How to Choose a Bible Translation for You and Your Child, Part One
How to Choose a Bible Translation for You and Your Child
Part One: An Introduction to Biblical Languages and the Basic Issues
By Chris Jennings, Assistant Pastor of Children’s Ministries
Introduction – The Biblical Languages
Even if you are new to the Bible, it is probably pretty obvious to you that the Bible was not originally written in English. Of course, Jesus did not speak English, nor did Moses. The Bible was originally written in three different languages: Hebrew (most of the Old Testament), Aramaic (found in sections of Daniel and Ezra) and Koine Greek (the entire New Testament, except for some Aramaic phrases). If you have studied Greek before, chances are you studied Classical Greek. Koine (“common”) Greek was the common language of the Roman Empire around the time when Jesus lived. Classical Greek was more commonly used a few centuries before the time of Christ and is taught and studied in many colleges and universities today. Seminarians who are preparing to go into the vocational ministry study both Hebrew and Koine Greek, which make up the bulk of the original language of the Old and New Testaments, respectively.
So Many Translations! – How do I Choose?
If you have been a Christian even for a short time, you have probably noticed that there is a dizzying number of English translations of the Bible. The King James Version, The New International Version, the New King James Version, the English Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible and the New Living Translation are among the most commonly used, and we haven’t even scratched the surface. How does one know if a translation is a good one? How does one pick a translation that best suits one’s purpose? Is there only one translation that is the best, or are there translations that are good for different purposes?
In this series, I hope to answer these questions, and then go into some more depth with regard to translations specifically made for children and/or younger readers.
Issues to Think About in Choosing a Translation
Some of he key issues to think about in choosing a translation are the following:
- Purpose – For what purpose was the translation written? The purpose for which a translation is written can both positively and negatively affect its outcome.
- How many translators? – Was it translated by one person or by many different scholars? The Bible is an expansive document, and translations that only have one or a few translators may give cause for concern.
- Language/Grade Level – Some English translations, such as the King James Version, were written over a century ago. Languages change over time (think about how hard it is to read Shakespeare!) including the meaning of words as well. Some translations advertise a certain grade level, so this is helpful in determining whether or not it is appropriate for your child.
- Method of Translation – Is it translated “word-for-word” or “thought-for-thought” (also called “dynamic equivalence”)? We will discuss this more in future articles. In short, the method of translation has a large role in the outcome of the translation. Many children’s translations are “thought-for-thought” translations, seeking to make difficult words easier for younger readers to understand. Does this method take away from the truth of Scripture? At the same time, no translation is truly “word-for-word.” Biblical languages have different sentence structures than English does. Translating a Hebrew passage word for word may not make any sense to an English reader, so even “word-for-word” translations have to make some modifications in word structure to make it understandable to English readers. The question also has to be asked – do “word-for-word” translations adequately translate the original meaning of the text? What if the original writer used a figure of speech in the original language? Does the translation accurately reflect what the original writer wanted to convey?
As you can see, the issues that lie behind translations of the Bible are many and are often very complicated. In subsequent articles, I will try to help us sift through these issues, and make some practical suggestions in how to choose a translation that works well for both you and your child.
Sources for this Article:
Burge, Gary et al. Bible Translations Comparison. Torrence, CA: Rose Publishing, Inc.
Fee, Gordon D. and Strauss, Mark L. How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth. Zondervan, 2007.
Sheeley, Steven M. and Nash, Jr., Robert N. The Bible in English Translation: An Essential Guide. Nashville: Abingdom Press, 1997.