Students of God’s Word have so many resources available to them today, the choices can be overwhelming! In English alone, there are nearly 50 translations of the Bible. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Which one(s) should I use?
The Bible is written in ancient Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Because these languages and their cultures are in many ways removed from our language and culture today, certain levels of interpretation are required for us to understand the Bible today. How closely an interpretation resembles the original in vocabulary, structure and thought depends on the philosophy of the translators and the needs of the readers.
In general, there are three types of translations:
1. Word-for-word or formal equivalence. These translations are “transparent to the original text.” They bring the reader closest to the original writings in language, structure and style. Because of this, these translations allow the reader to discover nuances and layers in the text but are also more difficult to read and require more background in biblical interpretation.
2. Phrase-for-phrase or dynamic equivalence. These translations use language, structure and idioms that are common today. As such, these translations are easier to read and understand but rely on the work of interpreters and scholars and at times, subtle or artistic points in the text can be lost.
3. Paraphrase. These translations pay less attention to the original vocabulary and structure, adding several extra words, not present in the original, in order to capture the original thought of the text. While these translations can provide interesting insight into passages, they are highly interpretive and as such can demonstrate certain theological or doctrinal biases.
Which one should I use?
To take advantage of the strengths of each of these translations, Professor Daniel Wallace suggests owning at least one word-for-word and two phrase-for-phrase translations. With many online tools now, these translations, and the tools needed to compare them, are only a click away.
Articles for further study:
Charts and diagrams for comparison
Online tools and parallel readers
Resources for families with children