Question from Noah
Greetings. I found your website at https://www.messiah-of-god.com/bible-translations.html through a search engine.
Is there a way I can find help when it comes to verses and Bible translations?
I have an idea of the standards I wish would be in a translation. But sadly I feel it is not possible to have ALL of the BEST readings in ONE Bible. For good or for bad MANY translations have been made over the past 500 years or so in English.
Recently I did a test where I tried to give almost every translation credit for ONE verse. Some readings are more literal and some are not so literal. Yet I can defend my choice for every reading.
Thank you for your time and help.
Hello Noah, Thank you for your question.
The reason why there are so many English translations is because languages are always changing, including English. With English, if you compare the King James Version of 1611 to a modern English version, you can see how English has changed so much in the last 400 years. English was even a lot different only 100 years ago.
The reason why some English translations are more literal, while some are more thought-for-thought, is because the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. Sometimes a literal translation does not make sense in English, because sentence structure is different than it would be in English or because certain ideas just don't make sense in English.
All languages have idioms, which are cultural. An idiom is a phrase that has a figurative meaning different from the literal meaning of the words. For example, if someone said to you they "Let the cat out of the bag." You would know they meant they "told the secret." They did not literally let a cat out of bag. If you are from England and someone said they traveled, "Across the pond," you would know they meant they traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, not a literal pond.
Hebrew and Greek both have idioms too, which do not always make sense to an English speaker when translated literally. Therefore, to give an example, if a Bible verse said, "They let the cat out of the bag" some translations will translate this literal meaning (which could be confusing to many people), whereas some translations recognize that this has a figurative meaning, so they will translate it as "They told the secret."
As another example, do you know what this means: "They think they are the last Coca-Cola in the desert?" You might be able to figure it out, but this is actually an idiom from Mexico. In Spanish, the meaning is "They think they are special." Every culture has their own idioms, which may not necessarily make sense in another language.
If someone came up to you and said, "May I give my life for you." You may be very confused by this statement, but there is actually a tribe that says this all the time...because it simply means "hello" in their language.
Sometimes the literally meaning of a phrase is even the exact opposite of the figurative meaning. In the US, saying something is "bad" might actually mean it is good.
In the Bible, we can see Jesus using an idiom in Luke 14:26.
"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple."
We can know Jesus is using an idiom because Jesus is recorded as making almost the same statement in Matthew 10:37, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me..."
While Jesus is recorded as using the
word hate in Luke 14:26, we can see that his actual meaning differs
from the literal meaning of the words. Jesus is referring to loving
others more than him. To Jesus' audience, they likely would have understood what Jesus was saying. Thankfully, for us over 2000 years later, Matthew recorded Jesus' same statement in a literal form.
We can also know that Jesus does not mean "hate," because if Jesus literally means hate then he is contradicting everything else he has taught. However, Matthew 10:37 above clarifies what Jesus means.
If you look at a verse in 10 different English translations of the Bible, you will find that any verse basically says the same thing across all 10 translations. The only difference is that each translation says it slightly differently, but the meaning will stay the same.
The best way for you to pick a translation is to select one that makes the most sense to you (meaning you can just read it and understand what it says). For more information on selecting a Bible translation that is right for you, visit Bible Translations.
If you would like a recommended translation, I would say the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) or NIV (New International Version) are two of the best translations in order to easily understand what is being said because they are a good balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought.