Which Bible translation should you use?
The Bible is the Bible, right? So why is there so many different translations? What fascinates me, is that we tend to use the version we grew up with or were given. How many of us have considered what other versions there are and how do they differ? There are so many – NIV, NLT, KJV, NKJV, MSG, ESV, GNB and many more. So how do we know for sure which one we should use?
First, we have to understand that the Bible was originally written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) meaning any English Bible we have will be a translation. These translations can be split into three groups:
· Literal – These translations concentrate on the original meaning of the text, the language tends to be formal (versions such as KJV, NKJV and the ESV)
· Dynamic – These translations concentrate on the original force or thought of the text. The language might not be exactly the same, but the message comes across in plain clear English (versions such as NIV, GNB and the NLT)
· Free – Most versions in this category are more like paraphrases, their aim is to help those in the 21st century understand what is being said (versions such as the Message and NEB)
Just consider the difference when we look at Matthew 5:13:
Literal (ESV) - “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.”
Dynamic (NIV) - “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
Free (MSG) - "Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.”
I use the English Standard Version (ESV) for personal devotions, but as a church we currently use the New International Version (NIV) on Sunday mornings. I find using a literal translation to study helps me focus on what God is saying. It gives more depth and meaning. I personally do not use anything from the Free category, I am uncomfortable with the paraphrasing element as feel this has too much of a watering down effect. Sure, it makes for an easy read, but is it still honouring the original thrust of the God’s word?
So how do you go about picking a version to read, study and share from? Consider these four questions:
1. What is its source? (you want as close to the original text as possible)
2. Who translated the text - Committee or individual? (best to stick to committee translations)
3. Can you read it? (is the wording easy to read)
4. What are you using it for?
The version you use is a personal choice but let me encourage you to not just use the version you have always used, but instead research which one would be best for you and will aid you in your study and witness.
Pastor Ross Ferguson