What Is the Best Bible Translation?

by Kalinda Rose Stevenson

Almost every time I speak,
after the formal Q&A session is over,
someone will ask me which Bible translation I use.
I frequently shock them when I say
I use 40 different translations.
Most are stunned to discover that
so many different good Bible translations exist.

Dr. Hugh Ross

Does The Bible Really Say That?

If you want to know the most accurate meaning of any part of the Bible, how can you know what is the best bible translation to read?

Questions about Bible Reading

What does the Bible say? Do you read and study the Bible to ask this question about your life decisions? If you do, here are two significant questions for you:

  • Do you read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek?
  • Do you read the Bible only in translations?

Here’s another significant question. How do you know the difference between:

  • What the Bible in Greek and Hebrew says on your topic?
  • What Bible translations say about your topic?

And here’s the most critical question of all:

If you rely on Bible translations to ask what the Bible says about any topic, have you ever pondered the power of Bible translators to influence what you believe the Bible says?

Looking for the Best Bible Translations

It doesn’t matter whether you believe:

  • The Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God
  • The Bible is a worthy guide to your life, full of spiritual guidance and practical wisdom.
  • The Bible is all pious nonsense.

It doesn’t matter what you believe or don’t believe about God, or Jesus, or any theological doctrine. Whatever you believe about the nature of the Bible, the bottom line truth is that the Bible is made up of ancient writings written in ancient languages.

This means that any translation of the Bible in any language is the result of centuries of human actions to write, preserve, and translate ancient documents. If you are reading any part of the Bible written in any language that is not biblical Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic, you are reading a translation of ancient writings.

Here’s the real point. Whatever you believe to be true about the Bible as inspired scripture, any Bible translation is the work of Bible translators.

Why Are There So Many Bible Translations?

There are at least 450 English Bible translations. English Bible translations are only the tip of the iceberg. Full bible translations exist in 518 other languages. In addition, partial Bible translations exist for just about every known language on planet Earth. This makes the Bible the most translated book in the world.

Why are there so many translations of ancient writings that were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek over a span of at least 1000 years, many centuries ago? The short answer is: What the Bible says matters to a lot of people.

If you are reading these words, it seems that what the Bible says — or doesn’t say — matters to you too. Why the Bible matters to you and how the Bible matters to you are as unique as you are. Everyone has reasons why and how the Bible matters or doesn’t matter.

The important point is that almost everyone who reads the Bible reads translations of the Bible in languages other than the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of the writings.

Under  the Influence Of Bible Translators

This means that Bible translators have extraordinary power to influence what you believe the Bible says. Influence is the capacity to produce changes in someone else’s behavior, actions, beliefs, and opinions. The methods of influence range from unintentional to intentional, from gentle hints through compelling force, from covert to overt, from subtle persuasion to deliberate manipulation. Meanwhile, your awareness of the efforts of others to influence you ranges from acutely aware to oblivious.

What has all of this to do with Bible translations? If you can’t read the original languages, you are dependent on translators. This gives Bible translators extraordinary power to influence what you think and believe “the Bible says…” on any topic. Does this mean that Bible translators deliberately intend to manipulate readers? I don’t think so. I think that the vast majority of Bible translators really do intend to get it right.

However, Bible translators — no matter how dedicated or skilled — are finite human beings. All human beings are limited by our experiences, environments, and perceptions, and limited by our own knowledge, beliefs, and intentions.

Lost In Translation

Here’s my fundamental claim: Despite the best intentions of the Bible translators, original meanings can get lost or changed in translation for many reasons, including:

  • Unchallenged assumptions of the translators’ own era.
  • Unchallenged assumptions of the translators’ own theological beliefs.
  • Unchallenged assumptions of the translators’ own life experiences.
  • Lack of understanding of specific realities of the ancient world.
  • Lack of understanding of the meanings of specific words and idioms.
  • Lack of understanding of the intentions of the original writers.
  • Intentional manipulation.

All of these possible reasons mean that fallible human beings are the gatekeepers for what you will read and what you will not read on the pages of your Bible.

Bible Translators As Gatekeepers

Throughout history, gatekeepers controlled access to cities by controlling the city gates. In the late twentieth century, “gatekeepers” took on a metaphorical meaning related to mass media. Media gatekeepers decide what messages will be distributed and what messages will be withheld.

This gatekeepers description is especially relevant for Bible translators. Their mass medium is the most widely printed book in the world. In recent years, their mass medium can also include audio versions of the most widely printed book in the world.

Unlike bestsellers that come and go, some translations of the Bible endure. Consider the lasting effects of the King James Version (KJV), which was first published in 1611. For many of the last four hundred years, the KJV has been considered the authoritative English Bible, often by people who seem to have little understanding that they are reading a translation, not a book that was dictated by God in King James English.

Who Are The Bible Translators?

Unlike most books, whose authors are named on the front cover, most Bible translations are the work of committees. Sometimes the names of translators are included in the publication data in the front of the book. Sometimes only the editors’ names are included. This means that the decisions of Bible translators — small armies of nameless and faceless scholars toiling behind the scenes — imbue the words on the page with the credibility and authority of Holy Scripture.

For those who regard the Bible as “the inerrant and infallible Word of God,” the words of translators become words of God.

The Purpose of Does The Bible Say That? Books and Posts

The purpose of Does The Bible Really Say That? books and posts is to focus on the often unexamined power of translators to be the gatekeepers of what you read in any Bible translation.

My purpose is to carefully examine some of the most familiar bible verses and stories to demonstrate specific instances when Bible translators have mistranslated the Hebrew or Greek manuscript underlying the translations. In the process, they have changed the meaning of the verses or stories in the Hebrew or Greek originals in significant ways.

It’s also reality that Bibles are almost always translated by people of faith. This means that translations can take on the theological biases of their translators to conform to the doctrinal beliefs of particular religious groups. Whether this kind of theological skewing is intentional or unintentional, the result remains the same. The translation imposes a specific theological agenda that is not present in the Greek or Hebrew source documents.

If you ask the question, What is the best Bible translation?, you are asking an impossible question. No Bible translation is best. Every translation is a human effort to take the words of ancient books written in other languages and convey the meaning into another language. Whatever your reasons for reading the Bible, you will gain much insight by reading and comparing other versions of the Bible. 

What are your thoughts about bible translations? Please leave a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

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