Picking a Translation – 3

In Slider by Bruce LogueLeave a Comment

In the last 50 years there has been an explosion of translations causing many people to become apoplectic as they stand in front of a shelf of Bibles in the Bible book store, trying to decide what to purchase for themselves. Many of them come to that shelf having decided that they are no longer willing to attempt to understand the KJV, but they don’t have a clue what to purchase.

With the exception of a few translations, translations can be helpful in trying to understand what the Bible says. And no translation is entirely free of bias. The New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the most egregious example of slanting a “translation” in order to promote a peculiar doctrinal bias.

Internet sites like Bible Gateway offer the wonderful opportunity to compare a text in a multitude of translations to see how various translators handled texts in the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. And it doesn’t cost anything to use that site. You may even develop a preference for a particular translation.

Most translations are the work of committees and are subject to the scholarship and judgement of the whole committee. This is an effective way to prevent novel translation.

Translations fall somewhere on a continuum between word-for-word translation to though-for-thought translation to paraphrases (like The Message). The problem with word-for-word is that it tends to be restricted by the words used in the original text. Thought-for-thought translations work to capture the thought being conveyed by the writer of the text. (See illustration at top of the page.)

It is a good idea to change translations every year or two. Why? It forces the reader to think more purposefully about the Bible. The sound of the new translation strikes the ear differently. Even paraphrases like The Message have a role to play in introducing the text in fresh ways. Not a bad idea.

I once asked a small group of people to read, in turn, from about five different translations, from word-for-word equivalence to paraphrase. When I asked them what they preferred they mostly chose the translations from the thought-for-thought center. When I asked them about the paraphrase they said, “It just doesn’t sound like Bible.”

What is interesting is that the New Testament came to us in Koine Greek. Koine was the street language of the people of that time. Nothing special about it. Vulgar, common, everyday speech was the way that God chose to communicate to us. So we should not try to achieve “holy” language but rather language that communicates truth to us.

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