What is the best English translation of the Bible?
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, so unless one is fluent in these languages, a translation is necessary to understand God’s word. A brief trip to a Christian bookstore will reveal a large assortment of Bible translations.
The Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek around 200 B.C., a time when Hellenism (Greek ideas) dominated the entire Mediterranean region. The Greek language continued as the trade language for the entire Roman Empire during the time of the apostles. It was a perfect vehicle to reach the large number of cultures and ethnic groups who shared this common language.
When Jesus commanded the disciples to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), the need for multiple translations was established. With faithful translations, the people groups around the world would eventually hear the message of salvation and respond in faith.
The first complete English translation of the entire Bible came in 1380 from the able hand of John Wycliffe. In 1611, King James of England unveiled the Authorized Version (KJV) for use in all English churches. Its beautiful language and terminology molded the English language for 400 years.
Modern translations today seek to communicate the meaning of the original language into words, phrases and concepts that modern readers will understand. Sometimes a translation is only loosely related to the original. For example, the Living Bible or the Message version are regarded more as paraphrases than actual translations, since they differ considerably from the original wording and attempt to convey the ideas from the original.
Other English versions of the Bible are very careful to use the terminology as found in the ancient languages, even though the meaning or concepts are no longer used today. These translations make great study resources but are not popular for public reading because of their use of terms or phrases that are no longer in common usage. One such translation is the New American Standard Bible (NASV).
Some of the more popular translations strike a balance when translating ancient words and ideas to a modern concept. Seeking a “dynamic equivalence”, these versions stay close to the original vocabulary without sacrificing readability. The New International Version (NIV) is the most popular modern English translation today.
A few Bible translations are known for importing a theological bias that taints the entire work. The New World Version (NWV), published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, is known for its mistranslations of passages that demonstrate the deity of Christ. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) reflects a liberal unease with the sacrificial and miraculous terminology of the original language.
Today the translation debate centers on the use of gender-specific references to God, whether God should be referred to as a he or a she or an it, and attempts to “tone down” some of the military/war references in Scripture. Such translations are motivated more by politically correct ideals than a desire to be true to the biblical text and ought to be avoided, since they tend to “make God in our own image”.
The student of God’s word should not be dependent on any one translation, but should have several versions for use in study and a paraphrase version for more devotional reading.