Understand and Choose a Bible Translation
You might have grown up around Bibles, but want to understand them a bit better. Or maybe this is all new to you. Maybe you simply don’t know where to begin choosing what Bible translation is right for you, or even what the difference is between various Bible translations.
In this part of the guide, I want to cut out the potentially overwhelming detail and simplify this for you, before finishing with some advice on choosing the best Bible translation for you.
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- Understand the Difference Between Bible Translations ⤏
- Choose the Best Bible Translation for You ⤏
Understand the Difference Between Bible Translations
I’m sure I could write a book about the topic of different translations of the Bible, but I won’t for your sake and mine. 🙂 Let’s simplify this.
Original Languages Of The Bible And Translating To Modern English
Firstly, we need to briefly understand where the Bible came from, to understand how the English translations work.
The Bible is made up of 66 historical books inspired by God and written by about 40 different authors, over the span of around 1500 years. Each book qualified to be part of the Bible, because they each individually met with the standards of what is called the canon. View details about the Catholic translation above if you’re interested to learn more.
The point here is that the Bible was written in different languages and none of them were English, (which is more modern than the Bible). The Bible was mainly written in Hebrew, some Greek and even less Aramaic. Over the period of history, people have given their very lives (literally), to translate the Bible into modern languages like English.
In a short span of history, we’ve gained a printing press and there’s been a Reformation where (among other ground breaking things), Martin Luther declared that people should be able to read the Bible in their own language, rather than have it only available to highly educated church leaders who could understand Latin – the then standard Western society translation.
Those brave people fought for our freedom to read the Bible in our own languages. They were world changers and I am so grateful for their sacrifices. After the Bible finally became available to the wider public in German (where the Reformation started), other scholars went on to translate the Bible into other languages for the first time in history.
In time, people have gathered groups of highly educated men and women, to study the original languages and create new American English translations, which can further help the wider public understand what the original languages were trying to communicate. There are now at least 45 different English Bible translations. Let’s make some sense of the ones which are represented in this Complete Guide To Choosing A Journaling Bible.
Three Types Of American English Bible Translations
- Word-for-word (also called Formal)
- Often used for in-depth study
- Thought-for-thought (also called Dynamic)
- Often used for personal development
- Often used for devotional reading and gaining new insights
Think of word-for-word being on one end of the spectrum, thought-for-thought being in the middle and paraphrase being on the other end. Every translation fits somewhere on the spectrum.
Here is a list of the translations represented in this guide, so you can see where they fit on the Bible translation spectrum. Start at the top with word-for-word and work your way to the bottom at the other end of the spectrum, paraphrase.
- NASB (New American Standard Bible)
- AMP (Amplified)
- ESV (English Standard Version)
- KJV (King James Version)
- NKJV (New King James Version)
- HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
- NIV (New International Version)
- NLT (New Living Translation)
Currently there are no purely paraphrase Journaling Bibles on the market (like The Message for example), so you don’t see that far end of the spectrum represented here.
Let’s look at the big picture and which Journaling Bible translations fit into these three types of the spectrum…
Word-For-Word Bible Translations
The idea with word-for-word Bible translation is to represent the original language text in a word for word manner, right down to the order of words in a sentence and even grammar.
Many prefer this type of translation because each Hebrew or Greek word is meant to generally be represented by the same English word. However, this can be tricky, because no two languages are able to be translated word for word, grammar for grammar, or even idiom for idiom.
My brief embarrassing personal story… I have called England home for many years after spending my first 25 years in America and even British English is not an exact translation of American English – the so called, “basically same languages”. Excuse the awkwardness here but, complimenting my soon to be father in a law (years ago), on his “pants”, went down embarrassingly wrong.
In American English, I was talking about the fabric that covers his legs (aka trousers). He is British, so heard me in British, and thus heard me compliment him on the color of his underwear! Needless to say, I picked up a few translation books shortly after. Thankfully those early on blooper moments are less frequent, as I gain understanding into the British English language.
Even languages which are a variation of each other, are different enough in word-for-word translation to leave room for misunderstanding at various points. See what I mean?
Translators of this type of Bible do their best to translate word for word, sometimes having to re-arrange sentences or make a few interpretive choices to help clarify the original message to the reader.
- These translations most accurately interpret the exact words of the original Bible text.
- These translations are great for studying the Bible and can add a lot to your time in the Word. You just have to take time to understand the context it was originally written in, to grasp its true meaning.
Draw-Backs To Word-For-Word Bible Translations
- These translations can feel more challenging to understand.
- These translations require the reader to interpret the Bible text, which can be challenging if you are unfamiliar with the Bible.
Thought-For-Thought Bible Translations
The idea with this type of Bible translation is to interpret the meaning of each sentence or phrase in the original language text. Essentially to put the meaning of the original language into it’s modern context.
Because of this, many find these Bible translations more readable and easier to grasp.
Benefits Of Thought-For-Thought Bible translations
- These translations are fairly easy to understand without straying from what the original text was trying to communicate. This is because the translator has attempted to do this interpretive step for the reader.
Draw-Backs To Thought-For-Thought Bible Translations
- These translations have already been essentially interpreted for you, which can somewhat leave you at the grace of the translators Biblical views and understandings.
Paraphrase Bible Translations
The idea with this type of Bible translation is to creatively communicate what the original Bible text meant to communicate.
Think of them as someone re-writing an English Bible translation to help bring new clarity and meaning to it for others. The translation is purely from the spiritual lens of the translator(s).
They are not meant to be accurate to the original language and instead a tool for gaining insights otherwise potentially missed.
Benefits Of Paraphrase Bible translations
- These translations are great for people who are new to the Bible.
- These translations are helpful in bringing new insight and clarity to Bible reading.
- These translations can be a useful second Bible for devotional reading purposes.
Draw-Backs To Paraphrase Bible Translations
- These translations often have so much freedom in translating from the original Bible text, that they can misinterpret or leave out important facts. This makes them bad for a main Bible.
Choose the Best Bible Translation for You
My Own Bible Translation Journey…
Choosing a Bible Translation for Yourself or Loved Ones
I realize not everyone has the funds or desire for multiple Bibles or translations of it. But I want you to see my journey (above), with different Bible translations and ask yourself where you are in your own spiritual journey, and ultimately, which Bible translation(s) would best support your spiritual growth in this season, or even that of whomever you might be gifting a Bible to.
The key is to identify what place you are at in reading the Word and what you need from it in this season. That is right, I said season. It is okay and quite helpful to switch translations if we feel bored or unable to “connect” with the Word.
Bible art journaling, is another way we can connect with the Word of God. If you are someone who wants to use your Journaling Bible for both study and creativity, then you’ll find this section of the guide helpful. If you simply come alive at the idea of creating in the Word to transform your time with God, toss the idea of your Journaling Bible needing to also be a study Bible and pick any Journaling Bible that is going to draw you in and make you spend time in the Word.
That is it. Spend. Time. In. The. Word.
Still not sure which translation to choose? Go to a local Christian book shop and read a paragraph out of different translations! Just get going on this Bible art journaling and encounter Jesus in the Word.
Alternatively, learn about the Catholic translation.
I often get questions about those wishing to do Bible journaling in a Catholic Bible. I am not Catholic myself. However, I do have background in Bible college and understand biblical translations. For what it is worth… a bit of history…
My understanding of the NAB bible (which is the Catholic bible translation), is that it has undergone about 4 translation improvements since it was first written, derived from the Confraternity bible (which has strong Latin Vulgata base). In it’s origin, the NAB (as it was called first), was translated essentially from Latin Vulgata, excluding Genesis which came from a direct translation of Hebrew.
Allow me to explain. In a different season of history, the Catholic church had the bible translated only in Latin and only those with education were able to teach their local congregations from it. There was no ability for the common people to read the Word for themselves, in their own language, as a result. Martin Luther and William Tyndale (back in early 1500’s), worked to translate the Bible text from the original languages, into their local modern languages, (which was German and English).
In time, the 73 Catholic books which make up the Catholic bible, were also translated into modern language, but it has its translation roots in Latin. The translators essentially translated from their working copy in Latin, instead of starting from the ground up, going back to the original languages. As of yet, the Catholic text has not really been fully re-translated from the original language, only in parts. I mean no disrespect to the Catholic, just merely sharing what is happening in Catholic history and how that affects things.
This way of translating means that the text ends up a little like playing that childhood game of telephone. Along the way, a few things get a little muddled, but the gist of the message is there.
When the Protestants, (first Martin Luther and William Tyndale) went about translating the 66 books of the Bible, they went to the original languages to do so. In time, this effort made the King James Version (KJV) come about. I obviously don’t personally ascribe to the Catholic faith and would only look at the additional books in the Catholic bible as historical information, but regardless of that, it seems that in a factual sense, there is a need for a new Catholic bible translation, so that it is entirely derived from the original text. This would ensure better accuracy for those who seek to understand what the original book writers intended to communicate. With Latin largely in the middle of it’s translation chain currently, it is harder to get an accurate picture of what was meant to be understood, when things were originally written. With this in mind, I find myself unwilling to recommend the Catholic bible, regardless of any differing opinions about which books aught to be included in the Bible or not. I simply don’t want to encourage reading a translation which hasn’t fully considered the original languages in its interpretation efforts. As a result of this, I don’t link to any Catholic bible options in this guide.
That aside, in the Protestant translations like KJV, we find they have a rather accurate picture of what was said in the original languages, but the text is so “old English” that it can feel like another language to the modern reader. Along has come a range of translations to pick from and while some have been translated directly from the original languages, others have tried to simply take the KJV and re-arrange and update the text. In my opinion, this has the same effect as the Catholic bible being translated largely from the Latin origin it has.
I realize this is a rather full answer but hopefully helpful. Essentially, I want for everyone to read, learn and study in a way which makes sense for you personally, but I want to highly recommend translations which are directly associated to the original language, rather than with something “in between”. After all, our aim to is understand the Bible and we cannot do that if there are too many translators building a patched up text from previous translators, instead of going to the source.
I cannot recommend any translation with a close comparison to the NAB, (others are not using Latin as a base) and I wouldn’t be doing my job well, if I recommended something which I don’t believe will offer you an accurate look at the original languages. I’m sorry to not have better news on that front.
I would recommend that if you like the idea of understanding the 66 books in the Bible (without the extra 7 books found in the NAB Catholic bible) and you want a direct translation from the original languages, in modern day language, I highly recommend the New American Standard Bible, (NASB) which has no relation to the Catholic NAB, despite the name similarity. The NASB is the Bible I study from and though I look at other translations, like KJV too, I find that the NASB offers a great checking point to the accuracy of my understanding when reading the Word. Much has been learned about the practice of translation since the KJV was created and the NASB translation is incredibly helpful when wanting clear study. ❤