The bible as we know it was originally written in three different languages:
- Hebrew (most of the Old Testament)
- Aramaic (a local dialect found in parts of Daniel and Ezra)
- Greek (the entire New Testament)
I think it is safe to say that most readers of the Bible do not know these original languages, and that means, therefore, that you need to choose a good English translation in order for you to read and study the Bible effectively.
First of all, let me say that your choice of translation will depend to some degree on the purpose of your reading the Bible. This might sound strange to you, but let me explain. An important and vital part of our walk as Christians is that we know God’s voice and mind in different situations of our daily living. The best way to know the voice and mind of God is to know the Scriptures. We need to spend a lot of time reading the Scriptures, simply getting to know the content of each book of the Bible
Secondly, as we grow in our faith, it is also important that we study the Scriptures in depth, so that we can learn and understand principles of faith and living.
Thirdly, we need regularly to read the Scriptures in order to discover and meet with God in our own personal walk with Him.
Before we decide what translation is best, a little understanding of the background of translation work would be helpful. We need to remember that all translations of the Bible contain certain bias. The bias (whether theological, doctrinal, or cultural) of the translators will always become evident somewhere in the translation. Also, the method of translation plays a part in the final translation.
In the theory of translation, there are three main types of translation method that we need to consider:
- Literal Translation
In this method, the translators attempt to keep as close as possible to the exact words and phrases in the original language. The challenge with this is that there are times when a verse or paragraph or phrase just doesn’t make any sense in the English, because of strange word order or idioms and sayings not usually used in English.
- Free Translation
This method of translation attempts to translate the ideas of a passage from the original to English, with less concern for the actual words used in the original. For example, a free translation will use the word ‘dollar’ instead of ‘denarius’, or ‘kilogram’ instead of ‘ephah’. A free translation tries to eliminate as much of the historical distance between the original and the modern translation as possible.
- Dynamic Equivalent
Here the translators attempt to translate words, idioms and grammatical constructions of the original language into precise equivalents in the English. In this method, historical distance is kept on all historical and most factual matters, but language, grammar and style are modernised in order to be easily understood.
The following diagram illustrates where different English translations fall on the translation scale.
As you read and study the Scriptures, I would recommend the following:
- For your general reading in order to get to know the contents of Scripture (characters, stories, events, etc), The Living Bible is an easy – to – read, helpful translation. The Living Bible is a free translation (sometimes called a paraphrase), and so the accuracy of specific words and phrases is sometimes called into question, but the text flows and reads very easily. If you read the Bible out loud (pulpit speed), you can read through the entire Bible in less than 80 hours. My recommendation is that you read from the Living Bible for an hour each day. This will have you read through the entire Bible four times a year. This exercise is great for getting to know the contents of your Bible.
- For more in-depth studying of the Bible, I would recommend that your primary source translation is a translation that uses the dynamic equivalence method of translation (for example the New International Version, or New American Bible, or New English Bible). These translations are still easy to follow the text, but are far more accurate in the words and phrases used when compared to a free translation.
I would also strongly recommend that when you do any in-depth study of the Bible, you use at least four different translations, and read the passage under consideration at least five times from each translation before you begin your study.
A good Bible translation study library will use the following:
- NIV or NAB or NEB (primary translation)
- King James or New American Standard (secondary translation)
- Good News Bible or Jerusalem Bible
- Living Bible or Phillips translation
The reason for using so many translations is that you will see different opinions for word and phrase usage in each translation, and will get a good grasp of what was intended in the original language.
I have not mentioned the Amplified Bible at all in the above article, for one simple reason. The Amplified Bible suggests many words (usually in brackets) for many of the words in the translation, almost as if it is masquerading as a thesaurus. The danger of this is that many words will be recommended and placed in the text that are not intended in the original, and so the wrong impression or meaning can be given to many words and phrases. I would not recommend using an Amplified Bible for your in-depth study at all!