God Wants More For You. So Do We.

What’s the Best Bible Translation?

Ask Pastor Alex, Ep. 19

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex.All right, welcome back to the podcast, everyone.We’re here with another episode and another question.And the question for this episode is, what’s the best Bible translation?And that’s a great question.Unfortunately, it is super difficult to answer.You see, when it comes to Bible translation, the basic common goal of all translation is to help us understand in our language what was originally written in a different language.And so there are three basic approaches in order to accomplish that goal.One approach is referred to as formal equivalence, which is otherwise known as the word for wordapproach.As its name implies, this approach seeks to accurately express in one language what was written in a different language.And so this approach tends to give preference to accuracy over clarity.So for instance, let’s take a passage like Amos chapter four in verse six.In the Hebrew of that verse, it uses an obscure phrase.In the Hebrew, it literally says, cleanness of teeth.And so word for word translations will also translate that exact phrase into English using the appropriate English words.And so you end up with a word for word equivalent.And so these translations will say, cleanness of teeth.So you might not know what the Bible means, but you will know what the Bible says in thisapproach.And common word for word translations that are used today are things like the NASB, which is the New American Standard Bible, the ESV, which is the English Standard Version, the KJV and the new KJV.The major benefit, the major pro of this approach is that you are getting to see in English What is communicated or written in the original Aramaic, Hebrew or Greek text.So the greatest benefit to this approach is that it is accurate to the original languages.The con to this approach is that sometimes you don’t actually know what is meant by the words used in the original language.So for instance, with our example from Amos chapter four, the phrase cleanness of teeth,you will know that that is exactly what the originals say, but you won’t necessarily know what it means.Another approach that’s taken today in Bible translation is the dynamic equivalent approach,otherwise known as the thought for thought approach.This approach gives preference to clarity over accuracy.So in this approach, the goal is not always to accurately represent the words of one language with the words of another language, but rather to accurately communicate the thought or the idea behind what was written.So within this approach, even though the Hebrew of Amos chapter four, verse six might say cleanness of teeth, it would not be translated that way with these particular versions.Instead, they would translate the phrase as famine, because that’s the idea being expressed by the phrase cleanness of teeth.They understand that such a phrase is unfamiliar to us today.And so they seek to help us out by telling us what the phrase meant.So within this approach, you might not always know what the Bible says exactly, but you will know what it means.And some of the common thought for thought translations used today are the CSB, which is the Christian Standard Bible, the NIV, the New International Version, the NAB, which is the New American Bible, and the NET, which is the New English Translation.And the pros of this approach are that it makes the Bible easy to read, and you’ll typically know the thought behind obscure words and phrases, which is great.But the major con of this approach is that you won’t actually know what the Bible is truly saying.You aren’t reading the words as they appear in the original manuscripts.One final approach is the functional equivalent approach, otherwise known as the paraphraseapproach.And as its name implies, the goal of this approach is to paraphrase scripture into the most readable and understandable form possible.This approach emphasizes readability over accuracy and clarity.And so they would never use the phrase, cleanliness of teeth.And sometimes they wouldn’t even use the word famine, because those are too difficult to understand, they say.So instead, they translate the phrase this way.You know, don’t you, that I’m the one who emptied your pantries and cleaned out your cupboards, who left you hungry and standing in bread lines.Now as you can see, or at least hear in this case, they want people to understand what’s being communicated, but they do so by adding their own words.So the pro of this approach is that the Bible becomes very, very readable.But the absolute just biggest major con of this approach is that you aren’t getting the words of scripture at all.You’re getting someone else’s words.So it’s not even like you’re reading the Bible anymore.And the two most common paraphrased versions today are the message Bible and the passiontranslation.Let me just issue a warning here for us to be aware of when it comes to both the thought for thought translations and the paraphrased versions.The further you get away from the word for word approach, the further you get away from translation and more into interpretation.And this is dangerous because we need to and want to know what the Bible says, not what someone else thinks it means.Do you see the difference there?Take for instance, Galatians 2 19.If you look at the Greek of Galatians 2 19, it literally says that I might live for God.Right?That’s very simple.That I might live for God.And it’s a very literal translation.But the passion translation, which is one of the paraphrased versions, says this, so that I can live for God in heaven’s freedom.Well, what in the world does that mean?Why did the translators feel the need to include that in those words when those words do not appear in the Greek text at all?Well, it’s because they’re interpreting rather than translating.They are communicating to us what they think the text means rather than telling us what the text definitely says.And this is a big problem because what ends up happening is you might disagree with the translator’s interpretation.You don’t want to hear what they think scripture means.We need to hear what scripture says.And so it’s best to know what the Bible says rather than what they think it means.You don’t want to hear someone’s interpretation.You’re looking to get a translation.So that explains why we have so many different versions out there of the Bible today.It’s because there are these three basic approaches to translation and the Bible that you’re reading is going to fall into one of those approaches.So then we get back to our main question.Well, which version is best?And I really can’t say.I don’t know if there is a single best perfect English translation, despite what many people claim because there are certain people who will claim that a particular English translation is not only the best Bible out there, but the only one that true Christians use.But understand this.No translation is perfect.All right.The KJV utilizes outdated language and does not use the best manuscripts available today.The NASB is so wooden and literal that it’s almost unreadable.The ESV, while more readable, still kind of sounds like Yoda from Star Wars at certain points and uses weird word order in sentences.And so it kind of sounds like backwards talk sometimes.The NIV and the CSB are too loose and drift away from the original words of scripture.The NLT brings in too much of their own thoughts.And the message and passion Bibles are not even translations at all.I don’t even know that we can consider them Bibles at this point.So for me personally, what I do is when I’m studying scripture, when I’m preparing sermons,things like that, I always start with the original languages.But then I primarily use an ESV, the English standard version.However, I think one of the best approaches to study in scripture is to use a number of Bible translations together for your personal study.So if you want to know what the Bible actually says and what the words of scripture actually are, use an ESV, a NASB, or a King James or a New King James.If you want help understanding what the Bible says, then consult an NIV or a CSB.And I was going to say if you want devotional material, then you can consult the message or the passion translation.But I really don’t even think I can bring myself to recommend those at all, not even for devotional study.They just they are not translations.They are someone else’s words entirely, and they bring in way too much interpretation.So I can’t recommend those.But I would say give preference to the word for word translations, but definitely use the thought for thought translations as you study.Also study Bibles can be really helpful as well when you’re wanting to understand what you’re reading.So I guess my final recommendation would be to pick up an ESV.I’m not saying that it’s the absolute best English translation available, but as someone who does read the original Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek on a weekly basis, I can tell you that the ESV does seem to be the best combination of accuracy and readability that I have found so far.So I don’t know that we can say which Bible translation is best, but I hope that me trying to answer this question has helped you some.I hope that you understand one, why we have so many different translations available today,and two, the approaches behind those translations so that you know how to pick one which is best suited for you.But regardless of which one you pick, again, stay away from the paraphrases, but regardless of which one you pick, get in the word, dig into the word, read it every day and growin your knowledge and understanding of what the Lord says and of who He is and grow in your wonder of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.So thanks for the question.I really appreciate it and I look forward to answering more in the future.