Can I Trust My Bible Translation? (Part 3)

Which translation or paraphrase of the Bible do you use most often? Can you trust it? Can you trust that the words you read are accurate to the words and meaning from the original languages of the Bible?

That is the question we are asking in this series of studies and it is an important question. Satan tested Jesus in the wilderness and said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Jesus responded by saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:3-4)

Jesus quoted Moses from Deuteronomy 8:3 –

“So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.”

If God wants us to ‘live’ by His ‘every’ Word, then we must be sure that what we’re calling God’s Word is accurate to the original texts. Much is at stake for us and the people we influence.

Dynamic Equivalence Translations

In the last part of our study , we looked at the history of  Modern English versions of the Bible that are Formal Equivalence translations (word-for-word). We will look at Dynamic Equivalence translations (thought-for-thought) in this part of our series.

Dynamic Equivalence is sometimes called ‘functional equivalence’. Translators attempt to capture the ‘meaning’ of the original language. The New International Version (NIV) is one example of a somewhat recent ‘thought-for-thought’ translation.

New International Version

The idea for the new translation of the Bible began with Howard Long, an engineer from Seattle. He loved the King James Version but found using it to share the Gospel with people difficult because of the difference in English words from the 17th to 20th centuries. That led to a ten-year quest on his part for a new Bible translation. Long’s denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, and the National Association of Evangelicals supported Long’s vision and the process began in 1965.

The New York Bible Society sponsored the project. Scores of scholars from a variety of Christian denominations worked in groups for several years to translate the Bible from the original languages. The New Testament was published in 1973 and the full Bible in 1978. Revisions were published in 1984 and 2011.

“The first concern of the translators has been the accuracy of the translation and its fidelity to the thought of the Biblical writers. They have weighed the significance of the lexical and grammatical details of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. At the same time, they have striven for more than a word-for-word translation. 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 meaning of words.” Preface to the New International Version, 1984

New Living Translation

The New Living Translation began as an effort to revise The Living Bible paraphrase, but evolved into a new English translation from the original languages. The first edition was published in 1996 with revisions in 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2015.

“The translators of the New Living Translation set out to render the message of the original texts of Scripture into clear, contemporary English. As they did so, they kept the concerns of both formal-equivalence and dynamic-equivalence in mind. On the one hand, they translated as simply and literally as possible when that approach yielded an accurate, clear, and natural English text. Many words and phrases were rendered literally and consistently into English, preserving essential literary and rhetorical devices, ancient metaphors, and word choices that give structure to the text and provide echoes of meaning from one passage to the next.

On the other hand, the translators rendered the message more dynamically when the literal rendering was hard to understand, was misleading, or yielded archaic or foreign wording. They clarified difficult metaphors and terms to aid in the reader’s understanding. The translators first struggled with the meaning of the words and phrases in the ancient context; then they rendered the message into clear, natural English. Their goal was to be both faithful to the ancient texts and eminently readable. The result is a translation that is both exegetically accurate and idiomatically powerful.” New Living Translation, Tyndale

Other Bible translations that would be considered Dynamic Equivalence are –

  • Amplified Bible (1965)
  • Confraternity Bible (1969)
  • Good News Bible (1966, 2001)
  • Modern Language Bible (1969)
  • New American Bible (1970)
  • New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (1961)
  • Today’s New International Version (2005)

Optimal Equivalence

Optimal Equivalence is a blending of both Formal Equivalence and Dynamic Equivalence. One example is the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

“The CSB follows a translation philosophy called ‘optimal equivalence.’ The term conveys a commitment to both “formal equivalence” (which recognizes the importance of the form of the original language text—that is, the words used and the grammatical and rhetorical structures) and ‘functional equivalence’ (which recognizes the importance of conveying the original message and intent in natural English readily understood by modern readers).” Christian Standard Bible, Holman Bible Publishers

Comparing Translations

One of the best ways to compare translations is by selecting Scripture portions from the different types. We’ll compare the NKJV (Formal Equivalence) with the NIV (Dynamic Equivalence) and CSB (Optimal Equivalence) to see how each one translates well-known Bible verses.

John 3:16

NKJV – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

NIV – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

CSB – “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Psalm 23:1

NKJV – “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

NIV – “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.”

CSB – “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.”

John 1:1-5

NKJV – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

NIV – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

CSB – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.”

Isaiah 53:1-3

NKJV – “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”

NIV – “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”

CSB – “Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground. He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at him, no appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; he was despised, and we didn’t value him.

Romans 8:37-39

NKJV – “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

NIV – “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

CSB – “No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Revelation 21:1-2

NKJV – “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

NIV – “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”

CSB – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.”

Personal Preference 

My personal preference is to read the Bible from a Formal Equivalence version (e.g. KJV, NKJV, ESV). I like to study from the Hebrew and Greek, then compare the original languages to both Formal and Dynamic versions to see how they read.

Remember that versions like KJV, NKJV, NASB and ESV are ‘word-for-word’ translations. Versions like NIV, CSB, GNB and NLT are ‘thought-for-thought’.

If you would like to learn more about Bible Study methods, please click here.

Next Time

We will look at some of the English Bible paraphrases in the next part of our study

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved..

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