Bible Translations

I want to take a few minutes to talk about various translations of the Bible. There certainly seem to be a lot of them available. I have looked at a number of them and some of them are just plain scary.  On the other hand there are quite a few that I like; and by saying that I am saying that there are easy to read as well as being accurate and true to the original text. These are the two primary factors that I think a person should consider when looking for a study Bible.

Easy to read

We have all heard about the King James Version originally authorized by King James of England and printed in 1611 (400 years ago). Talk about not being easy to read! I’m not talking about the King James Version that many use today because that is not the King James Version of 1611! I doubt that 10 out of 100 Americans could read the original. Here’s an example:

11 Uerely, verely I say vnto thee, We speake that we doe know, and testifie that wee haue seene; and yee receiue not our witnesse.

12 If I haue tolde you earthly things, and ye beleeue not: how shall ye beleeue if I tell you of heauenly things?

13 And no man hath ascended vp to heauen, but hee that came downe from heauen, euen the Sonne of man which is in heauen.

Any guess where this is from? If you have been a believer for a while (like maybe a year or even less) you should recognize the verses. Here’s another one:

16¶ For God so loued þe world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life.

This one you might get simple because it’s so well known. The King James Version used the language of 1611 and of course in 2011 we no longer speak or write that way.

To the left here you will see a picture from a printed version of the original King James Version. You might recognize is it as Genesis 1:1-3.

I’m not particularly trying to cut down the King James Version. I use it a lot in speaking and preaching because I can explain what is being said. It is a beautifully worded Bible and many people are used to that language as being the Bible. I like the King James Version. Of course I use the “revised version” that we are all used to seeing. The one where Paul said “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:”(1 Corinthians 10:25)

What? What is that? I looked up the word shambles:

Shambles: (definition from the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary 2011)

1. a dirty or messy place <this room is a shambles—clean it up right now!>

Related Words chaos, confusion, disarrangement, disarray, disorder, disorganization, mess, muddle, muss; havoc, hell, mare’s nest, snake pit; clutter, jumble, litter, mishmash, welter

2. a state in which everything is out of order <the earthquake left the whole town in a shambles>

Synonyms chance-medley, confusion, disarrangement, disarray, dishevelment, disorder, disorderedness, disorderliness, disorganization, free-for-all, havoc, heck, hell, jumble, mare’s nest, mess, messiness, misorder, muddle, muss, shambles, snake pit, tumble, welter

I had to go to an unabridged version of the same dictionary to find the archaic version of shambles.

Unabridged Definition of SHAMBLES

1 archaic : a meat market

2 : slaughterhouse

3 a : a place of mass slaughter or bloodshed <the battlefield became a shambles> b : a scene or a state of great destruction : wreckage <the city was a shambles after the bombing> c (1) : a scene or a state of great disorder or confusion <an economy in shambles> (2) : great confusion : mess

Origin of SHAMBLES

Middle English shameles, plural of schamel vendor’s table, footstool, from Old English sceamol stool, from Latin scamillum, diminutive of scamnum stool, bench; perhaps akin to Sanskrit skambha pillar

First Known Use: 15th century

In fact, as Paul uses the word it is referring to the meat market that was attached to a pagan temple. This is made known from the context of the verse, but first you would need to know what shambles means.

There are a number of other examples of the English language having evolved over the centuries that I won’t go into. This makes the point.

The Bible was written for us to read and understand. Paul wrote to Timothy that “Every Scripture passage is inspired by God. All of them are useful for teaching, pointing out errors, correcting people, and training them for a life that has God’s approval. They equip God’s servants so that they are completely prepared to do good things. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 GW)

If we are trying to study the Word and can’t understand what is written how can we benefit from that study? The believers in the city of Berea were commended for searching the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true. They hungered to understand and to grow in their faith. We need to so the same today.

Accuracy when compared to the original text

Matthew, John, Paul and the others did not write in English. The English language was not in existence in the first century. Jesus did not preach in English. So it is understood that the Bible has been translated – many times. The New Testament was written in street or Koine Greek. This was the Greek language commonly spoken and written in eastern Mediterranean countries in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. It was the language of the market place. The Bible writers knew Hebrew, Aramaic, Koine Greek and maybe some of them even knew Latin, but they chose the common language so that their message would be understood by everyone. So we have to translate this into our language. That is what James did in the 1600’s. He used the Latin translation and Greek texts for the King James Version. And it’s fairly accurate.

There are some modern versions that are not so accurate. One in particular, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT), while touted as a translation is really more of a group’s interpretation. One example from this version will suffice. In the gospel of John most translations read “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) the NWT says “…and the word was a god” with the lower case. They did this to support their claim that Jesus was nothing more than the first of the created arch-angels.

We must be very careful in selecting a Bible translation. Look to see who was on the translation committee, why did they begin the project, what texts did they use and a number of other factors. The modern translations have access to the most recently discovered texts, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. We also have benefited from modern archeology and the discovery of and understanding of the ancient cultures.

The easiest way to find a good translation is to the talk to people you trust. Your pastor, Sunday School teacher and other Bible study leaders should be happy to help you.

What translation is best? I’m not even going to begin to answer that. I like a number of them.  The English Standard Version (ESV), God’s Word for the Nations (GW), The New American Standard Bible (NASB) and The New Living Translation (NLT) are just a few of the ones I use for study.  When I just sit down to read, as opposed to study, I often use Eugene Peterson’s The Message.  This is not a translation, but a paraphrase, so you need to be careful, but it puts the word in common language, just like it was originally meant to be read.

Of course, whatever translation you choose, it will not help one bit if you don’t read and study. There’s an old country gospel song called “Dust On The Bible” that talks about how deplorable it to have a Bible and never read it. How true.

© 2011, 2021 Tim Lehmann. All rights reserved.

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