So, here’s the scenario…
You want to grow closer to God, so you set a Bible reading goal.
You decide to buy a new Bible so you can keep your notes, your highlighting, and your journal all together, so you go to a local bookstore. While you’re there, you’re overwhelmed by the hundreds of different Bibles there: all different colors, different fonts, different translations (some preferred and recommended over others), and you even find out there are several different groups that have translated the Bible.
How do you know what is the most accurate Bible translation, so you can better understand God’s Word?
Many people find themselves asking the same questions:
- How do we know which translation is “right”?
- Will one have more impact on our understanding of the Bible than another?
- How can I be confident that the Bible I’m reading is the “real” one?
- Why do Christians have such a difficult time creating one way to translate the Bible?
- What is the most accurate bible translation?
- and, the list of questions can go on and on
I understand. It can be very confusing.
Why Different People Translate Different
Have you ever told several people the same thing, but when the story returned to you, it had several different translations?
If it happens within one language, can you imagine how easily it would be to have varying opinions when you consider the differences in the biblical culture, the time period and technology, and the slang terms used?
An idiom like “you rock” could be translated into another language, and be misunderstood because it’s a phrase unique to the English speaker. Hebrew and Greek have idioms in their languages too.
Some translators think “You rock” should be translated literally into the next language to preserve the original intent, while others believe the thought should be translated. If you translate the idiom “you rock” thought-for-thought, it would be more like “you are great”.
Several other nuances are added into tranlation from Hebrew to English or Greek to English when you count the Hebrew is a picture language is a picture that has a meaning; whereas English doesn’t have the ability to carry over the same depth literally.
If there was a scale weighing translation teams, there would be one side that’s really heavy on word-for-word translation. They believe that by literally translating, they allow the reader to carry the exact words as was in the original language.
Since one language is a picture language and the next language is not, there is no 100% word-for-word translation, however, some translators tried to stick as closely to word-for-word translations as possible.
Word-for-word translations are commonly thought to sound “old-fashioned” because they don’t use modern terminology or language. Their not adapted to modern thoguht or culture, so deeper study is required to bridge an understanding from the culture of the Bible into modern times.
Some examples of word-for-word Bibles are:
The authorized King James Version
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)
The Young’s Literal Translation
“and the wisdom from above, first, indeed, is pure, then peaceable, gentle, easily entreated, full of kindness and good fruits, uncontentious, and unhypocritical: –” (James 3:17)
English Standard Version
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)
The Amplified Version
“But the wisdom from above is first pure [morally and spiritually undefiled], then peace-loving [courteous, considerate], gentle, reasonable [and willing to listen], full of compassion and good fruits. It is unwavering, without [self-righteous] hypocrisy [and self-serving guile].” (James 3:17)
Some other literal translations are the Modern English Version or the Complete Jewish Bible.
(Image Source: The Bible Reviewer)
The other side of the scale would be heavy on thought-for thought translation. This school of translators wants to translate the meaning of the text rather than the literal verbiage.
“Let your freak flag high” would be translated as “let your uniqueness show” and so on…
Some translations are heavier extremes of the thought-for-thought school of thought than others. These translations tend to use more modern language and connect the ancient culture with modern explanations of it. Some examples of thought-for-thought translations are:
New Living Translation
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. (James 3:17)
Contemporary English Version
But the wisdom that comes from above leads us to be pure, friendly, gentle, sensible, kind, helpful, genuine, and sincere. (James 3:17)
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness. Then it is peace-loving and courteous. It allows discussion and is willing to yield to others; it is full of mercy and good deeds. It is wholehearted and straightforward and sincere. (James 3:17)
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. (James 3:17)
Some translators wanted to use a mix of literal translation and thought-for-thought translation. Some wanted to infuse more knowledge based on their background like Jewish decent, Archaelogy, History, etc.
Some examples of a mixture between thought-for-thought and word-for-word translations are:
The New Revised Standard Version
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. (James 3:17)
The New International Version
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)
Facts About Bible Translations
Added onto the word-for-word versus thought-for-thought debate are some facts you should know…
The Original language of the Bible is Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Some would debate and say the entire Bible was in Hebrew, but the largest consensus says the original language was in the three languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.
- From the 6th century to the 10th century Jewish Scholars known as the Masoretes maintained the Tanakh or (Old Testament), so we are assured of the accuracy of the original documents based on the quantity of congruent texts
- The Codex Vaticanus, the Codex Sinaiticus, and the Textus Receptus are the oldest and most widely used Greek texts the New Testament is translated from. (Source: Wikipedia)
- As of October 2017, the Bible had been translated from the original into 670 languages, the New Testament into 1521 languages, and portions or stories into 1121 languages. Some portion has been translated into 3,312 languages! (Source: Wycliffe)
- 1.5 million people still don’t have the Bible translated into their first language (Source: Wycliffe)
- The Bible has been translated into English since the 7th century A.D. (Source: Wikipedia)
- More than 50% of Bible readers read the King James Version. The NIV is the second most widely read with 19% of Bible readers who prefer it. All other Bible versions are in the single digits in regards to percentages of readers. (Source: ChristianityToday)
- In a survey by Lifeway research, 36% of the respondents preferred more modern language and 37% wanted more traditional language
- There is alot of divisive debates about translations: which is best, which is bad, and on and on.
- 68% want the language understandable to read, while 7% prefer a more difficult read. (Source: Lifeway)
- 63% say the Bible should be for anyone to understand while 14% say it should be for people who have more experience with the Bible. (Source: Lifeway)
Reading Level and Motivation
The ultimate goal is that you read and study your Bible: the more regularly, the better. When choosing a Bible translation to read, it’s also important to consider your reading level and enthusiasm. While you may want to have a preference of translation style, you don’t want to put any barriers in the way of your own individual reading experience.
Some people find one version easier for them to stay motivated than another because they understand the text better. Be considerate of your subjective experience. Don’t follow someone who says, “One translation is better”, and place a barrier between your motivation to read the Bible or your understanding. Open them, sample them, and choose the one that’s best for you.
To Be Divisive or Practical?
In the end, it’s probably best for you to read as many translations as you can to study, compare, and gain the deepest understanding you can. It’s even more helpful if you learn nuances of the original texts, use concordances, study the archaeology, and study the culture. Studying the Bible is an ongoing journey that you take deeper and deeper with time, and continually increase your understanding.
I would advise you against getting too involved in circles who are divisive or too focused on getting you to choose one translation over the other. It’s okay to have preferences, but don’t participate in the divisive circles in Christianity.
Instead, think about how we can be more effective reaching more people, how we can get the 1.5 million people who don’t have the Bible in their language to have a translation, or how you can get a Bible to those who don’t have one.
A Playlist answering “What is the Most Accurate Bible Translation?”
There’s only so much explanation that could be given to answer this question in a blog post, so I’ve compiled several videos that can help answer “What is the most accurate Bible translation?” in case you’d like to study this topic more in depth, and hear various viewpoints.
You can skip or scroll thru as you’d like.
Final Words answering “What is the Most Accurate Bible Translation?”
I know this article may not have been as direct as you wanted. However, everyone has a different subjective experience when choosing a Bible translation, and when you embrace more than one, you gain.
The goal of this article was to answer the question, “What is the most accurate translation?”. If you have questions or concerns about this, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section. I’d love to help you out!
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Now, it’s Your Turn…
How many Bible translations have you read? How does reading more than one Bible translation effect your understanding? Do you have an opinion on the question, “What is the most accurate bible translation”? Leave your comments, questions, and feedback below.