How We Got Our Bible -- Part 9: A Look at the Various Translations


Today I want to wrap up our study of the History of our Bible.

Last week we finished the technical issues.  The last few weeks I think we have provided evidence that the best source document for the Old Testament is the Septuagint, and the best source document for the New Testament is the Textus Receptus, and that we should be very skeptical about notes and versions that depend on the Alexandrian Codices.

Today's Lesson:

So today, lets put all of this to practical use and reach some conclusions about the versions of the Bible we have today.

Perhaps I should revisit one statement that I have made several times regarding the question, "What is the best version of the Bible?"   Remember that I have said that the best version of the Bible for you is the one you will really use and read, and that relative to that, the version really doesn’t matter very much.

Dave Westley and one of his visiting relatives brought up a valid question about that.   What if the version you are reading happens to be a Mormon version or a Jehovah's Witness version, both of which have been altered from what we believe the original texts said -- altered to support what one man decided he wanted the truth to be?

Of course, if you are reading a version that has been intentionally altered to support a position contrary to the original writings, you can be mislead.   When I made the statement that the version is not all that important, I was assuming that you were reading one of the mainstream Christian Bibles, and not one altered to support a cult.

So with that qualifier, I still say that for staying in your relationship with God, the version is not very important.   It only becomes important when you start to get into serious deeper word study of statements and words used in the Bible. Then the version starts to matter.

Today's Versions:

So now let’s get real, and look at the modern versions from which we can choose today.

To make good decisions about which version of the Bible you should use, you first have to realize that we have several different editions of the Bible which are designed and edited for particular purposes.  If you are going to use only one Bible, it should be a Bible that is good for just reading, enjoying, which lets you spend time in God’s Word and that helps you relate to him -- one that leads you to really meditate on how good God is, and how much you need to depend on his love to get you through this life. Bibles designed for this purpose are available in both adult and children's versions. The difference is generally in the vocabulary level, and in the illustrations that may be included, since children are assisted by the inclusion of illustrations.

Easy Reading Bibles:

It is interesting to realize that the lower the editorially designed reading level that a text is, the easier and more pleasurable it is to read, even for adults.   So a modest grade level vocabulary actually makes the Bible more fun to read -- easier to just read and appreciate, instead of being challenged by the vocabulary and grammar, which may interfere with the message being conveyed.

These Bibles will be either paraphrased, or they will be what are called dynamic translations, those translated thought by thought, not word by word.  Literal translations, those translated word by word, or as close to that as the translator could accomplish, tend to be more stilted and do not read as smoothly; the thoughts are not as formed.

So if you are going to use just one Bible, find one that is pleasurable to read, probably a dynamic translation. The paraphrased versions and the dynamic versions have some variation about the source documents, but that difference becomes very minor if the translation is not literal. So the question of which source documents were used in the translation becomes much less important. We will talk about a few of the better choices a little later this morning.

Study Bibles:

Then there are Bibles designed for serious study. If you want a resource Bible for researching something you want to dig into, then you probably want a Second Bible designed for that. Then the source document starts to make a difference, at least on certain topics. For most topics, the version does not make a difference, but you never know which ones. So the best bet is to have one that you trust to have the best sources. For Bibles for serious study, the choice then is to use a stand-alone Bible, one with the text and normally used aids, like chain references, cross references and limited editor notes. Or to use a study Bible, one that has lots of use aids, background articles for each book and author, background articles for major Bible characters, extensive notes and footnotes to make the study easier -- really a small library, right in the Bible.

Although this is very helpful and makes a lot of study easier -- (you don’t have to dig around) -- it is entirely dependent on the opinions of the writer of the notes and articles.  Your study of the Bible is no longer primarily on the Bible itself, but is highly influenced by the bias and opinions of the editor and writer of the notes.

Special Purpose Bibles:

There are study Bibles for every imaginable special focus: children, women, men, couples, Catholics, students, new Christians, etc.   Each one has study material especially prepared to make the Bible study easier and more meaningful for that particular audience.  But it also assures some bias in the material added.

"Politically Correct" Bibles:

There is one more attribute of Bible Versions that is discussed a lot today by those who spend their life on such matters.   That is what I call the "Politically Correct" Bibles.   For some of you in here, this may be an important issue.  For some of the rest of us, this is much to do about nothing, in fact it is a detraction. It actually creates problems instead of solving them.  At issue is whether or not a particular Bible version is gender inclusive or not.   For most of us who have spent much time in the Bible, we understand that the Hebrew world was male dominated, and therefore the writings of the Old Testament talk of a male led and dominated society.

We also know that even the New Testament teaches that the male is expected to be the leader of the family, so the customs of that time and the writings of the New Testament are in a male-dominated or at least male-led format.

I think all of us understand that in the Bible, when it says that God created man, or that God loves man, or that God expects man to do something, the inferred noun is mankind, and that the noun "man" does not exclude women. Most of the times that a male noun or pronoun is used, it is pretty clear that the intent is gender inclusive, [i.e. including both].  But there are also times that this inclusive assumption is not so clear, like the fact that the husband is expected to be the leader of the family.  As we all know, many husbands fail miserably at that, but I think God sees that as a failure by that man, not that God has changed his mind about the best system for a family.

In today’s "politically correct" environment, there is a push to rewrite the Bible, to make sure it is gender inclusive And when it could possibly be interpreted as man or woman (even by Gloria Steinem), then it says "man or woman".   And only if it is impossible to be interpreted as gender inclusive would only man be used.  If the Bible says that Abraham was a man, then it would be OK not to say that Abraham was a man or a woman.   Or if a husband impregnated his wife, it would be OK not to say he was a man or a woman.  Of course today they might want to make that inclusive too.

So there are actually some versions of the Bible that have been edited to be gender inclusive -- some reasonably, some unreasonably.

Problems with gender inclusive versions:

Other than the absurdity of some of it, and even in the reasonable gender inclusive versions, there are some other problems.

Your Devotional Bible:

You probably can tell that I am not going to spend much time this morning on gender inclusive translations. If you are going to use just one Bible, I say it should be a “Spending time with Jesus” Bible -- one that you enjoy reading, one from which you can just sit back and enjoy hearing his words.   That should probably be a paraphrase or a dynamic translation.

The problem with a paraphrase Bible is that you are not just hearing the thoughts of God, but you are hearing them through the mind of someone who is trying to interpret them for you.   He is either trying to put the ideas into a particular word set for a particular audience, or for a particular culture.   So Paraphrased Bibles are critically dependent on the audience they are addressed to, and will carry the bias of the person trying to explain the text.

Paraphrase Bibles are fine for just reading like a novel, and most of what you pick up will be valid. But they should not be used as a source for truly understanding the Bible.  Of the Paraphrase Bibles, two are the leading versions.

Probably a better choice for your quiet time Bible is a dynamic translation, one in which the translator restricted himself to the translation of the thoughts and concepts that are in the source documents, into today’s language. In this category I think there is a clear leader, the New International Version.

Your Study Bible:

For serious Bible research and study, you should be using a literal translation, one in which the translators attempted to translate each of the words in the best source documents.


So after all this, I recommend, that if you are going to use just one Bible, use the NIV. And if you are also going to have and use a research Bible, use perhaps the NASB. The combination of the two will give you the best of all worlds, and you get 90% of the way there with just the NIV.

For Larry's Bible Translation Analysis Chart, click here.


Next week:

We will start a study of the Book of Ephesians. Your assignment is to read it through.   It's only six chapters long. In my Bible, that's just 10 pages.  That is a reasonable assignment. We will start next week with a short study about Paul, the author of Ephesians. We will try to get to know Paul so that we can understand better what he has written in this letter.