Bible Translations

I have been read­ing my Bible for devo­tions using the New Living Translation (NLT). I also have been lis­ten­ing through the Bible with the podBible dai­ly net­cast which uses the Contemporay English Version (CEV) trans­la­tion (not to be con­fused with podBible.org — an iPod copy of the ESV). Both NLT and CEV are con­sid­ered to be a dynam­ic equiv­a­lent trans­la­tion (DET) — mean­ing for mean­ing instead of word for word trans­la­tions. Translations such as the English Standard Version (ESV) on the oth­er hand attempts to be “essen­tial­ly lit­er­al.” Despite the advan­tage of DETs for being under­stand­able, and I do con­sid­er this to be a sig­nif­i­cant advan­tage, some­times they dri­ve me crazy. Why?

All trans­la­tions will have a the­o­log­i­cal bias but some of the more mod­ern DETs seem to real­ly show their bias. This bias can gloss over more dif­fi­cult pas­sages or even mis­lead. A dynam­ic equiv­a­lent should be just that, an equiv­a­lent to the mean­ing of the orig­i­nal lan­guage, not a the­o­log­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of the pas­sage.

The NIV pub­lish­er says that its trans­la­tion is a DET. In my opin­ion it is a weak DET, mean­ing, it leans towards a word for word trans­la­tion rather than obscure a pas­sage with a dynam­ic equiv­a­lent if it would show a the­o­log­i­cal bias. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is con­sid­ered by many to be the best study Bible since it is a word for word trans­la­tion (as best as it can be). It reads some­times very wood­en, that is, it is hard to read out loud with­out sound­ing unre­al. The ESV in my opin­ion is try­ing to be a more read­able NASB. I find the NIV to be a good bal­ance for heavy duty Bible study because the trans­la­tors took extra effort to pre­vent the­o­log­i­cal bias to affect their trans­la­tions yet the dynam­ic equiv­a­len­cy also helps.

I also am look­ing for­ward to the International Standard Version’s final release as well. It is an inter­est­ing project in and of itself and the trans­la­tion seems to be excel­lent for seri­ous Bible study. It is also try­ing to have that bal­ance between accu­ra­cy and read­abil­i­ty. It has free down­load­able (PDF) copies of the cur­rent revi­sion (it is now about 93% com­plete). I have been using the ISV as one of my par­al­lel read­ing ver­sions now.

Hmm, maybe I should men­tion that real quick. When I am doing Bible study, I try to have at least three ver­sions open side by side when look­ing at a pas­sage. This way, any trans­la­tion dif­fi­cul­ties are easy to spot. Currently, when using hard copy, I use the NIV, NASB, and NLT. I often have the PDF of the ISV open on my com­put­er as well. If I am read­ing the Bible on-line at Bible Gateway, which I am using a lot more for par­al­lel read­ing, I switch quick­ly between many of them (there are like 20), pri­mar­i­ly the NIV, NASB, ESV, NLT, and even King James.

Ok, now back to the exam­ple. The NLT trans­lates Ecclesiastes 6:10 [show]ERROR: The IP key is no longer sup­port­ed. Please use your access key, the test­ing key ‘TEST
This text is from the ESV Bible. Visit www.esv.org to learn about the ESV.
as “Everything has already been decid­ed. It was known long ago what each per­son would be. So there’s no use argu­ing with God about your des­tiny.”  The NIV says “Whatever exists has already been named, and what man is has been known; no man can con­tend with one who is stronger than he.” (You should be able to click the show link and also see the ESV trans­la­tion).

The NLT takes a cou­ple proverbs in Ecclesiastes and spins them with a dis­tinct Calvinistic the­o­log­i­cal spin. The first proverb which the NIV trans­lates “Whatever exists has already been named, and what man is has been known”, could be summed up with the com­mon proverb, “A rose by any oth­er name is still a rose.” The NLT instead gives it the the­o­log­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of “God has pre­de­ter­mined every­thing.”

The sec­ond proverb “no man can con­tend with one who is stronger than he” is a gener­ic proverb. It states the law of the jun­gle, the strong dom­i­nates the weak. It has to be not­ed here very clear­ly. The Hebrew nev­er say “God” any­where, just as the NIV trans­lates. The NLT gives this pas­sage a very dis­tinct the­o­log­i­cal bias by trans­lat­ing the Hebrew “So there’s no use argu­ing with God about your des­tiny.”

In the end, I sup­pose the basic mes­sage and God’s truth of Ecclesiates is still clear in any of the trans­la­tions men­tioned. But it real­ly both­ers me that one could take a the­o­log­i­cal­ly biased ver­sion like the NLT and base their per­son­al beliefs around it think­ing that is what the Bible says instead of what the trans­la­tors believed. On the ESV’s web­site, they explain why DETs can be prob­lem­at­ic and I think this pas­sage demon­strates it.

I will con­tin­ue to use the NLT for my dai­ly devo­tion­al read­ing. I find that I read “out­loud” in my head a lot late­ly. It slows my read­ing down which is good for my devo­tion­als. Speed read­ing is for fic­tion. Since I am read­ing “out­loud” in my head, the NLT is a lot eas­i­er to read and com­pre­hend. This allows me to move direct­ly into prayer and ask­ing God to help me apply it to my life.

When read­ing even the NIV, I find myself some­times get­ting dis­tract­ed by try­ing to fig­ure out what it said (that in and of itself is “a good thing”), pulling out com­men­taries, dig­ging through the Greek, and grab­bing all my oth­er trans­la­tions. This dis­trac­tion takes away from the “devo­tion­al” nature of what I was orig­i­nal­ly try­ing to do, read and pray. Further, because I end up spend­ing so much time chas­ing after the obscure or inter­est­ing, oth­er things in life can intrude (phone calls, appoint­ments, etc) so that I nev­er fin­ish.

On the oth­er­hand, for seri­ous Bible study, I will con­tine to use the NIV as my base trans­la­tion (since I have mul­ti­ple hard copies of it), sup­pli­ment­ed with trans­la­tions such as the ESV, NASB, and ISV. And of course, I am slow­ly get­ting my Greek back as I did more and more into it which is alway “a good thing.” I have found I am using the Bible Gateway a lot more since it allows me to switch quick­ly between trans­la­tions instead of try­ing to have 3 or 4 Bibles spread around on the table.

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