Bible Translations


Who ever thought that buying a Bible would be an overwhelming experience? You just go to the store and grab one, right? Well…no. You go to the store and you have to choose between this translation and that translation, between this study Bible and that study Bible. It’s more difficult than it should be.

So if you are looking for a new Bible, which translation should you choose? I thought that if I shared with you about the translation process and the differing methods used, it would help you make a more informed decision.

Some Translation Difficulties
As you know, the sixty-six books of the Bible were not written in English. The original authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote in three languages: Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. With the exception of a few words, the entire New Testament was written in Greek. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but small sections, such as Daniel 2-7, were written in Aramaic. And, to make things even more complicated, there is a Greek version of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint (symbolized LXX).

What we are dealing with today entails the translation of these original texts into other languages, such as English. On a surface level, it sounds like a somewhat simple task as long as someone knows both Greek/Hebrew and English. But, for several reasons, it’s more difficult than you may think. First of all, we do not have any original autographs of the biblical books. What we do have, though, are thousands of copies. But, secondly, what arises when these books are copied are variants (scribal errors). The original Greek documents were written in all capital letters with no spaces in-between words. The original Hebrew documents were written with consonants only, no vowels. Both of these things made it difficult on the scribe to produce perfect copies. Besides making errors, some scribes even added short notes to give later readers clarity.

All this being said, when a translator sits down to work, he/she doesn’t do so with the original/perfect text produced by someone such as Moses or Paul. Instead, they may sit down with twenty differing copies of a certain book. I should mention that the variants only compose a small percentage of the text, but nevertheless, they do present translators with a difficult task.

Another thing that should be mentioned concerning translation difficulties is the evolution of language. Not only were the biblical documents written in other languages, they were also written thousands of years ago. Over that span of time the Greek and Hebrew languages have evolved and changed. So it’s not enough to know modern Greek or Hebrew, you have to know the ancient languages.

There are other issues that could be mentioned, such as differing cultural idioms and the technological advances we have experienced, but the point is clear: there are many difficulties when it comes to translating the Bible.

The Translation Process
Anyone who is bilingual knows that translating a phrase or sentence is challenging, much less an entire letter or book. Why? Because each language has its own rules of grammar. Each language uses a different sentence structure. And, maybe the most difficult part of translating (and the reason we have so many versions of the Bible) is that each word in a given language does not have a one-to-one correspondence in another language. For example, the simple Greek conjunction καί (kai) is usually translated “and,” but can also mean “also/even/but/indeed.” So when a translation is to be produced, a method has to be determined.

Some translators prefer a word-for-word (formal equivalence) method, while others opt for what they call a phrase-for-phrase or thought-for-thought (dynamic equivalence) method. In all reality, most English translations available today combine these two methods. Take for example the explanation in the introduction to the Holman Christian Standard Bible, which uses what is called the “Optimal Equivalence Method”:

“Optimal equivalence starts with an exhaustive analysis of the text at every level (word, phrase, clause, sentence, discourse) in the original language to determine its original meaning and intention (or purpose). Then relying on the latest and best language tools and experts, the nearest corresponding semantic and linguistic equivalents are used to convey as much of the information and intention of the original text with as much clarity and readability as possible. This process assures the maximum transfer of both the words and thoughts contained in the original” (HCSB, Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2004, vii.).

A good example of a thought-for-thought translation is the New International Version (NIV). The translation committee for this project stated that they have “striven for more than a word-for-word translation.” Furthermore, they explain, “Because thought patterns and syntax differ from language to language, faithful communication of the meaning of the writers of the Bible demands frequent modifications in sentence structure and constant regard for the contextual meanings of words” (NIV, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002, xii.).

On the other hand, what is regarded among scholars as the most literal translation of the Bible in the English language is the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The translators of this project worked hard to maintain the Greek and Hebrew sentence structure when bringing the text into English. Yet even they admit that, “When it was felt that the word-for-word literalness was unacceptable to the modern reader, a change was made in the direction of a more current English idiom.” But, “In the instances where this has been done, the more literal rendering has been indicated in the notes” (NASB, Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1995, iii.). This is why it is so important to look at the footnotes.

Whenever you get a chance, look at the introduction or foreword to your Bible, whatever version it may be, and see which method of translation was used. This is also something to pay attention to when purchasing a new Bible.

A Word About Paraphrases
Besides English translations, there are also English paraphrases of the Bible. A couple you have probably heard of are The Message Bible (MSG) and the New Living Translation (NLT). The main goal of a paraphrased Bible is to make it easy to read. Although the publishers of the NLT call it a “translation,” it is, in my estimation, a paraphrase. While they understand that “The goal of any Bible translation is to convey the meaning and content of the ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts as accurately as possible to contemporary readers,” they also admit that their translation is “easy to read and understand” and good for “devotional reading” (NLT, Colorado Springs, CO: Biblica, 2004, A15.). These paraphrases are basically thought-for-thought translations on a grand scale. They are more focused on conveying the original meaning to a contemporary English audience than getting all the grammar correct.

There is nothing wrong with reading a paraphrased Bible, especially if the language in an NASB or KJV Bible is difficult for you. A paraphrase is great to use if you are setting out to read through the Bible in a year. At the same time, you need to be careful when studying a specific verse or word. Because paraphrases are geared toward contemporary understanding, we shouldn’t develop any theological stances from them. But, truth be told, we shouldn’t develop a theology based on an English word from any translation. Theology and doctrine should be derived solely from the original languages and sentence structures. Paraphrases are useful, but I wouldn’t advise teaching or preaching from one.

Translation vs. Interpretation
Because of all the aforementioned challenges and difficulties that come with the translation process, it is almost impossible to translate a text without also interpreting it in some way. What do I mean? On a word-for-word level, since not every Hebrew or Greek word has a perfect English equivalent, translators have to make a choice. What English word or words do I use to convey the meaning of this Hebrew word? A good example is the Hebrew word חֶסֶד (chesed). English Bibles translate it in various ways, including “faithful love” (HCSB), “love” (NIV), “steadfast love” (ESV), “loving kindness” (NASB), “faithful deeds” (NET), and “unfailing love” (NLT). Obviously the general meaning can be determined, but you can still see the number of ways it has been translated. In fact, in the KJV alone this word is translated twelve different ways (!

On a thought-for-thought level the same issue arises. How do I convey this ancient Greek phrase into English and not influence how a reader will understand it? In making these decisions, not only is the Bible translated, but it is also interpreted.

Chapters, Verses, and Subtitles
Even though I think this is pretty common knowledge, I want to take a second to touch on it. The chapter and verse divisions in our English Bibles, or any Bible for that matter, are not original. The biblical authors did not subdivide their work. Chapter and verse divisions were added much later to help congregations find a certain phrase or sentence within a given book.

The subtitles and paragraph divisions that almost all Bibles have are also later additions. In order to save space on their papyri, biblical authors did not put spaces between their words, sentences, or paragraphs. Neither did they use subtitles within their books.

Although the subtitles and chapter divisions in our English Bibles are mostly accurate, they can be misleading at times. Sometimes it is hard to determine whether a certain phrase or sentence should be connected with what comes before it or after it. An example is the paragraph comprised of 2 Peter 1:12-15. Commentators debate whether it concludes vv3-11 or if it introduces vv16-21. When Peter says in v12 that he will always remind his readers “about these things,” do “these things” refer to what he has just said or what he is about to say? Can you see the difficulty?

There are also a few strange situations with chapter divisions. In the HCSB, chapters such as Galatians 4 and 1 John 3 begin in the middle of a paragraph. This suggests that those who added the chapter division felt there was a break in thought, but the newer translators disagreed.

In order to avoid these issues, try to pay minimal attention to these divisions and subtitles and remember that they are not original to the text. If you just can’t ignore them, they do print Bibles with no verse divisions and no subtitles and you might look into purchasing one.

Concluding Thoughts
Let me be clear: I have not written this to discourage you. I don’t want you to go away from this thinking, “Man, is what I’ve been reading even a Bible? Is it even anywhere close to what Paul or King David or any of the other biblical authors wrote?” Though each translation differs from its counterparts in certain ways, and though none are perfect, all have had a great amount of scholarly thought and effort put into them.

Instead, I have written this to inform you. I want you to understand how the Bible you read every day came about. I want you to be amazed that we can read biblical texts that were written so long ago. I want you to have a good working knowledge of Bible translation the next time you go to purchase a new one.

And in the end, no matter which translation of the Bible you use, I pray that every time you read it you are challenged and you are changed!


The Bible and Eating


When I recently told someone I was going to speak on the Bible and eating, they quickly responded, “Will your focus be on fellowship or gluttony?” Both topics are discussed in Scripture, but I assured the person I would not be touching on the gluttony aspect, and that will be the case for this article as well.

Take a second to consider all the times the Bible discusses food and eating. If you do some good brainstorming, you might be surprised how often the topic actually comes up. Think about it…

What did the very first sin involve? Adam and Eve eating fruit from the forbidden tree in the middle of the garden (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6).

What do many of the Old Testament purity laws involve? Which foods a good Jew could and could not eat. They were to eat “clean” animals, but were to refrain from “unclean” ones (Lev. 11:1-23).

What did Daniel and his three friends request after being taken to Babylon? To not be fed the royal food and drink of the king and instead to be given vegetables and water (Daniel 1).

Fast forward to the New Testament…

What does Jesus so often compare the Kingdom of God to in the Gospel of Luke? To a banquet or a feast (Luke 13:28-29; 14:7-24; 15:23-24, 32).

What was one of the last things Jesus did with His disciples before His death? He shared a meal, the Passover supper, with them (Matt. 22:17-30).

After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, what was one of the four things the members of the first church devoted themselves to? The breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), which involved not only the Lord’s Supper but a full meal for everyone in the church.

What were the New Testament authors Peter and Jude worried about in their respective letters? Outsiders (non-believers) eating meals with the local church and disrupting the fellowship and unity of the believers (2 Ptr. 2, see especially vv12-14; Jude, see especially vv12-13).

Finally, how does the book of Revelation describe the end of time when all believers (the church; the bride) will be joined with Christ (the groom)? As a marriage feast (Rev. 19:9), which includes a banquet and a full meal.

So you see, the Bible is full of discussion about food and eating. The question is, why? Why does the Bible have so much to say on this topic?

Of course, there is not just one answer to that question. There are many reasons why the Bible discusses food and in places even commanded people which foods they could and could not eat. But there is one reason in particular that I want to focus on. The Bible, especially the New Testament, says so much about food and eating because it was a huge part of the Roman Empire’s culture.

The background and setting for the entire New Testament is the first century Roman Empire. During this time period, Rome and king Caesar ruled the world. Rome loved to control its citizens, and there were a number of ways they did that. One way they controlled the masses was through the institution of voluntary associations, which, functionally, were supper clubs. Essentially everyone in Rome, from the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor, was part of a voluntary association. But there were divisions. The wealthy joined associations with other wealthy members. The poor did the same. Artisans associated with other artisans. Other craftsmen did the same. This being the case, everyone in Rome had their place and knew their place in society, and it was seldom subject to change.

These associations would gather, either weekly or monthly, to have a meal (called the deipnon) and a time of discussion and/or entertainment (called the symposion). At these banquets, people would form their identity as individuals based on the identity and beliefs of the group as a whole. So in all reality, the identity of the individual was based on that of the group. As these people bonded around the supper table, they became one.

Now what does all of this have to do with the Bible? When Jesus left the apostles behind to begin the New Testament church, and when Paul and others began planting churches all over the Roman Empire, they each took the form of a voluntary association. Church gatherings consisted of a group meal followed by a time of discussion and teaching. During these banquets, which served as the early church’s “worship services,” fellow believers would sit around the table with each other, create a bond, and form an identity. And who was that identity based on? None other than Jesus Christ the resurrected Lord.

Because society as a whole, and especially the church, centered on these meals/banquets, the authors of the New Testament made sure to give food and eating plenty of attention. 2 Peter 2 and the entirety of the letter of Jude focus on the presence of outsiders (non-believers; false teachers) at the meal table with the church. Consider 2 Peter 2:13, “They are blots and blemishes, delighting in their deceptions as they feast with you.” Also consider Jude 12, “These are the ones who are like dangerous reefs at your love feasts.” These authors could not bear to see the Christian identity of these churches and their members compromised by outsiders who were feasting with them at their weekly meetings.

The New Testament gives so much weight to these banquets that it uses them as an analogy for the Kingdom of God. What will it be like at the end of time when believers from all ages and locations are gathered together with their King? According to Jesus, there will be people coming from all over the place to “recline at the table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). According to Revelation, it will be like a “marriage feast” (Rev. 19:9).

When this earth is destroyed and we enjoy life in the new heavens and earth, will we really sit around a table with other believers and enjoy a meal? That I cannot be certain of. But what I am certain of is that this meal concept is a great way to live life now and a great way to describe how it will be for all eternity. Whether we sit around a meal table, a conference table, or a Sunday school table, we should be spending time with brothers and sisters in Christ creating bonds and forming an identity based on Christ. And when we reach eternity, what a joy it will be to worship and fellowship with our Christian family forever.

Is anybody hungry now?

Christian Relationships

For the past few months I have been teaching through the letter of 1 Peter. I have been taking it slow and really delving into the Greek language and syntax, something I call teaching “seminary style.” I believe it has been very rewarding for myself and the church. It just goes to show that when you rush through a chapter or a book there is a lot you might be missing.

What is fascinating about 1 Peter is the way the first two and a half chapters can be outlined (1:3-3:12). After a brief introduction in 1:1-2, Peter goes on in 1:3-12 to explain to his audience how great their salvation is. He assures them that their “new birth into a living hope” (1:3) guarantees them of their salvation, which is “imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading,” and being “kept in heaven” for them (1:4)—no person or thing is ever going to take it away.

But guess what? With great privilege comes great responsibility. Peter goes on in 1:13-3:12 to explain to the believers three different relationships they have as a result of their salvation. First of all, in 1:13-21, they have a relationship with God, their Savior. In 1:15-16 Peter says that believers are to be holy in all their conduct. Why? Because God said so. More than once in Leviticus He said, “Be holy because I am holy.” In light of our salvation, we are to live holy lives in the sight of God.

Along the same lines, 1:17 commands believers to conduct themselves in fear. And all throughout 1 Peter, fear refers to a healthy fear of God. The fear of God is sometimes a confusing subject, which stems from the fact that it covers two extremes. On the one hand, to fear God means to honor Him and respect Him and be in awe of Him. But on the other hand, it does carry the idea of literal fear. Why should we be afraid of God? Because He is our judge (1:17); He is the One who holds our destiny in His hands. That in and of itself will make us honor Him and live in awe of Him, so you can see how the two extremes fit together.

So we see that the privilege of our salvation comes with the responsibility to live a life pleasing to God.

Secondly, in 1:22-2:10, Peter discusses a believer’s relationship with other believers (specifically their local church gathering). The main command is found in 1:22, “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” And if a group of believers truly loves one another, then, as commanded in 2:1, there will be no wickedness, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, or slander among them.

In 2:9a Peter reminds believers of who they are. As a group, as a church, as a local congregation, they are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession.” And then, in 2:9b, with his “so that…” statement, Peter gives us the reason for this. Why, as a group, are we God’s chosen people? “So that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.”

Here we see that the privilege of our salvation comes with the responsibility to love other believers and join them in praising God.

Finally, in 2:11-3:12, Peter addresses believers’ relationships with outsiders, those considered pagans, those who are not believers. He begins in 2:11-12 with an introductory statement commanding believers to “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles (non-believers), so that (purpose statement) in a case where they speak against you as those who do evil, they may, by observing your good works, glorify God in a day of visitation.” In this we see two things: (1) Our conduct needs to be outstanding and God-fearing whether we are among believers or non-believers, and (2) The goal of that conduct toward outsiders is so that they might observe our lifestyle and glorify God as a result (including their salvation.)

From 2:13-3:7, Peter goes on to give three specific examples. The first is a citizen’s relationship with the government. I know lots of people have a difficult time dealing with our current US government. Let me tell you something: It is no worse now than it was for Peter’s audience living in first-century Rome under the authority of Caesar and his client kings. And Peter’s command to believers is to submit to their government, even specifically to Caesar the emperor/king (3:13). Why should believers submit to pagan rulers, whether back then or still today? “For it is God’s will that you, by doing good, silence the ignorance of foolish people” (3:15). As God’s people we are to submit to our governing authorities. The only case in which this command is to be broken is when the government contradicts the word of God. When that becomes the situation, we should say with Peter and the apostles: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

The second example is within the master/slave relationship. The situation Peter has in mind is a believing slave under the authority of an unbelieving master. Peter commands slaves in this situation to submit to their masters (2:18), even if they are mistreated and are suffering. Why? Because by doing this they will be following the example of Christ, who also suffered unjustly (2:21-25.) Also, based on the introductory statement in 2:12 (see above), the intended result is for the master to observe the slaves behavior, understand that it is because of his relationship with Christ, and be converted.

The last example involves the husband/wife marriage relationship. In 3:1 wives are commanded to submit to their husbands. Once again, the situation Peter has in mind is that of a believing wife and an unbelieving husband. Why should a Christian wife submit to her unbelieving husband? Once again Peter has a “so that…” statement: “so that…they may be won over without a message by the way their wives live, when they observe your pure, reverent (God-fearing) lives” (3:1-2). In a similar fashion, husbands (believing husbands, that is), should show their wives “honor” (3:7). Why? Because both husbands and wives are “co-heirs of the grace of life.” Even though the Bible prescribes that the husband is the leader of the marriage and the family, both husband and wife stand on equal ground when it comes to Christ. Both are in need of His grace. They are co-heirs of eternal life.

In 3:8-12 Peter summarizes our relationships with outsiders, commanding us not to repay “evil for evil or insult for insult” (3:9) but to instead, as Jesus said, “Bless those who curse us.” In fact, Peter says that as believers we were “called for this” (3:9). Once again, it all goes back to the fact that no matter how we have been treated, our responsibility is to treat people in a manner that points them to Christ.

In this case, we see that our salvation comes with the responsibility to live our lives in a way that others, especially non-believers, can easily tell that we serve Christ and strive to please Him with every step we take and every word we speak.

When you think about it, that is a pretty good way to look at our relationships as believers. First of all, we have a relationship with our Savior. Because He has graciously saved us, He has expectations of us. We are not saved to sit around, we are saved to serve Him. Secondly, we have relationships with other believers. Fellow believers need to love one another earnestly and treat each other with respect. And finally, we also have relationships with those who are not part of the body of Christ. Our main goal when it comes to them is to see their repentance and salvation.

I know this might be a lot to take in, but take a second to think about it. I’m sure it won’t take you long to identify relationships you have that fit into these categories. And once you identify them, compare the way you handle those relationships with the way the word of God instructs us to. How do they match up? What may need to be changed? May we be challenged and may we be changed by God and His word!

My Favorite New Testament Word

Today I want to tell you about one of, if not my favorite, words in the New Testament. I’ll warn you right from the start, it’s probably not what you think. It’s not one of those big words like propitiation or sanctification. It’s not the name of God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit. It’s not love or mercy or grace or peace. Of course all of those are great words, but my favorite word in the New Testament is only three letters long. In fact, in the original Greek language it is only two letters long! Are you ready for it? One of my favorite words in the New Testament is “but.”

“What do you mean?” you might ask. “How can but be one of your favorite words? It’s just a simple conjunction of contrast.” Yes, that is true, but a lot of times when the New Testament authors use it, it packs a powerful message. Consider Paul’s use of the word “but” in Ephesians 2:1-5, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also. BUT God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved!” (HCSB).

Paul also uses this conjunction in Romans 5:7-8. Talking about how Christ died for the ungodly in v6, he goes on to say, “For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. BUT God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!”

The apostle Peter also makes use of this word in 1 Peter 2:10. In fact, he uses it twice: “Once you were not a people, BUT now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, BUT now you have received mercy.”

Just from these three examples, I’m sure you can see why “but” is one of my favorite words. “But” is used by the New Testament authors to contrast our old lives as sinners with our new lives as saints. We all know that our lives before Christ weren’t pretty, BUT we also know that Jesus changes everything. In Christ we are a new creation, “old things have passed away, and look, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

“But” may be a short and simple word, yet its meaning is huge! It really represents a dividing line in our lives as believers. Each of us have that “BC” part of our life—the time before we knew Christ. Yet for all of us who are believers, we also have that BUT moment. As Paul said in Ephesians 2, we were dead in our trespasses and sins, BUT God made us alive! Now that is something to celebrate!

If you are reading this and you aren’t sure that you have experienced that “but” moment in your life, I would encourage you to talk to someone about that. There is no better feeling than to know that your sins have been forgiven and that eternal life has been guaranteed to you by the Creator of the universe.

And for all of you who can think back to that “but” moment in your life, that moment when you were made alive, that moment when Christ saved you, take a second right now to praise Him for that. In fact, try to praise Him for it everyday. It’s never a bad thing thank God for the “buts” of life. There is an old saying that goes something like this: “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas.” All of our ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ won’t come true, but we know that one in particular did, and we have much more than a merry Christmas to show for it!