Bible Wars

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Since we have added a Pastor’s blog to our new website, it challenges me to stay on top of writing something, once a week, and if possible, maybe more than that.

There is so much to communicate about as we look around our world today, both in the cultural and religious arenas.  My goal is to share thoughts on various topics with the Christian worldview and the Bible at the center of what we blog about.

Today I thought we would spend a moment on what we can term “The Bible Wars.”  ‘What?’, you might be thinking, ‘are we talking about?’  As you may or may not be aware, there are a number of different Bible translations available in the English language.  No doubt you may have your favorite.  Personally, I like the New Living Translation (NLT), but I speak and teach out of the English Standard Version (ESV) – more on that in a moment.

What we mean by “Bible Wars,” is that over the years there have been those who were insistent that one or two translations were the only right translations, that the rest were, in some cases, looked at as not being God’s Word or worth giving attention to.  The arguments for such a view were based on several points, many of which you can find if you choose to do so.

Often, we discover upon further research and study, that a person’s view of a certain translation (that they either liked or disliked) was determined not so much by understanding how translations are put together, but by someone pointing out the translation errors that a particular Bible had.

There are two ways that a Bible translation is done.  One is called the “dynamic equivalence” method.  It is known by a couple of other identities, but the idea is that this type of translation is a “thought-for-thought” translation.  The other way of translating is “word-for-word”, where each word of the text (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic) is translated.  To many this is the more “literal” approach.

In both cases proper grammar and sentence structure is used.  Usually the attacks are leveled at the dynamic equivalent view because of a concern for accuracy.  The thought is that a more literal word-for-word approach gives a better chance of “getting it right.”  But many of the Bibles that we have based on the more literal approach have also tried to incorporate readability when doing the work of translating.  The approach to how the Bible is translated is the difference.

It must also be noted that a word-for-word translation does not mean “woodenly literal.”  The reason is that the individuals who worked on the NASB, ESV, CSB, KJV, or other translations of that vein, recognize that some Greek words must be translated by two or three words in English, and sometimes two or three Greek words are best translated by one word in English.

A “wooden” translation would be something like an “Interlinear Bible.”  These have the English word (one word usually) connected to one Greek word, for example.  Some Interlinears are not this wooden, but they do not arrange the sentence structure with the idea of the reader in mind.  They simply translate the original over to English. 

None of the modern-day literal or thought-for-thought translations do that.  The goal of these translations is to be as true to the original text as possible while making it readable.  Personally, I think there is merit in both ways of translation. 

So back to my mention above about the use of the ESV and my liking of the New Living Translation.  I think the ESV does a good job of translating using the “word-for-word” model yet attempts to makes the Scriptures readable.  As with some word-for-word translations, you have to work through some of the sentences to grasp what the author is saying, translation-wise, and that is okay.  I believe it does a good job in expressing the intent of the Biblical Manuscripts (MSS) that we have into a Bible that can be read and enjoyed.

At the same time, I do believe that a “thought-for-thought” Bible, depending on who did the translating, can be worth using.  I have read the criticisms leveled at, for example the New Living Translation, that they could have done a better job of translating some things, but the team that worked on this version of the Bible was solidly evangelical.

It must also be noted that the NLT is not a paraphrase.  The Living Bible is, the NLT is not.  It is a translation that unfortunately has been called that.  I heard it noted as such on a national Christian radio program.  This person, sorry to say, was clueless when it came to the issue of what a Bible translation is, and the different methods used in the process of translating the original into our language.

I also know that if we search hard enough, we will find some fault in any translation – any of them.  Translating is difficult work, and someone will always find something that could have been done better – in every translation.  I have read criticisms of so many.  Obviously, when a key doctrine is changed or removed based on translation bias, then a red flag should go up. 

But for the most part, those who work on these translations, desire to present the Word of God accurately, and work with the MSS and do their best to bring to us as accurate as possible God’s Word for us to know and read.

So…if I had a list of Bibles that I would recommend, what would be on it?  Well, and remembering that my personal preference might come out here, these are the ones that I personally think are good translations – from both approaches.

For “word-for-word”, the English Standard Version, New American Standard, King James, New King James, and Christian Standard Bible all come to mind.  There are others, but these are some that come to mind.

As far as “thought-for-thought”, I do believe the New Living Translation is good.  By the way, this version also does word-for-word translations in some parts, though it leans toward the methodology noted.  I have used the NLT for many years and I know of other translations in this genre but am not familiar with them in practice to give my thoughts.

Well, I hope that our little journey into Bible translations was…enlightening?  Painful?  Thought-provoking?  God has preserved His Word for centuries, and we today have the benefit of many good translations.  Thanks for reading!