Gone are the days when everyone quoted from the King James Version. Bible Gateway lists no less than 50 English Bible versions,not including novel paraphrases like the Hip Hop or Cotton Patch Bible. How do we sort through the bewildering array of options to find the right choice? The MB Herald asked several of our Bible scholars for their advice.
What should I consider when selecting a Bible translation?
Jon Isaak: Readability: am I stumbling over phrasing that is unfamiliar to me? Accuracy: am I assured that when the text refers to people in general that the terms/pronouns reflect both male and female? Theological bias: am I aware of the theological biases of the interpreters/translators?
Marc Paré: Consider your goal for reading. If your aim is to read the whole Bible in one year, it might be better to choose a “smooth” translation, which will provide easily accessible meaning and a bird’s eye view of the message of each book. To dig deep into a biblical book or passage and reap increased benefits from serious examination, a study Bible with introductions and notes is a must. A serious study should involve reading the text in different versions (if possible in different languages).
Randy Klassen: Who is it for? For a new reader, I’d suggest the CEV. For more competent readers, I’d suggest the NLT. The NIV remains a good standard for public and private reading, balancing understandability with closeness to the original languages. For those wanting to do more in depth Bible study, I recommend NRSV or ESV.
What’s the difference between a paraphrase and a translation?
Randy Klassen: Every rendering of Hebrew or Greek into English is forced to balance intelligibility with “historical distance.” Do we measure gold’s worth in dollars, or denarii? Do we think with our minds (the modern idiom), or our hearts (the biblical)? Do we walk for miles, stadia (the Roman measure), or “a Sabbath’s journey”? Many subtle choices of rendering must be made.
A paraphrase seeks to make the text sound immediate, current, in-your-face; a translation seeks, to a lesser or greater degree, to remind us that the text was originally born in a different time and place.
Isn’t King James the most accurate since it’s the oldest?
Jon Isaak: No. Biblical manuscripts older and arguably more reliable than the ones used by the translators of the KJV have become available since the KJV was produced.
Randy Klassen: The KJV has great literary beauty, and is indispensable for the study of English literature, having planted seeds in the soil of four centuries of writing. But the KJV has no more divine rights than King James himself had. Its language does not say to us what the original Bible writers said to their contemporaries, and so in its most important function – proclaiming truth – it is less accurate than more recent translations.
I’ve heard the newer NIVs have become gender neutral. Shouldn’t we avoid compromising the Word to political correctness?
Randy Klassen: Translators always have to wrestle with questions of compromise: do we lean toward old-fashioned traditionalism or toward communication with our (increasingly post-Christian) neighbours?
The KJV showed a gender neutral bias when it translated the beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (the original says “sons of God”). Even the apostle Paul, when quoting 2 Samuel 7:14 (written in Hebrew) in 2 Corinthians 6:18 (written in Greek), deliberately expands an original “sons” into “sons and daughters.”
There is in Bible translation, as in the gospel itself, a thrust for inclusion of our neighbours that should not be stifled by a rigid traditionalism.
Should I use more than one Bible translation?
Jon Isaak: Reading from multiple translations helps to check my own personal assumptions about what a text says/means. It both widens the field of options and forces me to make my own decision.
Marc Paré: Comparing versions will help to see where there are interpretive issues: whenever a significant difference in meaning occurs between the translations, there is most likely a different choice made by the different translators, so seeing the “options” prevents the reader from being dependent on the choice of a single translation team.
Randy Klassen: Every Bible translation is the Word of God (barring deliberately unorthodox mistranslations, of course), and can be relied on to give us all that we need for faith and life (2 Peter 1:3). But no one translation gives us all the nuances, the 3D texture of the original. The more angles on the text, the richer and fuller our understanding of God’s Word as originally given.
Highlight a lesser-known or recent version of particular note.
Randy Klassen: The Word on the Street by Rob Lacey (2004) is an abridged paraphrase (but all 66 books are represented) by a 21-century storyteller/performance poet. “’Cos God’s so passionate about the planet that he donates his one and only Son. Whoever invests their life in his Son doesn’t die, but gets given this limitless life. D’you think God sends his Son to slam people down? No! he sends his Son to liberate people.” Destined to be dated, but until then, definitely deserving of an audience.
Gordon Matties: I’m happily embracing the Common English Bible. It is probably the most readable of any translation I’ve encountered. (See Changing Bibles?! Don’t sweat it.)
Jon Isaak, former New Testament professor at MB Biblical Seminary, Fresno, Cal., now director of the Centre for MB Studies, Winnipeg
Randy Klassen, instructor in Bible and theology, Bethany College, Hepburn, Sask.
Gordon Matties, professor of biblical studies and theology, Canadian Mennonite University
Mixing literal and meaning-based translations
King James “Adam knew Eve his wife” New International “Adam made love to his wife Eve”
KJV closely follows the Hebrew verb (yada‘) and even the order of the words, but the NIV chooses to convey the meaning of the Hebrew verb in a more “natural” English.
A literal translation will help the reader to “feel” the otherness of the original language, as well as the ambiguities and the necessity for interpretation on the part of the translator.
On the other hand, most people are more interested in getting to the meaning of the texts rather than feeling that they are reading a different language using English words.
Common English Bible (CEB)
Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
New International Version (NIV)
This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.