Bible Translations



A lesson in life that most believers eventually acquire is the lesson about truth. Truth itself cannot be limited merely to a doctrinal position, or to a denomination, or to which Bible translation should we use. Truth is about life. It is in this sense that truth is a person. Thus we hear Jesus say, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31,32)

The following study on Bible Translations will avoid the technical jargon about Bible translations. Only a brief review will be made on the various types of translations. The primary emphasis of the study will be on the issue of Truth itself.

This is Bible Study HF135 - Bible Translations.

First let's talk about Bible translations in general. Are there some Bible translations that are more accurate to the original Scriptures than other translations? Absolutely. This is where it helps to understand the various forms of translation.

There are essentially three categories of Bible translations: literal translations, paraphrases, and what is called dynamic equivalency. Without getting into a lot of technical aspects on translations, let's take a brief look at what these terms refer to.

A paraphrase is a translation that seeks to render the original Hebrew or Greek into the common language of the reader. Good News for Modern Man is an example of a paraphrase. Many paraphrases begin as the work of one man. While they are made for easy reading, paraphrases are not intended for the serious student of the Scriptures. They are more designed for the person who has little to no knowledge of the Bible.

The most popular paraphrase in use today is called the 'New Living Translation' (NLT). It is much more accurate to the Scriptures than most translations of this sort. The original work upon which this translation is based, that is, the Living Bible, was the work of one man, Kenneth Taylor. But as paraphrases go, it could not be depended upon for accuracy.

Here is a good example where a paraphrase can be misleading. In the Living Bible, Acts 13:48 reads, "When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and rejoiced in Paul's message; and as many as wanted eternal life, believed." Most folk would not catch the problem area here. The problem with this is that it sets aside the sovereignty of God.

The NASB is a more correct rendering. It reads, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." (You may wish to check out other translations.) There is a vast difference between 'wanting' eternal life, and being 'appointed' to eternal life.

But what happened is that because of this sort of misinterpretation, the Living Bible was called into question. It underwent a revision into what is now called 'The New Living Translation' (NLT). The New Living Translation (NLT) is a vast improvement over the Living Bible. The verse in the NLT now reads, "When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord for His message; and all who were appointed to eternal life became believers."

A dynamic equivalency translation is also called a 'thought-for- thought' translation. The dynamic equivalency translations have become the most popular translations today. The premier case in view is the New International Version. (NIV)

This form of translation seeks to translate 'ideas' rather than 'words.' But there is a problem that cannot be avoided. In attempting to translate 'meanings' into the language of today's reader, what happens is that many 'exact' meanings cannot be translated beyond the intent of the original Bible language. It is often impossible to translate exact meanings without translating 'exact' words.

And so what often happens with dynamic equivalency translations is that the Scriptures can become simplified beyond what is meant in the original text. Thus the Scriptures can be diluted from their intended meaning. Once again we are dealing with an issue of accuracy to the original text.

Now we come to the 'literal' translations. In a literal translation there is a genuine attempt being made to be as accurate to the original wording of the Scriptures as possible. For this reason a literal translations will generally have less translational bias. This is why a literal translation should always be part of the serious Bible student's library.

Is there a disadvantage to a literal translation? This is a yes and no answer. A literal translation will not flow as easily as a paraphrase or a dynamic equivalency. Thus it is a little harder to read. Some folk like to use the term 'wooden.' But is this really a disadvantage? Not necessarily. The plus side is that in doing personal research on the Biblical terms, the reader often discovers treasures that are not obvious in a less literal translation.

This is why Paul instructed Timothy to 'take pains' in that which concerns the Scriptures so that his progress would be made obvious to all. (Cf. 1Tim4:13-16) So where the easier translations or paraphrases seem to take a lot of work out of the study of the Scriptures, this may sometimes be a disservice to the serious student of the Scriptures. (Think about it.)

Some of the 'literal' translations include the KJV, NJKV, NASB, and the NRSB. (My personal preference is the New American Standard Bible.)

And so, which Bible should the believer use? The quaint saying is that the Bible you should use is the one you will read. But on a personal side I would recommend that the believer have both a literal translation and also one or more of the easier reading translations. You will find that they work well together.

Now let's come to the lesson behind the lesson. Have you ever noticed that when the New Testament writers quote from the Old Testament, the quote it does not always seem to be the same? This is because the most popular Bible used by the early Church was the ancient Hebrew text translated into Greek, or the Septuagint. (Usually referenced as LXX.)

But why does it differ? It differs because the Old Testament that we now use is based on the Hebrew text, whereas the favored Bible of the earliest Christians was mainly the LXX. There is a reason for this. The LXX made the clearest references to God's Christ. For this reason the LXX was eventually discarded by the Jews. (It remains the Bible of the Orthodox Greek Church today.)

There is much more to be said about translations, but I'll leave this open for discussion by the forum. For now I want to deal with the issue of truth itself. It should go without saying that truth is not an issue of which translation a person prefers. Truth is the reality of Jesus Christ in a person's life. And this is where many folk tend to stumble over which translation is best.

The apostle Paul gives us insight into this issue. As a former Pharisee, Paul was from the strictest sect in Judaism. It was this sect that prided themselves on letter accuracy of the Scriptures. They became the guardians of the sacred text. The problem was that the Pharisees had a tendency to 'deify' the Scriptures themselves.

Jesus addresses this in saying, "You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; but it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life." (Cf. John 5:38-40)

The apostle Paul also addresses this when he writes, "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who made us adequate as servants of the new covenant, NOT OF THE LETTER but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (Cf. 2Co3:5,6)

Paul came from a religion of the letter. That is to say, at one time he thought that the Scriptures by themselves, that is, with no regard to the One of whom the Scriptures wrap themselves around, contained the very essence of life. But the One of whom the Scriptures wrapped themselves around is Jesus Christ.

The point at hand is that if we are reading the Scriptures and cannot see Jesus, then all we have is dead letter. This is exactly what Paul is addressing. Where he says, "Beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." The mirror that Paul is speaking of is the Scriptures themselves.

The Bible is designed to show forth the glory of Jesus Christ. Without Him the book is simply dead letter and should be placed on the library shelf among other great history books.

Now listen to the apostolic writer as he sets this forth in the book of Hebrews. Quoting from Psalm 40, he begins, "When He [Jesus] comes into the world, He says, 'Sacrifice and offering You [Father] have not desired, but a body [in the womb of Mary] You have prepared for Me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure, "Then I said, 'Behold, I have come, (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) to do Your will, O God."'" (Heb10:5-7)

Here is where words are so important. Where Jesus said, "In the scroll of the book it is written of Me," both the Hebrew and the Greek term for scroll speaks of the knob or the head that was at the top of the spindle around which the entire scroll was wrapped. This is why the term is sometimes translated as 'volume.' This means that the volume of all the Scriptures wrap themselves around Jesus Christ.

Again the point in view is that Jesus alone is the One who gives life to the book. And this is what happened when He came into our world and performed the work of the cross. Out of the cross comes life. This life that Jesus gives is spoken of throughout the book.

Here is another example of the book coming alive with Jesus. Listen carefully to this prophecy in Isaiah: "The entire vision will be like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, 'Please read this,' he will say, 'I cannot, for it is sealed.'" (Isaiah 29:11)

Then it says, "This people draw near with their words and honor Me with lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of traditions learned by rote." (Verse 13)

Finally, "On that day [The Lord's revealing] the [spiritually] deaf will hear words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the [spiritually] blind will see. The afflicted also will increase their gladness in the Lord, and the needy of mankind will rejoice in the Holy One [Jesus] of Israel." (Verses 18,19)

Where do we find a place to stop? Perhaps the best place is simply for me to end where I began, which is.......

A lesson in life that most believers eventually acquire is the lesson about truth. Truth itself cannot be limited merely to a doctrinal position, or to a denomination, or to which Bible translation should we use. Truth is about life. It is in this sense that truth is a person. Thus we hear Jesus say, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31,32)


This study was originally given to members of Hebraic Foundations on November 27, 2004. It was written by Pastor Buddy Martin, a former United Pentecostal Church minister, who founded and pastors Christian Challenge International. It is the copyright of Buddy Martin and is reprinted on this site by permission.


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