Various Bible Translations

 

SOME GUIDELINES CONCERNING ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OF THE BIBLE 

There are basically three popular edited text of the Greek NT used by various translators: 

  1. The Traditional, Majority Text of the Byzantine Church - The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text edited by Zane Hodges and Arthur Farstad was published in 1985 using the Majority Text philosophy in textual criticism of the Greek NT. This edition is out-of-print, but a nice edition of this same Greek text is used in the NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament published by Nelson Publishers. An English translation of this Greek NT text can be found in the NKJV New Testament, if one incorporates the readings of the “M” footnotes into the translation-text. This Majority-text school believes the best text is based upon the reading of the Majority of Greek NT manuscripts (90%+) and examining of manuscripts’ individual reliability – this text is the Greek NT that believers, throughout the centuries who have read the Greek NT, have believed providentially to be the Greek NT. God has preserved His word for all believers to study in Greek through the almost 20 centuries of the Christian church in the majority of Greek NT manuscripts. There is a “paper-trail” of Byzantine readings from among the papyri in the 2ndcentury through the Uncial manuscripts and among the majority of the Miniscule manuscripts.
     
  2. The Textus Receptus of the Western European Reformation era - edited and published by Erasmus in 1516 and Stephanus (Robert Estienne) in 1546-1551 and Beza in 1598 and most recently by F. H. A. Scrivener in 1894, as the Sephanus Textus Receptus. Beza’s edition was used by the KJV and other Reformation era translations. Scrivener’s edition was used by the Webster Bible (1833), Young’s Literal Translation (1862-1898), New King James Version, Defined King James Bible, King James Version II (= The Literal Translation of the Holy Bible), King James for the 21st Century, King James 2000, Modern King James Version & Interlinear New Testament by Jay Green, Revised Webster Bible (1998), and The Third Millennium Bible. This edition is most popular among the “KJV-Only” groups. It is similar to the Majority Text but is based upon a limited number of Greek NT manuscripts, as opposed to a majority of them. [Some Spanish translations use this: Reina-Valera (1909) Reina-Valera Revised (1960), Reina-Valera Update (1995), La Biblia de Las Americas(1986, 1997).]
  3. The Eclectic Text - The Greek New Testament edited and published by the United Bible Societies and Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graeceedited by Eberhard and Erwin Nestle and Barbara and Kurt Aland, et al - Most every English translation uses this text for its translation of the NT, except for the KJV, NKJV, World English Bible, and Green’s Interlinear. This Eclectic school believes that older manuscripts are better and conclusive conjectures can be made, as to how various variant readings arose from the autograph’s reading. This approach can be summed up in two principles: (1) Choose the reading that best explains the origin of the competing variants; (2) Choose the variant that the author is more/most like to have written. [The first principle seeks to be objective, although little attention is paid to the source of the variants, as to their weight, quality, manuscript tradition, and credibility. The second principle can be quite subjective. A net result is that such critics come to a point that they can never be sure that they or anyone can replicate the autographa, if not duplicate them.]

The Authorized, King James Version of the Bible.

The KJV is the most well known and popular English version of the English Bible. Originally translated in 1611, most editions are from the revision of 1769. It is a quite literal translation of the British Stephanus Textus Receptus in the NT and the Second Rabbinic Bible in the OT. Its literary beauty is obvious, though its 18th century English is somewhat difficult for most modern English readers. The commonly used edition of the KJV is the 1769 edition with “Jesus” instead of the “Ieſvs” used in 1611.

In England, French and Latin were the language of serious study in the 14th through 16th centuries, however with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I England’s rise to international power and very famous literary figures, such as the memorable among them, William Shakespeare, brought about the development of a modern English language toward the end of the 1500′s with its eventual dominance among European and world languages to our day.. So King James I had an extremely rich form of English into which to translate the Hebrew/Aramaic OT and Koine Greek NT and an understanding of these languages and, most importantly, a discernment of scholars of his day who knew these languages and the Bible well. Some have noted that Psalm 46 has, as its 46th word from the beginning and from the end counting back, two words commemorating someone who had just turned 46 in 1611 - “Shake” and “Spear” - yes, William Shakespeare.

In 1604, a year into James’ reign with turmoil in the religious ranks, a conference was held at Hampton Court. King James organized some 50 “learned men” meeting at Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster with careful translation guidelines in revising the Bishops’ Bible.

Some Descriptions of Recent English versions.

Revised Version (1885), American Standard Version (1901), Revised Standard Version (1952), The New American Bible (1970), New English Bible (1970), New American Standard Version (1971 & 1995), King James II (1971), NIV (1978), NKJV (1982), NRSV (1989), ESV (2001), ISV (2003).

Weymouth, Moffatt, The Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic Text, Goodspeed, Philips Version, Jerusalem Bible, The Good News for Modern Man, 

  1. New King James Version (NKJV) - A revision of the KJV in 1982, as a literal translation of the Text Receptus in the NT with footnotes concerning the Majority Text (and Eclectic Text of Nestle and the United Bible Society = NU) and the BHS in the OT. By intent its English is a combination of 18th  and 20th century English. 
  2. New American Standard Bible, Updated 1995 (NASV,95) - A popular, Evangelical, rather literal translation using the BHS Hebrew OT and Nestle Greek NT. 
  3. Literal Translation of the Holy Bible by Robert Young - A very “wooden” literal translation of the Hebrew OT & Greek NT where he used much the same word for a particular original language word with a similar sentence structure. 
  4. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments, translated [very] literally from the Original Tongues [in 1876] by Julia Evelina Smith [at 84] and The Centenary Translation: The New Testament in Modern English by Helen Barrett Montgomery were each done by an individual woman. 
  5. Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) - This somewhat literal translation offers some interesting English alternative translations of original language terms within their semantic range. It makes a very nice parallel to a rather standard translation, as it is so used in LifeWay publications with the KJV. 
  6. English Standard Version (ESV) - A conservative, Evangelical response to the NIV. 
  7. New International Version (NIV) - The most popular dynamic/functional equivalence translation using an eclectic original-language text. 
  8. New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) - The most popular, standard, widely-used Protestant somewhat literal translation using an eclectic original-language text. 
  9. New English Bible (NEB) - A British dynamic/functional equivalence translation, at times even paraphrasing. 
  10. Today’s English Version (TEV) =Good News for Modern Manor Good News Bible (GNB) - A simple English translation by intent with an initial focus audience of ESL readers (i.e., English as a Second Language). 
  11. Amplified Version (Ampl.) - An nice “mini-commentary” that will translation a word or phrase and than at times will add some other words and phrases in parentheses and brackets for further clarification. 
  12. New American Bible (NAB) - A Roman Catholic translation by Romans Catholic along with a few Protestant scholars who used the Hebrew OT and Greek NT and Greek Septuagint Apocrypha and published with the imprimatur approval.  
  13. Living Bible (LB) - A paraphrase of the American Standard Version(1901) by Kenneth Taylor, a journalist and father, who primarily wanted a paraphrased form to help his children to understand the Bible. 
  14. New Living Translation (NLT) - A committee revision of Kenneth Taylor’s popular Living Bible, based upon a paraphrase approach, as a “mini-commentary.”
     
  15. The New Testament: An Expanded Translation by Kenneth Wuest - This is a text of the translations found in his commentary, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament. It is a very nice translation by an individual who knew and taught NT Greek at the Moody Bible Institute.
     
  16. The New Testament in Modern Speech: An Idiomatic Translation into Every-day English from the Text of the Resultant Greek Testament by Richard F. Weymouth, 1929 - Dr. Weymouth took great care in paying attention to the Greek grammar in translating the Greek NT into English.
     
  17. An New Translation of the Bible by James Moffett, 1926 - A scholarly translation with some liberties in the order of the books and text and a liberal understanding of textual criticism.
     
  18. The New Testament in Modern English by J. B. Philips - A colorful, readable paraphrase reflecting some of his theology at 1 John 5:16-17 and odd textual philosophy at 1 Cor. 14:22.
     
  19. Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) - A dynamic English translation by David H. Stern specifically using Jewish vocabulary and names along with a Messianic interpretation.
     
  20. Tanakh by the Jewish Publication Society, 1999 - A popular, Jewish English translation of the Old Testament by somewhat liberal Jewish scholars.
     
  21. The Jerusalem Bible by Koren Publishers, Jerusalem, 2000 - This is a revised Jewish translation of the Old Testament into English by Harold Fisch (not to be confused with The Jerusalem Bible of 1966 based upon the Roman Catholic French version La Bible de Jérusalem ).
     
  22. World English Bible (WEB) - This is available only on the internet and is the only English translation of the Majority Text New Testament.
     
  23. International Standard Version (ISV) - An Evangelical, somewhat literal translation
     
  24. New World Translation (NWT) - An anonymous committee translation by the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watch Tower publishing organization with very questionable translations of John 1:1-2, 18; 8:58; 10:33; Col.1:16-17; Acts 13:48; Rom.9:5 Job 19:25-26; Isa.48:16; Tit.2:13; Phil. 2:6; 2 Pet.1:1.
  25. The New Testament in Modern English - A paraphrase of the NT translated by J. B. Phillips - He brings in his interpretation of 1 John 5:17 where a believer can sin and lose his salvation. In his trying to translate and interpret 1 Cor. 14:22, he deletes the word, “not,” with no textual reason.
     
  26. The Message - by Eugene Peterson - More paraphrasing than the The Living Bible with Peterson’s theology used in his interpretive paraphrase. He alters Paul’s teaching of foreknowledge and predestination in Rom. 8:30-31 by making foreknowledge and predestination focus on what God did and not for whom God did what He did. In Acts 13:48, he puts “eternal life” as “real life.” In 1 Cor. 14:22 he explains how tongues are something for unbelievers to “gawk at” rather than being for a sign to Jewish unbelievers (which misses the point of v.21). In Rom. 1:16 he took “not ashamed” and turned into “most proud.”

    There have been some Immersionists Translations. Translators often try to find an English word whose semantic range fit the same as the original language word, or at least to have the contextual meaning of an original language word fit within the English word. However, the Greek word, baptisma/baptizō, matches the semantic field of immersion/immerse. On the other hand, the English word, “baptism/baptize,” possesses the semantic fields of “sprinkling and pouring,” which the Greek word, baptisma/baptizō, do not possess. Hence 

    New Testament, London, by Nathaniel Scarlett, 1798.The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. the Common English Version, the American Bible Union, New York. Second Revision, 1865; B.C. Goodpasture, Nashville, Tenn., 1955.

    The New Testament: American Bible Union Version, 1866 and revised in 1885.

    The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testament; Translated Literally from the Original Tongues by Julia Smith, 1876.

    The New Testament, revised by A.S. Worrell, Baptist publication, 1904.

    The Christian’s Bible, New Testament, by George LeFevre, 1928.

    The Original New Testament: A Radical Translation and Reinterpretation by Hugh J. Schonfield. 1985.

    Complete Jewish Bible, translated by David Stern, 1998, Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarksville, Maryland.

Some Guidelines about Translations philosophy: 

Translation is at best a very difficult task and never 100% - judgment-call compromises and interpretation will always occur. The issue is the “otherness” of the Scripture in the original than in translation. Is this “otherness” a matter of language differences or a matter of God’s thoughts and ways being higher than our thoughts and ways? What are the matters of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek semantic, grammatical, and cultural “patchwork quilts” versus the matters of transcultural truths of God, that are different than we think in English? The translator will need to leave the latter and then decide on how to deal with the former by a direct translation with footnotes and commentary or by finding approximate, corresponding things in English without footnotes and commentary. Translators seek accuracy and clarity with a try at naturalness in English. The original, intended audience and readers of the text had ideas, understandings, and even feelings that the translators are trying to replicate, if not duplicate, in the English readers. 

Translation theory can be illustrated by patchwork quilts hanging side-by-side on parallel clotheslines. Reality and ideas are labeled with words having various “semantic domains,” much as various patches on a quilt, albeit a bit irregular in shapes (in quilting terms referred to as “crazy quilts”) and at times even with “holes”. If one were to take this objective reality of the world divided up by a given language, such as NT Koine Greek, in the form of a Koine Greek “quilt,” and line up an English “quilt” of various but different semantic “patches” along the same objective realty of the world, than one would see a correspondence of words for translation purpose. There would be various overlapping of one word in English with two or more in Greek (e.g., love) and of one word in Greek with two or more in English (e.g., pistis for faith and faithfulness.) 

  1. Interlinear - English words used in Greek sentence structures.
  2. Literal or “Direct” or Essentially Literal Translation - Formal Equivalence uses a correspondence of overlapping semantic and syntactical fields between the source and target languages. It leaves some interpretation to the reader. It is aword-for-word translation that seeks to have an English word (or as few words as possible) for each word in the original language text, while preserving the structure of the original language sentence and even any intentional difficulties or ambiguities found in the original language texts. The resolving of these ambiguities is left to the reader. Even though it allows the reader to be much closer to the original language text, it may often be more difficult to read. At places words in the translation take on semantic influences of their corresponding words in the source language of the text translated, e.g. agape-love, anticipatory hope, faithfulness-faith, etc.  
  3. Dynamic Equivalence or “Functional” Equivalence - Choosing English idioms that mirror original language idioms, as thought-for-thought, rather word-for-word. It is a“thought-for-thought” translation that tries to find and use an English idiom in the form of a word, phrase, or entire sentence that corresponds to the wording in the original language in an effort to make it more readable. It thus involves the translator using more interpretation in the translation in effort to discern only the words of the author but also the author’s intent and meaning. The semantic fields of the corresponding source-language words. 
  4. Optimal Equivalence - a translation that seeks to find a carefully studied balance between the literal (or direct or formal equivalence) translation and the dynamic (or functional equivalence) translation, where the translators begins with a literal translation and goes to a dynamic approach were it seems to be necessary. 
  5. Target-language - English styled - Where English language readers do not see it as a translation but apparently originally composed in English. 
  6. General Paraphrase or “Free Translation” - Paraphrases go somewhat further than a “thought-for-thought” translation in that it is more of a “sentence-for-sentence” process to make it easier for English readers to read. One could think of it, as a very concise commentary or “mini-commentary.” 
  7. Interpretive Paraphrase - Totally free for the translator(s) to convey in English what they see that the original language text means and is trying to communicate, somewhat in the form of a running commentary. It also often involves an attempt to contextualize the biblical text from its original cultural and language into English (American) cultural and language and to eliminate the historical distance between the times of the Bible and the times of the reader. 

A “Spectrum” of Translation Philosophy:

  • Word-by-Word Direct or Functional or Idiomatic or General Interpretive
  • Interlinear Literal Dynamic Equiv. English styled Paraphrase_ Paraphrase 
  • NIV Interlinear OT
  • NKJV Interlinear NT
  • Green’s Interlinear Bible
  • Fox’s The Five Books of Moses 
  • KJV
  • NKJV
  • NASB(95)
  • RSV
  • NRSV
  • Amplified
  • (NWT)
  •  ESV
  • ISV
  • NAB
  • HCSB
  • NIV
  • Weymouth
  • New Jerus.Bible
  • NEB
  • Good News/TEV
  • CEV Wuest
  • Living Bible
  • NLT
  • Phillips
  • Cotton Patch
  • The Message

Some Misconceptions about Translations:

  1. “A literal translation involves no interpretation.” (A literal translation can be inaccurate at places and thus the translators must interpret the text in English.)  
  2. “Only one translation is right and accurate where all others are wrong.” (The semantic range of a word in the original language can have two or more English words which may be found in different translations. The process of translation requires the translator to interpret the text into English with his or her judgment necessary in the process.) 
  3. “A translation can be just as inspired, as was the Bible in its original language.” (The process of writing of the Bible was inspired, but anyone with an adequate knowledge of the original languages, inspired or not, can render and translation and even publish it.) 
  4. “All translations are equally correct.” (Obviously, when two translations of the same passage are different, they cannot be both accurate nor correct.) 
  5. “One can only truly understand the Bible in its original languages.” (The Bible is very “translatable.” So much can be studied and is known about the languages and history and cultures in which the Bible was written, so that translators have all that is needed.)
  6. “The Bible can be translated and interpreted in various ways, in that its various and sundry translations mean that no one can really know what the Bible says.” (This is a smoke screen which says, if all cannot be correct, then none are correct. God did not “mumble” but was able to make Himself quite clear in the Bible. Some translations are better than others, as to conveying the original language ideas.) 
  7. “When two translations are different for the some passage or word, one must be wrong.” (Not necessarily, where the original language idea may be in between the two translations that together may give a better picture. This is where “parallel” translation editions of the Bible are so helpful.)
  8. “It is wrong and improper for a preacher or teacher to translated the Bible in his or her preaching and teaching.” (Bible teachers have done this for centuries since the first century for the New Testament and before then for the Old Testament, as Ezra did in Neh.8:8.)
  9. “Having various translations of the Bible only brings confusion to Bible study.” (Without understanding of translation theory and practice, this may appear to be the case, however various good and accurate translations, such as in parallel editions, are in a way like various commentaries.)
  10. “The Bible must be in the esoteric language of God and religion and not in a common, colloquial vernacular of everyday life to be the Real Bible.” (But Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, and the KJV did seek to put the Bible in a colloquial vernacular, as it was original inspired.)
  11. “There are so many variations in wording in existing manuscripts.” (Variants involve only a small percent of the text.)
  12. “The original languages of the Bible are so ancient and different that we today cannot understand them enough to know what the Bible really says. They are very different than English is today. So we can never understand the ancient culture and ancient history of the events in the Bible and its writing enough to know what the Bible really says and means.” Some words are only used once, where their meaning cannot be actually known.” (The Bible is an historical record in very well known languages. Greater study has been made about the history, cultures, and languages of the Bible than any other piece of historical literature.) 
  13. “The autographs are all lost. All that is left are copies of copies of copies etc., so much that we can never know what was in the autographs.” (Through the multiplicity of manuscripts in the original languages and early versions, God has preserved the autographa. It can be duplicated in a edited text.) 
  14. “The most accurate manuscripts were found only within the last 200 years, so earlier believers did not have good and accurate copies of the Bible in its original languages.” (According to the Traditional Masoretic textform philosophy of the Hebrew OT and Majority/Byzantine textform philosophy of the Greek NT much has been more clearly understood within the past 200 years but the texts are ones that have been read and studied by believers all through the centuries since the biblical era.)

 

Practical suggestions for using various translations of the Bible: 

  • Read the preface to see how the translator(s) approached the translation task. 
  • Find what Hebrew OT text and Greek NT text was used.
    • OT: 2nd Rabbinic Ed. - KJV and most early ones up to 1900.
    • BH & BHS , Leningradensia - All since 1900.
    • NT: TR , KJV and NKJV and most all early translations.
    • Majority Text - The WEB Bible, NKJV Interlinear Bible, NKJV with M readings
    • Eclectic Text - Nestle/UBS - Most all translations since 1880’s & NKJV with NU readings] 
  • Decide, if you want to read (1) a smooth, comfortable English text with built-in commentary but with little footnotes, that sounds as though it was originally written in English, OR (2) a readable English text with very little commentary and often much footnoting, that sounds as though it may have been originally written in another language. A dynamic or functional equivalent translation would be your choice for the first one. A literal or direct translation would be your choice for the second one. The key is understanding the balance. All translations have their judgement-calls, as to this balance. 
  • Note how the text is formatted and footnoted. Poetic passages can be easily noted and read, as the text is printed in poetic form. A “paragraphed” format show the flow of ideas together within a paragraph and how book is divided into paragraphs, in contrast to the “verse” format that has “chopped up” the paragraph, although it is intended for ease in looking up a referenced verse. Note any translation footnotes in that they are helpful in explaining variant readings, alternate translations of original language words or phrases, or language explanations. Note any doctrinal footnotes in that they can be helpful but for the most part are interpretative and at time sectarian. Note any reference footnotes, as in a center-chain reference edition, which can be helpful in comparing one scripture with another by listing related verses. The Bible often interprets itself. This is very helpful in the interpretation of a passage, as well as in topic study. 
  • In detailed, even exegetical, Bible study with commentaries and other tools, a literal or direct translation allows you to easily go back to the original language word or words corresponding to the English word or phrase. In reading through a passage at length, a dynamic or functional equivalent translation would offer a clearer “big picture” of the passage. 
  • Note any cultural, archaic or theological biases {fornication, homosexuals, NEB - strumpet; KJV’s let/prevent in 1 Thes. 4; 2 Thes.3; Phillip’s spiritual death in 1 John 5 & “not” in 1 Cor.14:23; Peterson’s The Message, Feminists’ Inclusive Translations} A translation done for British readers may not be understood the same way by American readers, and visa versa. Look up passages that you have studied well, and see what the translators have done. 
  • Note the publisher and listing of translators, as to their beliefs {NWT has no such list and is anonymous). 
  • Parallel translations (of two) and multiple translations (of up to eight, such as The Evangelical Parallel NT [NKJV, NIV, ESV, HCSB, TNIV, NLT, NCV, & The Message]) will offer the reader at a glance various ways the passage can be translated.