The sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible were originally written in three different languages: Hebrew (most o the Old Testament), Aramaic (used in half of Daniel and Ezra), and Greek (all of the New Testament). For those people who do not know these languages, it is necessary to obtain a good English translation of the Bible. The very fact that Godâ€™s word has been translated means that interpretation has already been involved in the process. To read in translation is not a bad thing; it is simply inevitable. What this does mean, however, is that in a certain sense, the person who reads the Bible only in English is at the mercy of the translator(s), and translators have often had to make choices as to what in fact the original Hebrew or Greek was really intending to say.
The trouble with using only one translation, be it ever so good, is that one is thereby committed to the exegetical choices of that translation as the Word of God. Any given translation may be right but it may also be wrong. This occurs because any translator must choose between textual and linguistic translation. Textual has to do with the actual wording of the original text and the linguistic has to do with oneâ€™s theory of translation.
There are several translations of the whole Bible that are currently easily accessible. These can be classified in three different way: 1) Literal translation which is where the Bible is translated word for word whether or not it makes sense in English. 2) Dynamic Equivalence translation, which is where the scriptures are translated literally where they make sense and where it does not make sense the ideas are translated. The sentences are changed to be more easily understood in English but are as close to the original as possible. 3) Paraphrase or Free translation which is simply a paraphrase o the scripture an makes no effort to be an exact translation. These translations are great or learning the basic idea of a text but they do not reveal the scriptures as they were written to be.
Literal Translations: King James Version, New American Standard Bible, Revised Standard Version and New Revised Standard Version.
Dynamic Equivalence: New International Version, New Living Translation, New American Bible, New English Bible, Good News Bible and Jerusalem Bible.
Free: Phillips, Living Bible, and The Message.
Translators are not always consistent, but one of these theories will govern the translatorsâ€™ basic approach to their work. At times the literal or free translations can be excessive. The best translational theory is dynamic equivalence. A literal translation is often helpful as a second source; it will give a look into what the Greek or Hebrew actually looked like. A free translation can also be helpful â€" to stimulate thinking about the possible meaning of a text. But the basic translation or reading and studying should be something like the New International Version.
The problem with literal translation is that is keeps distance at the wrong places â€" in language and grammar. Thus the translator often renders the Greek or Hebrew into English that is otherwise never written or spoken that way. It is like translating â€œmaison blancâ€ from French to English as â€œhouse white.â€ For example, no native English speaking person would ever have said â€œcoals of fireâ€. That is a literal rendering of the Greek construction, but what it means in English is â€œburning coalsâ€ or â€œlive coalsâ€.
The problem with a free translation, on the other hand, especially for study purposes, is that the translator updates the original author too much. Such a translation all too often comes close to being a commentary rather than a translation.
It is far better to use several translations, note where they differ, and then check out those differences in another source, than to be led to believe that a word can mean one of several things in any given sentence. The NIV is as good a translation as possible to get. The GNB and NAB are also especially good. Along with these the NASB and RSV translations are good to have because they attempt to update the KJV. For someone studying the Bible it is recommended that they read the NIV and then consult at least one from three other categories. That would give the best possible start to an intelligent reading and study of the Bible.
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