Of all the messages that I have written in these inspirational columns, last week’s article garnished more responses than any of the others. A series that challenges us to read the Scriptures every day for three months seems to have touched places deep inside us. The conclusion of many researchers is that we are becoming a people plagued with Biblical illiteracy. Many of you are rising up and saying, “Let’s take a stand and do something about that.”
My first piece of advice was for you to find a Bible that you enjoy reading and is easy for you to understand. You probably already have the version that you lean to for your reading. It is not my intent to talk you into changing versions of the Bible. It is my goal that you have a chance to learn more about the version that you use.
The surveys tell us that the King James Version is still the overwhelming choice for Bible readers. Many of us grew up with King James. It was the Bible we used when we memorized Scripture — and not just, “Jesus wept.” When I accepted Christ and was baptized, my parents gave me my own King James Version of the Bible. I carried that small zippered Bible for more than a decade.
So let’s talk for a moment about translation. If you and I wander into a bookstore into the religion section, we are greeted by shelf upon shelf of different versions of the English Bible. If we browse through the webpages of Amazon, the number of the available Bibles expands exponentially. What are the differences among them? Which translation is right for you?
First we need to discuss the differences between a translation and a paraphrase. Translations of the Bible take the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages and offer an equivalent into a new language. Most see two main philosophies of translation: a formal translation (word-for-word) and a dynamic translation (thought-for-thought or phrase-for-phrase). I would like to add a third category that I will call an idiomatic translation (dynamic translation plus idiom equivalence). All three of these are translations, relying on the original languages to produce a translation in a different language, such as English or Spanish. Scholars, theologians and linguists are usually involved in translations.
A paraphrase is a version that was produced by taking an accepted English translation and rewording it into another English equivalent. The original languages are not consulted in the making of a paraphrase. If you are asked to write a verse of the Bible using your own words, you are making a paraphrase of that verse. The old Living Bible is an example of a biblical paraphrase.
In my opinion, people misunderstand and miscategorize The Message version of the Bible by Eugene Peterson. People — including scholars — assume Peterson took an English version of the Bible such as the KJV or the NIV and reworded it because it flows so well in today’s English. Therefore many call it a paraphrase. But the truth is Peterson was a linguistic scholar and used the original languages in his presentation.
So, if we accept the idea that there are three different kinds of translations and also a paraphrase, where does the version that you like to use fall? I have tried to categorize the major English translations in this diagram. It is not my purpose to make this chart be a point of contention. You could argue that one version should be a tad closer to one style than another, and I would probably not disagree with you. This chart just gives us a starting point for our discussions.
There is no “right or wrong” approach to translating a Bible. There are simply different methods used to achieve different goals. The danger in any translation that moves away from a word-for-word approach is simply that the translators may bring in their own personal bias or theological position to the text. The danger in a true paraphrase is that the individuals involved are not Greek and Hebrew scholars. A true paraphrase takes a difficult to read English version and simplifies the text.
So, with Bible in hand, here are our Scriptures for the coming week, starting on Monday.
• Monday: 2 Timothy 3:16-17
• Tuesday: Hebrews 4:12
• Wednesday: John 1:1-5, 14
• Thursday: Matthew 1:1, 17
• Friday: Luke 1:1-4
• Weekend: Psalm 2:7-9
— Tom May is a freelance writer who has held paid and volunteer ministry positions at several churches in the tri-state area. Reach him at email@example.com.