Sep 072014

A question from Facebook went like this: I really want to get an accurate bible. What are your recommendations? I want something that is closest to the original Hebrew.

This is based on the reply I made to that question. I will be expanding it in the future, but this is here so I won’t put it off and eventually forget.

Short of learning Hebrew itself, you have to choose what you value in a translation. There’s no such thing as “most accurate”. Every translation is a tradeoff between major principles such as dynamic vs literal equivalence, whether you want idioms left as they were in the original language vs translated into a modern idiom, whether you want paraphrase or word-for-word, etc., and all these are a gradient, not binary. Even decisions like whether to keep the original weights and measures or convert to modern units can affect our understanding.

The most extreme form of “literal” translation I’ve seen Jeff Benner’s work, where you get stuff like this:
Image of book cover of A Mechanical Translation of the Book of Genesis

in~Summit he~did~Fatten “Elohiym [Powers]” At the~Sky~s2 and~At the~Land in the summit “Elohiym [Powers]” fattened the sky and the land, and~the~Land she~had~Exist Confusion and~Unfilled and~Darkness Upon Face~s Deep.sea and~Wind “Elohiym [Powers]” much~Flutter~ing(fs) Upon Face~s the~Water~s2 (Genesis 1:1-2)((Benner, Jeff A.. A Mechanical Translation of Genesis. p17 Jeff A. Benner, 2007. Web. September 7, 2014.))

In modern paraphrases, like The Message, you wind up with equally spooky reading like this:
Image of book cover for The Message

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.((Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6, The Message))

You won’t get an edge by picking a single “best” bible. Read passages from multiple translations on sites like Bible Gateway and see what you like. There are really dozens of factors to consider, and it is literally impossible for a single translation to offer it all.

For example, the NLT is awesome for reading out loud (it was specifically designed for that). The ESV is great for its similarity to the KJV in feel, but with modern conveniences like passage headings and less archaic English. The KJV is great for finding those passages in the wording that everyone recognizes. The NASB is the one a lot of academics use, where variant readings were taking from multiple text streams. There is an increasing number of “original names” editions, but those names never help me understand the text better, and make it harder to actually discuss with others, so I don’t bother personally, but they’re very important to some people and I respect the choice.

So this is a big subject, and there’s no single answer. The reason so many translations exist is because there are so many ways to think about conveying the meaning from the original culture and language to our modern culture and language. After obsessing over it for a few years, I finally came to the conclusion the best one is the one within arm’s reach. I have about 10 translations in paper, and dozens in software (Logos). The one I use most is probably the ESV, but boy does the NLT just read so smooth.

  One Response to “Which Bible translation is the best?”

  1. For a good historical appraisal of the accuracy and integrity of various Bible versions, I would recommend that you watch the two videos “Battle of the Bibles” and “Changing the Word” by Prof. Walter Veith on YouTube.

    Of further background interest, concerning the circumstances under which the King James Authorised Version was produced, I would recommend watching Dr. Phil Stringer’s address to the Dean Burgon Society entitled “The Real Story of King James” on YouTube.

    Many are unaware but it should be remembered that most modern English translations of the Bible since 1910 are derived from different manuscript sources than the previous versions and contain many omissions and changes of meaning as a result. Such translations are not simply updates into modern English.

    I cannot fail to emphasise the fact that different versions of the Bible fundamentally differ in their presentations of Christian doctrine and can be held accountable for much division and even apostasy within the Body of Christ today.

    What was inspired by the Holy Spirit to be written is only that which can be translated into living reality by the same Spirit. In an age where so many have been educated to study and approve matters by intellectual analysis, it should be remembered that the Bible is not the product of an intellectual exercise. Such an approach to the scriptures is therefore that which engenders controversies and disputes, which come from the mind of the flesh.

    Even the pattern of the intellectual forum (class or lecture room) is that which we see in churches nowadays and which quenches the cooperative organic functioning of the Body of Christ. A pastor or minister thereby becomes an intermediary, a master of ceremonies and teacher, all rolled into one. How greatly this differs from the vibrant functionality of the church that we see in powerful operation in the accounts in the New Testament!

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