Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bible Translations

One of the things I spoke about on Sunday was the difference between different Bible translations, and how there isn't one 'right' or 'proper' translation to use. Somebody said they thought it might be useful to repeat it in a blog, so here goes!

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew (the Old Testament) or Greek (the New Testament) with a few bits written in Aramaic. When people come to translate the Bible into English, as when translating anything from one language to another, they have to make a decision about what philosophy of translation they are going to use.

At one end of the spectrum is a "word for word" translation, where the translators attempt to take each word in the original language and convert it into the equivalent word in English. That's not always possible as the word order in the original language may make no sense in English, there may not be an English word to match the Hebrew or Greek word, and extra words may need to be added to make it make sense, but wherever possible the intention is to make the translation as direct as possible. The problems with a "word for word" translation is that the English in them sometimes feels awkward or clumsy because of the desire to be as close as possible to the original, and that having the original authors words doesn't necessarily mean you know what they were thinking.

At the other end of the spectrum is a "thought for thought translation", where the translator attempts to express the thoughts or ideas the original author was trying to express, rather than just translating the words. This can be helpful as the same words can mean something very different today to what they meant 2,000 or more years ago, as well as differences in culture meaning that we may understand a given event, story or idea very differently to the people who first read it. The obvious problem with a "thought for thought" translation is that you are at the mercy of how good the translator is at understanding the authors original thoughts. If they've got that wrong then the translation will be wrong, misleading and potentially heretical!

The chart below (copied from this website) may be helpful in explaining where various translations sit on the "word for word" to "thought for thought" continuum. 

My recommendation is to use a range of translations. If you want to study a passage in depth use a "word for word" translation such as the English Standard Version (ESV), for everyday use and ease of reading try something which is a mixture of the two styles such as the New International Version (NIV), and for 'something different' which might give you a fresh perspective on a passage take a look at the Message. 

We've currently got a range of ESV, NIV and Message Bibles in the bookshop which we're selling at cost price. Alternatively if you use the online YouVersion Bible, or Bible Gateway then you get dozens of different translations for free. Have a go at looking at the same verse of the Bible in different translations and see how they differ. 

Hope that was helpful. 

Simon. 

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