Having a discussion at work, about translations of the Bible. One member of the group contends that the King James Version is the only inspired English translation. Here are my comments to the group:

My parents are in the process of translating the Bible into Gapapaiwa, a local language in Papua New Guinea. The language had never been written before, and the Scriptures they used were in another language. It was the equivalent of us using Latin today - completely unintelligible and useless. As they translate, they primarily translate directly from the Greek (currently they are working on the New Testament). A secondary tool is an 8-translation Bible, which lists each verse on a page, in eight different English translations. Having read through all of those, it is rare that they are different beyond just a nuance, and almost nonexistent that they contradict.

Personally, I use the NIV, and I find the KJV difficult to understand. In some instances, it uses such awkward wording that I have to read a sentence ten times to figure out what it is saying. As our language changes, it will become as less understandable, ending up as useful as Latin to today’s readers.

The types of translations can be characterized by a spectrum, from literal to free. Literal translations most accurately follow the original, down to the wording used. Free translations attempt to capture the ideas and put them in today’s language. Some go too far, and end up changing some critical meaning. These are often called paraphrases. Some, like the NIV, try to take a balanced approach, in order to preserve the meaning while still making the language flow naturally. Here is a chart:

Type of Translation
Translation (Version)

Literal (Word for Word):

King James (KJV)
New King James (NKJV)
English Standard (ESV)
New American Standard NASB)

Dynamic Equivalent:

Revised Standard (RSV)
New Revised Standard (NRSV)
Updated NASB
Amplified Bible
New American Bible
New International (NIV)
New English Bible

Free (paraphrase):
Thought for Thought

Good News Bible
Phillips Modern English
Living Bible (LB)
New Living Bible (NLT)
Jerusalem Bible
Modern Language
Contemporary English (CEV, “The Promise”)
Today’s English
Worldwide English
“The Message”

The translations in the Free group are the ones that concern me. I have a copy of the New Living Translation, which I read regularly. Sometimes I do go back and compare it to the NIV, and find the meaning is usually unchanged. What I see is that the literal and the “dynamic” translations follow very closely to the original. The key here is caution, though. Most doctrinal statements (of churches, denominations, or individuals), state that the Scriptures are the inspired word of God, as originally written. The translations we read are a “view” of that original, to aid us in understanding it. They eliminate the need for all of us to be scholars of Greek and Hebrew.

There are about 3,000 (over half) languages in the world that have no Scripture at all. They include about 1 billion people, or one sixth of the people in the world. It chafes me a bit that we have so many translations that we can have this discussion, while many have nothing. I am also thankful for the different versions, because they allow us to see that much closer to the true meaning intended.

One Response to “translations”

  1. Dad Says:

    How about the ‘Cotton Patch’ version/paraphrase. Highly inaccurate, lots of unaccaptable changes to historical facts, lots of added messages not in the original. BUT, great fun to read and very thought provoking.