FAQ: Why are there so many translations of the Bible? Which One should I use?

There are many translations of the Bible because if you’ve studied ancient languages, it’s difficult to take foreign words and phrases and translate them into another cultural context. Plus, our language has changed just over the last 50 years in this country.  So the King James Version was the most popular English translation for centuries. But most people, even with a college education, find it difficult to understand it today. So scholars have created new translations so that we can understand the original Bible.

And the reason even modern translations look different is because the teams of scholars behind each translation have different philosophies on how to translate the Greek and Hebrew. Some teams lean toward “dynamic equivalence,” which means translations that fit the idioms of our language today. Others lean toward more “word for word” translations which make the translation more accurate but more difficult to understand. So the goal is to find a happy medium.

Example, if we were translating the phrase “I ate a hot dog,” into Chinese would we translate that literally, word for word? Thank about it. I ate a hot dog. Your reader might think that you light canines on fire and devour them. Or would you translate it so that the reader understood that you were eating some kind of “cooked sausage?” And those are the difficult choices translators have to make.

For all practical purposes, all of the English translations that are readily available are good. In other words, they reflect what the original languages meant. But depending on what you’re trying to do with the Bible, that may impact which translation you use. So I would choose a translation that is easier for you to understand. So the Revised Standard Version and the New International Version have been popular in the last generation. Recently I have seen a huge swing in the usage of the English Standard Versaion. I often recommend the New Living Translation because it’s easier to understand.

I typically use the New American Standard Bible if I want a word-for-word translation and I’m really going to just a study a verse or two. But I don’t do that often. So for sermon preparation and devotional time I use the NIV & NLT. But if I want to read big chunks of the Bible at a time, like reading through the Bible in a year? Then I use something even easier and different like The Message. So what I’m saying is that you ought to own more than 1 translation and consult them from time to time so that you can keep God’s word as fresh as possible.

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