include such translations as the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), the New King James Version (NKJV), and the venerable old King James Version (KJV).
Moving along the spectrum from word-for-word, we come to moderating translations, like the New International Version (NIV), the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), and the New Living Translation (NLT). At the paraphrase end we find such Bibles as Eugene Peterson’s “The Message”, and Nelson Bibles’ “The Voice”.
My own preference sits in the “word-for-word to moderating” wing of Bible translation. I have learned that if I stray too far towards the paraphrase wing, I become more and more dissatisfied with what I find. Translators near that end of the spectrum have to, of necessity, inject much more of their own personal interpretations into the scriptures, and that tends to allow such things as “denominational bias” to enter the picture. That doesn’t seem to bother Bible scholars who actually agree with those interpretations, but if you disagree with them, then that Bible is no longer acceptable.
I have recently been looking at the different translations that I prefer, as always trying to narrow the selection down to just the few I prefer to read, and ultimately to just one that I consider my main, favorite translation. And I tell you, it’s not an easy process. I realize I have actually been doing this for a number of years, because I’m always looking for that one “best” translation (in spite of the fact that there really is no single “perfect” English translation.) The translations I have narrowed it down to include the NASB 1995 update, the ESV, the NKJV, the NIV, and the NET Bible.
In my next post I will begin examining each of these translations and tell you why I like it and why I would ultimately reject it as my main Bible.