Translating the Bible is not easy.
Ask any Greek or Hebrew scholar and they’ll tell you that translation is a long and arduous process…one that takes years. For example, a committee of 13 of the most respected evangelical scholars in the world spent roughly 13 years working on the New International Version (NIV), to arrive at a readable, reliable translation for today’s generation.
So why is Bible translation so difficult?
Well, for starters there’s no such thing as a word-for-word translation. Anytime you translate something from one language into another language, there is some degree of interpretation.
Take for example the Spanish phrase “¿Como se llama?” The most literal translation of that phrase is, “How you call?” But a meaning-based translation is, “What is your name?”
Which is more accurate?
The Bible translation scholars would tell you the second phrase is much more accurate, because it captures the meaning of “¿Como se llama?” in everyday English. And we think most English speakers would agree. Therefore, the goal of Bible translation is not simply to swap words, but to translate the text in a way that conveys the original, intended meaning.
But why do we need to keep translating the Bible into English? Don’t we have enough versions already?
Before you answer that, consider this: In only 10 years, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary made 100,000 changes and added 10,000 new words.
Language changes—and it changes quickly.
Whether it’s advancements in biblical scholarship or just plain clearer English, there will always be new Bible translations as well as a variety of translations available for you to choose from.
There are three basic approaches to translation including:
Thought-for-Thought: Translators take the "meaning" of the original language and rewrite it in modern language that's easy to read and understand.
Balanced Approach: Scholars translate word-for-word where it results in a translation that’s both clear and accurate. But where a word-for-word approach might result in an unclear or inaccurate translation (take the ¿Como se llama? example above), these translations use the most natural English possible to clearly and accurately communicate the meaning.
Which translation should I choose?
English Standard Version (ESV)
The ESV Bible was translated over a period of 500 years, building on the great translations of the past—including William Tyndale’s New Testament of 1526 and the King James Version (KJV) of 1611. It also builds on the best Christian scholarship of the last 100 years. The result is a fresh and compelling Bible translation with a timeless quality, that’s trustworthy and true. The ESV “sounds like” the Bible—with the kind of beauty, clarity, and dignity that we love to hear and read.
The New International Version Family (NIV, NIrV)
The NIV is one of today’s best selling translations. The goal of the translators was to produce a very accurate, comprehensive, easy-to-use and read translation. They worked to find the best balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought. In other words, they used the word-for-word philosophy, but where readability would have been a problem, they utilized the thought-for-thought philosophy. The NIV is literal where possible and "thought-for-thought" where necessary to help the reader understand.
The King James Version Family (KJV, NKJV)
The KJV is the second most popular translation of the Bible. Bible readers have loved the KJV since it was first published in 1611. The KJV’s beautiful “old world” language makes it a favorite even today. With the KJV, translators used the word-for-word translation philosophy, giving priority to the words in each verse, and their order.
The NKJV is is a modern-language revision of the original King James Version. Much of the difficult wording of the KJV has been updated and made easier to read in the NKJV. The translators used the original KJV as a benchmark, while working to produce an accurate and modern word-for-word translation.
New Living Translation (NLT)
The NLT uses common, everyday language. The translators of the current version were involved in bringing the classic Living Bible from its status as a “paraphrase” rendering of Scripture, to a thought-for-though translation of Scripture.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
The NASB is a highly respected translation, and is the most literal word-for-word translation. It is considered more modern and clear since its update in 1995. The current version is smoother and easier to read, yet it remains true to the original text.
The Message is a refreshingly unique Bible-reading experience, and is today’s bestselling paraphrase. With no formal language or verse numbers, The Message is like reading a letter from an old friend.
There are also a number of other translations available. For a complete translation comparison and verse comparison, click here.
Not only are there many translations of the Bible, but to make things even more interesting, there are also several different Bible categories.
Text Bibles are typically just the text of Scripture with no additional notes.
Study Bibles are appropriate for those who want to learn more about biblical people, places and times, and specific Bible passages. Study Bibles can also include maps, charts, book introductions, outlines, and a concordance.
Specialty Bibles are Bibles developed for specific needs outside of Bible study, and include the following categories
Reference Bibles typically contain the text of Scripture plus a verse cross-reference system, so the reader can refer to related passages.
Parallel Bibles feature the easiest Bible format for comparing two or more translations side-by-side. Reading the scripture with the translations on the same page sheds a new light on reading the Bible.
Devotional Bibles are perfect for those who use their BIble daily or want to use them for quiet time or to reflect on Scripture. Devotional thoughts are interspersed with Scripture in an easy-to-follow daily format.
Audio Bibles are perfect for people who are always on the go! You can listen to God’s Word in your car, while you work out, or wherever you choose to go.
Bible Software is a great tool for students of any age. It lets you search for related verses, meanings of words or phrases, and locate other places in the Bibles where that same word is used.
Children’s Bibles are designed for children of various age groups. Some of these Bibles may be used by children alone, with a parents, or in a class. Simple Children's Bibles will have the text of Scripture plus a few colored pictures. There are also Children's Bibles that include features seen in adult Bibles, but designed just for kids - features like study and application notes, picture, drawing and devotions.