Having many Bible translations from which to choose is a blessing, but it can also present a challenge.
A reader who understands the landscape of Bible versions will benefit from the diversity of available translations and choose a version wisely based on his or her intended scriptural use.
Basic Types of Translations
• Essentially literal: These translations seek to preserve the specific words of the Greek and Hebrew text in their transla- tions. Essentially literal translations introduce the least amount of translational interpretation, but they can be hard to read. The King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), English Standard Version (ESV), and New American Standard Version (NASB) are all essentially literal translations.
• Dynamically equivalent: The term dynamic equivalence indicates resemblance to the Greek and Hebrew originals
in impact or meaning. Dynamically equivalent translations can be easier to read than essentially literal translations. They do, however, introduce more translational interpretation, as they render the original texts according to the translators’ understanding of a biblical author’s intended meaning, even if this requires a moderate deviation from the original wording. Within this category are the New International Version (NIV) and Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).
• Paraphrase: Paraphrases are most aggressive in representing a biblical author’s basic thoughts in contemporary language. They are the easiest to read but deviate the most from the words of the original texts and introduce significant interpre- tation. The Message is a popular contemporary paraphrase.
The Translation Spectrum
As the descriptions above indicate, the Bible reader can place the various translations on a spectrum, with the more thought- for-thought translations on one end and the more word-for- word translations on the other:
As a general rule, the more in-depth the study, the more word- for-word the translation should be. Additionally, those less familiar with the Bible will benefit from translations on the middle and left side of the spectrum, and as they become more familiar with the Bible, they will find translations on the right side more accessible and useful.
* The New Living Translation (NLT) is a popular version that is neither a true paraphrase nor a dynamically equivalent translation; it falls between the two types on the translation spectrum.
Sample Wording in Various Translations
One can grasp the feel of the various translations by comparing how they render a complex verse such as Hebrews 10:1:
KJV (King James Version) For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
NKJV (New King James Version) For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and NLT not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.
ESV (English Standard Version) For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.
NASB (New American Standard Bible) For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.
NIV (New International Version) The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming— not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.
HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible) Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the actual form of those realities, it can never perfect the worshipers by the same sacrifices they continually offer year after year.
NLT (New Living Translation) The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship.
The Message The old plan was only a hint of the good things in the new plan. Since that old “law plan” wasn’t complete in itself, it couldn’t complete those who followed it. No matter how many sacrifices were offered year after year, they never added up to a complete solution.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared at gracepolaris.org/training/resources/understanding-bible-translations/ and is used with permission.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of GraceConnect. If you’d like to receive the magazine, mailed directly to your home at no charge, click here.