Bible Translations

After being away for a short while due to work requirements, I am kickstarting the blog once again with an informational post about biblical translations.  A common question that arises in numerous Christian circles is this:  what are the different translations of the Bible, and how do I choose the right one for me?

There are two theories, or methods, of biblical translation that most modern translations follow:  formally equivalent and dynamically equivalent.  First, formally equivalent translations follow the Greek rules for grammar and syntax as closely as possible while maintaining a certain degree of comprehension in English.[1]  On the other hand, functionally (or dynamic) equivalent translations differ in that, instead of focusing on a “word-for-word” method of translation, their focus is more on a “thought-for-thought” method.[2]

Which one is considered more “word-for-word” and which is more “thought-for-thought”?

As stated above, a functionally equivalent translation generally follows a “thought-for-thought” method of translation, and attempts to follow the original manuscripts along lines of meaning while still maintaining the intent of the original languages.[3]  A formally equivalent, however, translates along the lines of grammar and syntax (i.e. focuses on words, sentences, etc.).

However, within the last few decades, another theory of translation emerged that further expounds on the functionally equivalent theory—the theory of free translation.  A free translation translates the ideas of a certain passage, with little regard for preserving the original language.[4]  These translations tend to be more liberal, per se, in transferring Scripture into a more contemporary language.

What criteria should a person use to choose a Bible translation?

Choosing a particular Bible translation is dependent upon the “purpose and occasion in reading the Bible.”[5]  While some translations are more suited for group study or discussion with a contemporary audience, others are better for public readings where the poetic aspects of the text are more appropriate.

However, there are some basic criteria that will drive one’s translation decision, regardless of purpose or occasion.  Some suggested criteria includes the use of modern English, a close tie to the text’s Hebrew or Greek roots, the role of a committee in translating the text, and one that suits a particular purpose.[6]

 I once heard a theologian say, “If they can’t read Hebrew and Greek, then Christians should use at least 2 Bibles: one formal and one functional equivalent. That way they can see some of the nuances in the languages as understood by the translators.” 

I agree with the statement annotated above, and personally utilize a similar method for Bible study.  In fact, this statement applies to most Christians today in that they lack a working knowledge of Greek or Hebrew.  As a result, comparing a formal equivalent translation with a functional one allows one to compare any language discrepancies that occur during the translation process.  Personally, I use both the King James Version and the New King James Version since I have little difficulty reading and understanding it.  However, in conjunction, I use a more conservative dynamic translation, such as the New International Version, for textual comparison.  On the other hand, I tend to avoid most “though-for-thought” translations for study because they tend to be too liberal in their translation at times. 

What translation would I recommend for a new Christian and why?

For new Christians, my recommendation would be the same as discussed above.  First, by reading a formal equivalent first, it forces the reader to closely examine the text.  One of the most common complaints about the King James Version is that readers seldom get the meaning of the text from their initial reading, and are forced to read it multiple times.  To me, I do not necessarily view this as a bad thing, especially for a new believer.  In other words, it increases one’s exposure to the text and fosters a more keen observation of details, much like reading a love letter.[7]

Coupled with an initial reading of a formal equivalent, I would also recommend a subsequent reading of a functional equivalent in order to see the text from a different point of view.  In addition, these translations tend to use more contemporary language, which can also aid in the understanding of the text.     

What is my favorite translation?

My favorite translation is a tie between the King James Version and the New King James Version due to various reasons.  I grew up hearing and reading the first translation, so I have little trouble understanding the antiquated English.  In addition, I appreciate the poetic nature of this translation, and prefer to use it when reading Scripture aloud.  On the other hand, as stated above, I also use other translations, such as the New King James Version when studying Scripture, as well as a solid commentary.

I hope that the information provided in this post answers some of your questions regarding biblical translations.  No matter which one you choose, the most important thing is that you read it, study it, and let it shape your daily thoughts and actions for the glory of the Lord.


[1] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004), 126.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 41.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, 130.

[6] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 36-38.

[7] Ibid., 53.

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