Can you explain the differences between all of the various translations of the Bible that are out there?
This may come as a surprise to some (I hope I am kidding), but the books, poems, and letters that make of the 66 books of the modern Bible were not written originally in English… not even King James English. (I used to hear about churches that seemed to think that Paul and Silas carried King James Bibles under their arms around ancient Rome and “if the KJV was good enough for them, it was good enough for us.”)
In fact, these documents that now make up our Holy Bible were written primarily in Hebrew (Old Testament), Greek (New Testament), and a little Aramaic (Aramaic and Hebrew are apparently as similar to one another as Spanish and Portuguese are.) Over the years the copies that we have of these ancient books, some going back to almost pre-history and others from about 2000 years ago, have been translated into various languages: Latin, German, Spanish and yes, English. In fact, according to the International Bible Society (http://www.ibs.org/bibles/about/19.php), the whole Bible, or some portion of it has been translated into approx. 2800 languages; the whole Bible has been translated into 392 languages!
Here is a glance at the different translations, and what the differences are:
Anytime you translate something into another language, you have a problem. The problem is that just translating the words may not express the meaning of the words. Imagine if I translate the sentence “It was raining cats and dogs” from English into Chinese? Might it come out “Animals were falling from the sky?” That would be close to the same words, but certainly not the same meaning. Translating the Bible creates the same problems. The original languages and cultures had their own idioms, word usages, etc. How do we turn those materials into English without losing the integrity of the wording and the meaning? Answer: not perfectly. Since we can’t do it perfectly, translators do the best they can. In doing so, some prefer to translate each word as it comes; as much as possible, each word gets translated. This is called “formal equivalence” or “literal.” Generally speaking, these are considered best for serious study of the Bible. The first of these was the King James Version in Shakespearean English… 54 men from all over, ranging from 20’s to 70’s in age using everything they could get their hands on in order to develop it. Though it is a good translation, it is tough for us to read since it is not in modern English. The New King James was an attempt to rectify that problem while keeping the strength of the translation, and many people use it for study. Other formal equivalence translations include the Revised Standard, American Standard (1901), New King James (1982), English Standard (2001), New American Standard (1971) (allegedly considered the most strict word-for-word) and the World English Bible – which is in progress. So, if you are looking for a Bible for in-depth study, one of these may be your answer unless you know Greek or Hebrew. (Greek and Hebrew Bibles can be purchased and computer versions are quite handy).
However, in translation, others choose to target getting the meaning right over translating each word at a time; this is called “dynamic equivalence.” This is all about “readability” versus “wording fidelity…” Natural reading and meaning of the passage versus the actual words used in the proper order. Bibles that have been translated along these lines include The Good News Bible (1976), The New Living (2004), and the most popular modern version of the Bible, the New International Version (1978). These are also great translations, though there is some debate about them, naturally, because judgment calls had to be made over meaning, remember?
Finally, there are paraphrases. Paraphrase versions are not really “translations” at all in the traditional sense. They represent someone taking available resources and expressing the basic meaning of each passage – or “paraphrasing” them. These include the original The Living Bible and the very popular The Message (2002).
I hope this answers your questions – feel free to follow up. Personally, I use the New American Standard Updated for my personal study, or the English Standard Version… but I also love to read the NIV and Message.
Here is my main advice: READ THE HOLY BIBLE. Read the gospels 10x each before anything else if you can… If you have any questions that come up while you read, give me a holler.
Thanks for another great question!