31 Aug 2021

How to Study the Bible #12: About Bible Translations

Submitted by John T Reagan
John Wycliffe -- An early English Bible translator.

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.        Revelation 22:18-19

Three of the topics I listed in my last post – the connection between Bible study, worship, spiritual warfare, and the question of why we study the Bible – are related in such a way that I’m finding I need to deal with them all at once.  So, I’m leaving them until last.  I suppose that post might get kind of long, so be prepared.  In the meantime, spend some time pondering those issues.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you His perspective.  In that context, ask yourself why you, personally, study the Bible.  If you feel you can share your thoughts, use the comment section below to add to the discussion.  In the meantime, for this post, we’re going to discuss how to manage and sort through all the different versions/translations of the Bible.  I will discuss the pitfall of Ephod worship in our next post and then finish up with the three connected topics listed above.

Bible Translations

I just turned 65 this summer and I can honestly say that I have walked with the Lord for the entirety of that time.  I’m not boasting here.  The reason I bring it up is that I want you to know that I bring a perspective to this discussion that is based on many years of life experience that has been directed, step-by-step by God.  Not that I haven’t screwed up in my decisions, made bad choices, or sinned, but God was always central to my life.  I can speak those words because He has always been actively involved in keeping me from running in wrong and sinful directions.  I can point to many events/episodes where I would have happily run off into wrong thinking and sinful behavior, but God held me back.  Thus, my life is His work, not mine.  I was raised in a Christian home and my parents, far from perfect themselves, kept Jesus big in my life.  I received Him as Savior when I was six and what a blessing it has been to have been spared the pain, sorrow, and misery most people experience before they receive Christ.  We attended a Bible-believing community church in the small town our farm was near and, through the ministry of that church, I absorbed the truth of the word of God and learned to love it.  That church, when I finished their Sunday School program (probably around eighth grade), presented me with a King James Bible to call my own and it was in my teen years that I first formed the habit of daily Bible reading.  I wore that Bible out, although I still have it packed away somewhere.  It is a precious memory of how God used people who loved me to build into me the knowledge of God.

For the rest of this post I’m going to discuss the different Bible versions I have personally used, give you some recommendations, and warn you against some spurious and dangerous “translations” and practices you need to know about.  (Keep in mind that the words “version” and “translation” are generally used interchangeably.)

As I shared above, my first Bible was the old King James Version (KJV).  I’ve already talked some about the challenges faced by scholars who translate the Bible.  (You can review that discussion in post #10.)  The KJV is a great translation, but, first published in 1611, the language is the version of English spoken during that period.  It was the age of Shakespeare and while I dearly love listening to the language of a Shakespeare play, it is hard to follow.  We just don’t talk that way anymore.  So, for me, a young teenager, my first Bible was hard to read.  Then I was given (by my mother, I think) a paraphrase called The Living Bible (TLB).  A paraphrase is not a translation, but rather a restatement or rewording of the original text in an attempt to make it more understandable.  The TLB took the words of the KJV and put them into more modern language that was easier for teenager me to understand.  It was really helpful to me, but, while making those changes, the man doing that work unavoidably inserted some of his own interpretation into the language he was modifying.  That’s just the way it works with paraphrases.  Still, for all practical purposes, it wasn’t a serious flaw when it came to the spiritual growth of the developing teenager I had grown into.  As I grew in the Lord, however, it became more apparent that I needed to be using a true translation.  I don’t really remember how it all came about, but I ended up using The New American Standard (NASB) version of the Bible for my daily Bible study.  I used the NASB through my college years and into my first years of marriage and then, moved over to using The New King James Version (NKJV).  I used that Bible for many years and didn’t change until my oldest son (the Bible college student) gave me a copy of The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).  I like that translation, even though it has some serious flaws, and still use it today.  If you are looking for a good version to use I recommend you start with the NKJV.

There are two features of a Bible translation that we all have to consider.  First, is it accurate?  Did the translators make every effort to use wording that correctly conveys, in English, the meaning of the original Hebrew or Greek?  Did they set aside their own pet theology and doctrines and focus on the original meaning and intent of the text?  Second, is the language easy for you, the modern English speaker, to read and understand?  The second question is easy to test – just start reading and see if you like it.  The first question usually requires some help.  If you are considering choosing a particular translation to serve as your primary Bible, ask your spiritual mentor about it.  If you are attending a Bible-believing church, then your pastor is probably that person and has the background to analyze the methods and philosophy the translators used to guide them in their work.  An elder in your church may also be able to speak knowledgeably to your questions.  Most translations also include a section, usually in the front before the Bible text begins, that lays out the methods and philosophy they used.  Reading that foreword will be helpful.  If you are new to faith in Christ, then probably the best way to make a good choice is to use whatever version of the Bible your pastor preaches from the most and uses for his own daily Bible study.

A Word of Warning

There are some things I have to caution you about, however.  In every age there have been people who dislike parts of what the Bible teaches and so set about to change it.  The easiest of those false translations to avoid are those distributed by religious cults.  For instance, the Jehovah’s Witness organization has its own version, called the New World Translation of the Holy Bible, that they have edited to support their false beliefs.  Stay away from it.  The Mormons also have a version that their founder, Joseph Smith, supposedly created for them.  It also has been edited to support the false teachings of their religious organization.  Again, stay away from it.  

Staying away from cultic distortions of the Bible is the easy part.  Our big challenge comes when people from within the Christian community itself try to do the same thing simply because they object to some teaching of the Bible or don’t like the way it is worded.  They fail to abide by our fourth foundational principle for Bible study: 

Principle 4

When the teachings of the Bible conflict with our common culture, the Bible wins, and it is the Bible’s teachings that we must base our lives on.

Remember that Christianity, the faith you have chosen, always conflicts with the common culture.  Every human culture reflects mankind’s sinfulness, rather than God’s righteousness.  Those of us who have met Christ and invited Him into our lives have “died to sin” (Romans 6:2).  We don’t live according to the norms of our common culture.  Instead, we live by the word of God and the Spirit of God.  Today, when it comes to translations of the Bible, the biggest conflict between the common culture and Christianity is seen in the insistence by the culture around us that we be “politically correct” and careful to only use “inclusive language” when we talk or write.  This conflict has resulted in many who call themselves Christian seeking to compromise with the world's demands by falsely forcing inclusive language into the Bible text.  They do this even when it is quite clear that the original language in which the scripture was written is not inclusive at all.  Multiple “translations” that distort the word of God in this fashion have been published.  One, in particular, to stay away from is Today’s New International Version (TNIV).  The publisher, Zondervan Press, also has published other versions that have the word “inclusive” in their title.  Stay away from them.  Below, I have inserted links to a couple of articles that do a better job of discussing this issue than I can.

World Magazine, Changing God’s Words      

Creation.com, The ‘gender neutral’ Bible:  Emasculating Scripture for political correctness     

Final Thoughts

There are thousands of languages in the world.  God designed it that way.  You can read the story of how He created multiple languages in Genesis 11:1-9.  We English speakers are blessed with multiple (hundreds?) of versions that translate the original Hebrew and Greek into our heart language.  Imagine what it would be like if you spoke a language for which there was no translation of the Bible.  You would have to learn either English or Spanish or some other language for which a translation existed and then, somehow, understand the Bible.  It would be difficult at best for the well-educated person, impossible for most.  There is a missionary organization, Wycliffe Bible Translators, that specializes in translating the Bible into the mother tongues, the heart languages, of people in other lands who have never heard the message of the Gospel.  Think of it – 1.5 billion people don’t have the full Bible in their heart language and 167 million people don’t have any scripture at all in the language of their daily speech.  Consider how blessed we are as American English speakers!

Here is a link telling the story of how the Keliko people in Africa finally received the New Testament in their own language:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIHB4sVJ2cs&t=582s

Here is a link to the Wycliffe organization:  https://www.wycliffe.org/

Be blessed today, lover of Christ!

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