Which version of the Bible is the
best? Which versions of the Bible should be avoided? Which version
of the Bible will help me grow spiritually? These are important
questions and unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation to
confuse you. Consider this as your handy guide to understanding
the issues in choosing a Bible version.
There are three translation theories which determine the characteristics
of the English Bible you choose to use. The English version you
choose will have different characteristics depending on which
translation method was used to create it.
Remember, Scripture was originally written in Hebrew and Greek,
with a few small portions in Aramaic. In order for us to have
the Scripture in English, someone (or some persons) must translate
Scripture from the original languages into English.
The three translation methods are as follows:
1. Literal - virtually word-for-word
2. Dynamic Equivalent- intended
to convey the thought rather than the literal word
3. Free - intended to re-create
the emotional impact of the original text
The Literal method attempts to make a word-for-word translation.
The Dynamic Equivalent attempts to convey the thought rather than
the literal word. The Free is intended to re-create the emotional
impact of the original text. Let's look at an example. We'll look
at 1 Thessalonians 4.3-6 and see how it would be translated under
FOR WORD LITERAL
The literal translation method endeavors to communicate a literal,
word-for-word translation from the original text, even at the
expense of clarity of thought, if that is necessary. The following
is a literal (and wooden) word-for-word translation of this verse.
1 Th 4:3-6
3 For~this is the will (the)
of God, the sanctification of you, for you~to abstain from (the)
4 to know each one of you (the)
his own vessel how to control in sanctification and honor,
5 not in passion of lust even
as also the gentiles (the) not knowing (the) God.
There are some things you need to
understand about the Greek language in order to understand the
limitations of a word-for-word translation.
First, Greek is a synthetic language rather than an analytical
language like English. In English, the function of a word depends
on its order in the sentence. A typical word order of an English
sentence is Noun + Verb + Direct Object.
In Greek, the function of a word depends on the ending placed
on the word. Thus, a verb could actually be the last word in a
Another thing you need to understand is that Greek doesn't have
an indefinite article. In English, we have a definite article
("the") and an indefinite article ("a or an"). Greek doesn't have
an indefinite article. The proper use and translation of the definite
article in Greek is very complicated. In order to illustrate the
difficulty, in the translation above every use of the definite
article "the" in the Greek has been translated. I have placed
in parentheses the uses which most translators believe should
not be translated into English because it confuses the reader
or maybe even suggests an improper meaning. I have added in italics
the definite article "the" in some places where it doesn't exist
in the Greek but where it needs to be added in order to read smoothly
and make sense. I have also added two other words in italics which
don't exist in the Greek but which are necessary for an understandable
English translation: "for" and "how."
Note also the tilde (~) between the first two words of the verse.
The first word in that verse in Greek is actually "this" and not
"for". The word translated "for" is a post-positive in Greek and
never is the first word in a Greek sentence but must be placed
first in the sentence when translated into English in order for
it to make sense.
It would be a fairly unpleasant experience to have to read the
entire New Testament in such a wooden, literal translation.
Fortunately, when translators use the literal method, they still
smooth it out so it is easier to read. Consider these verses in
the King James Version, which is a literal translation.
King James Version
3 For this is the will of God,
even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:
4 That every one of you should
know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;
5 Not in the lust of concupiscence,
even as the Gentiles which know not God:
This is certainly a lot easier translation
than the wooden, literal translation above. It even has some elegance
about it. However, because our English language has changed a
lot since the King James Version was translated, there are some
words here that most people wouldn't understand, for example,
"sanctification" and "concupiscence".
Consider these same verses in the New American Standard version,
which is also a literal translation.
New American Standard
3 For this is the will of God,
your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;
4 that each of you know how
to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,
5 not in lustful passion, like
the Gentiles who do not know God;
This is even easier to read. But
it still contains words that are a literally correct translation
from the Greek, like "vessel" in verse 4, but which can be confusing
to a modern American reader. Notice that "concupiscence" has been
dropped for a more understandable rendering of the word as "lustful
The Dynamic Equivalent method of
Bible translation endeavors to communicate reliable thought forms,
deviating from the literal language if necessary in order to be
faithful to the thought intended by the original author.
Consider these same verses in the New International Version, whose
translators used the dynamic equivalent method of translation.
New International Version
3 It is God's will that
you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;
4 that each of you should learn
to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable,
5 not in passionate lust like
the heathen, who do not know God;
Notice in particular verse 4. The
word "body" doesn't appear in the Greek. Remember, the word in
the Greek is literally "vessel". However, the translators of the
New International Version understand that Paul was using "vessel"
as a metaphor for "body" and since American readers will make
the true connection better if the word "body" is used rather than
"vessel," they have strayed from the literal word in order to
be faithful to communicate the thought intended by Paul.
Consider another dynamic equivalent version, the New Living Translation:
New Living Translation
3 God wants you to be holy,
so you should keep clear of all sexual sin.
4 Then each of you will control
your body and live in holiness and honor--
5 not in lustful passion as
the pagans do, in their ignorance of God and his ways.
The thought forms have been reliably
communicated, as in the New International Version. As between
these two translations, you will mainly find differences in English
The Free Translation method endeavors
to create the same emotional impact in the modern reader as the
ancient text had on its original reader.
Consider these same verses in The Message, a free translation
by Eugene Peterson.
Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity.
Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body, not abusing
it, as is so common among those who know nothing of God.
What do you think. Has Dr. Peterson
succeeded in conveying the emotional impact?
Consider the Cotton Patch Version. This version was translated
by Dr. Clarence Jordan. Dr. Jordan was a brilliant, Southern Baptist
Greek scholar who was led by God to live out the gospel among
the Black population of Georgia. They formed a Christ-centered
community where farming was carried on. Habitat for Humanity started
here, too. Dr. Jordan translated most of the New Testament using
a free translation method that he thought would communicate Paul's
passion to Dr. Jordan's beloved people.
The Cotton Patch Version
God's will-that which makes you
different-is that you hold back from catting around, that each
of you know how to control his own genitals with dedication and
honor, not with lustful passion like those guys who don't know
God; and that one not go over and stimulate his brother in this
Do you think he achieved his purpose?
Consider the Living Bible. This is not technically a translation.
It's author, Dr. Kenneth Taylor, paraphrased the English Revised
Standard Version in order to make it more understandable for his
children. Though not technically a translation, it could be classified
among free translations.
For God wants you to be holy
and pure, and to keep clear of all sexual sin so that each of
you will marry in holiness and honor-not in lustful passion as
the heathen do, in their ignorance of God and his ways.
BEST ENGLISH TRANSLATION
So which is the best English translation?
The truth is that a serious student of Holy Scripture will have
at least one English Bible which is prepared using each translation
method. Certainly, you will have your favorite. But when studying
Scripture, be sure to read it in translations which use a different
translation method than your regular Bible.
So, enjoy and "take