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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Bible Translations: Language and Conclusion

The last consideration for your Bible translation is the language. While significantly less important, I believe, than translation philosophy, textual philosophy, or denominational influences, it is still important, as will be evident in my conclusion.

Translations are more or less difficult to read, and this can be estimated using a grade-scale measure. Here are the grade level ratings of some of the most popular Bibles:

KJV: 12
NASB: 11
NAB: 6.6
ESV: 8
NLT: 6.3
The Message: 4.8
CEV: 5.4
Good News: 6
NIV 7.8
NRSV: 10.4
New Jerusalem: 7.4

Perhaps the most surprising to me is the ESV. All of the other word-for-word (formal equivalence) translations are above the 10th grade level, yet the ESV manages to stay at essentially the same reading level as the NIV, which is lauded for its readability.

The KJV has unique challenges because of its seventeenth century language. Examples of them are “sick of the palsy” (Mk 2:3), “thou hast possessed my reins” (Psalm 139:13), “not in chambering and wantonness” (Rom 13:13), “Isaac was sporting with his wife” (Gen 26:8), “by his neesings a light doth shine” (Job 41:18), and “when divers were hardened” (Acts 19:9).

I discount the often heard phrase “I just don’t get the thees and thous”, because we all know they mean “you”. What most don’t know is why they mean “you”. Some think they are references to deity, since the RSV used them that way, and others have no idea. They are there, actually, for clarification! “Thou” is a singular “you” as the subject or predicate nominative of the clause. “Thee” is a singular “you” as a direct or indirect object or similar dative or accusative case. “Ye” is a plural “you” indicating a nominative case, with “you” a plural “you” in the dative or accusative. These are helpful because they show what the “you” refers to in the sentence, whereas in modern English we rely heavily upon word order, which is sometimes deceiving. These are useful for study, but make readability reduced.

So why is readability important? Because if you have difficulty understanding the book, you are less likely to read it! Thus, we come to my conclusion…

The best English Bible translation for you to purchase is…

The one you will use! It does no good to grab a KJV or NASB if it is too difficult for you to understand. It does no good to buy the Good News translation if you will be turned off by the apparent dumbing-down of the language.

Furthermore, it should be appropriate for your intended use. If you have never read the Bible, I would not oppose The Message…but if you intend serious Bible study, you should avoid paraphrases and dynamic equivalents, particularly those with strong theological slants, which disqualify The Message!

If you intend to present Bibles to unbelievers, one that is more readable should be your purchase. However, if you are already a Christian, buy a word-for-word translation, because a Christian WILL read and study their Bible. If you want someone’s theological interpretation, there are a host of resources for you to use to do so. Keep your knowledge of the Scriptures and your understanding of interpretation slightly apart, so that you can gauge the second by the first. “the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” 1 Tim 3:15-17

The Team Hammer top Bible choices? Combining translation philosophy, textual philosophy, denominational/theological influences and readability lead us to:

1) KJV
3) ESV

In all honesty, since I know the ESV and KJV can be purchased for $5 or less, there is no reason not to have both of those.

I hope this series was useful to some of you. If nothing else, I hope it made you think about the Bible you use and consider adding another, different translation to augment your study.

(This series began here)


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