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Translation Continuum

October 27th, 2010 · 1 Comment · Grace Church

Have you ever wondered how Bible translations are different from each other? One difference is in the philosophy of the translation team. Does the translation intend to be literal (word for word) or more free (thought for thought).

For example, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) intends to be very literal – “word for word” from the Greek or Hebrew into English. Their attempt is to be as true to the original language as possible – even if that means sacrificing fluidity or ease of reading. A word for word translation asks the question: What English word would be best translated for that Greek/Hebrew word? A word for word translation is excellent for Bible study. When I studied Greek in seminary and had to do many translations I was amazed at how accurate the NASB is in its attempt to be a word for word translation.

In the middle of the continuum are “thought for thought” translations. For example, the New International Version is an excellent thought for thought translation. The goal is to be as accurate as possible to the original manuscript in the thought or intention of the passage while making the language modern and flow well. A thought for thought translation asks the question: what phrase best translates the original intent of the author? The NIV is the most popular version of the Bible currently in print because it blends accuracy of translation and ease of reading.

On the right of the continuum are “paraphrase” translations. The Message and The Living Bible are two examples. The translators take the liberty to ask rephrase the meaning of Scripture in language that’s contemporary and connects. There’s another layer of interpretation between you and the original as the translator asks the question: what modern language would convey the same idea in this sentence? The strength of this type of translation is that God’s message becomes updated and fresh. Often a paraphrase translation will catch you off guard as the language is down to earth and straight forward.

The three translations that I use as I prepare to speak are the NASB, ESV, and NIV. I feel that those three give me a nice blend that leans toward the more literal translation slide of the continuum. Sometimes it’s really fun and refreshing to pick up the Message and read well known passages and hear it from a fresh perspective.

What translation do you read? Maybe it’d be fun to try a version that’s on a different part of the continuum. The main thing: reading, loving, and obeying the Scripture. Enjoy more!

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Burly // Dec 10, 2010 at 9:40 am

    I just picked up a copy of the Holman Christian Standard Version. It’s been very, very readable so far. I haven’t delved into the decisions behind the translation, but have two trusted friends who really like it.

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