Lost in Translations…

August 26, 2010

When it comes to Bible translations, does it matter which translation you use?

Finding agreement among Christians on just about anything is difficult, often impossible. On the issue of Bible translation there is no exception. There are numerous choices presented to the Christian seeking to read and take comfort from the Holy Scriptures.

If you had a friend who recently came to Christ and they asked “what Bible should I read?” What would you tell them. Though the question might sound harmless it is not. For within the many treatments of the text there are variations; some are common and mundane others are radical and message altering.

What is the difference between the: ESV, NIV, KJV,NKJV, HCSB, RSV, NRSV, NASB, ASV, CEV, LB, NLT, MSG, TNIV, D-R, NJB? To name just a few. Each of the above translations can be found in the hands of earnest Christians and apostate heretics across the globe. So which one is the right one? And is there a right one translation?

That we have such a variety and such access to the Word is a true testament of the grace and mercy of God. But, in a post Gen 3 world, access and familiarity can often breed contempt and disregard.

What is called for in this task is discernment. We must avoid the all too common American tendencies toward consumerism and social sensitivity. We must strive to find and promote translations of the Word that strive to be true and faithful to the authors’ intended meaning and the original text, rather than our contemporary needs/wants. We must carefully work out our salvation in the word with fear and trembling.

Men throughout the centuries have risked much to provide translations of scripture that are accurate and have the strictest measure of fidelity to the meaning of the original texts. Their success in doing so often came at the cost of their positions, their pulpits and even their lives.

There is an immense and costly importance to the accuracy and right interpretation of Scripture. Failure to translate rightly the word of truth can cause disunity and dysfunction within the body of believers; and ultimately hinder the delivery of the accurate gospel to the lost.

Throughout the ages God has been faithful and steadfast in preserving His Word and promulgating His message to those called by His name. The ancient autographs and original penmanship of the biblical authors may have faded into the obscure haze of history; but what has been preserved and translated has been passed down according to His sovereign will. The scripture, rightly translated, remains to this day “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim 3:16-17 (ESV)

Man, in an attempt to be “relevant,” can do damage to what God has breathed out. So investigate and be discerning, test and see if your translation remains faithful to His text and His message and if not then find one that does and enjoy.

To that end I recommend this online resource: evangelicalbible.com is an interesting website providing both retail services for Bibles in multiple translations and a brief history of Bible translation and defense of the English Standard Version or ESV.

Also I have included a link to albertmohler.com, Dr. Mohler is the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and has written several informative articles and provides audio commentary on the subject of Bible Translation

See the links below.

Bibles for purchase

Why the ESV?

Mohler on Bible Translation


  1. Have you ever read an article by Mark Strauss titled “Why the English Standard Version should not become the English Standard Version”?

    I typically read from the NIV and NLT. I own an ESV copy as well. On a verse by verse basis the ESV says things better sometimes, but as a whole it is still very clunky and archaic.

    • I have Read Strauss’ paper. I agree with one element of his message in that he recommends that it is beneficial to read multiple versions of the text. I would encourage that as well, i believe that it is unwise to wed oneself to any particular version. I read on a weekly basis from the ESV, NKJV, NASB, NRSV etc. one can learn a lot by comparing the various interpretive decisions made by the translators of the various versions.

      I would take issue with one element of Strauss’ critique, and it is a fundamental element, he states that “The best translation is not a literal one, but one that reproduces the meaning of the text in clear, accurate and idiomatic language.” This has some merit in that; I would agree that the KJV for instance, written in Elizabethan English, while sufficient for centuries, may present substantial hurdles to reading today in the 21st century. That being said, when one is dealing with Holy Scripture I would argue that the more literal the better and for this reason. Mr. Strauss’ preferences the NLT, CEV, TNIV etc. are termed dynamic equivalence (he calls them functional equivalent) meaning that their translation philosophy favors a dynamic or fluid reading of the text in favor of cultural and idiomatic sensibilities of the readers. While this is laudable to some degree in that the end is to make scripture accessible, it often comes at the expense of the true contextual or intended meaning of the text.

      This is the argument for formal equivalence translations like the KJV, NKJV, RSV, NASB, ESV etc. The “clunky” reading that occurs with these translations is a result of the attempt to translate from the original languages while respecting their native syntax or sentence structure. Both Hebrew and Greek possess radically different syntax that modern English, hence often times translations which seek to maintain fidelity to the original can seem a little awkward to the modern reader.

      The words recorded matter a great deal. And how we transmit those words though translation matters a great deal. So I would encourage Two things: 1. read the bible, and read carefully from multiple translations always asking yourself why did the translators decide to use the words they use. 2. If you come to an awkward phrase or a word you don’t know then utilize bible dictionaries and if need be hebrew or greek lexicons and study the original languages yourself, become your own translator, always striving to maintain the truth about the Gospel.

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