Last Sunday, I had a good discussion with a few brothers about English Bible translations. We were comparing a few different translations, and we noticed that some are better in some respects, and other translations are better in other respects.
The discussion started because I’m looking for an English Bible translation for someone. A lady asked me for a Bible that was easier to read. She’s currently trying to read a KJV. She has trouble understanding what she reads (anything, not just the Bible), and reading the KJV makes it even worse for her. I’ve been looking for a large print, easy to read Bible for her.
So, as we were discussing Bible translations, someone asked me which translation I prefer. This is actually a difficult question. Answering the question for me has little to do with the literal equivalence and dynamic equivalence debate. In reality, it is impossible (and often unhelpful) to translate any language literally to another language. Interpretation is always involved.
Translation always involves interpretation. Always.
So, I prefer a Greek New Testament and a Hebrew Bible. Of course, everyone does not understand Greek and/or Hebrew, so that would be even more unhelpful.
First, reading any English translation is better than not reading Scripture at all. So, if you can understand a certain translation, but not others, then by all means, read that translation. But, read it understanding that you are reading someone’s (or some group’s) interpretation of Scripture.
Second, if you are studying, then read as many different English translations as possible. By reading different translations, you will begin to understand some of the difficulties involved in translation. You may not be able to tell which translation is best, but at least you will know where the interpretative questions are.
Also, remember that when the New Testament authors used Old Testament Scriptures, they rarely quoted word-for-word. In fact, they often paraphrased the Old Testament Scripture, changing subjects, verbs, tenses, etc. to match their own situation. While we must be careful with Scripture, our modern idea of quoting word-for-word is just that – a modern idea.
Finally, remember that meaning is not primarily found at the word level, or even at the sentence level. Instead, meaning is primarily found at the paragraph level. Trying to understanding Scripture paragraph by paragraph can be more helpful than trying to understand word by word.