Understanding & Choosing a Translation

Three Approaches to Bible Translation

Formal Equivalence: Seeks first and foremost to preserve the original words and grammar.

Functional Equivalence: Seeks first and foremost to preserve the meaning of the original words by using their closest English equivalent.

Free Translation (also called “paraphrase”): Seeks to preserve the original idea with little concern for original words. These often function more like commentaries than Biblical texts.

Choosing & Using a Translation

It is best to mainly use one translation – this aids memory and adds consistency. Translations using functional equivalence are most recomended.

When doing a study, compare 2-4 translations. You gather a feel for the original text and its translation difficulties by comparing how each translation engaged it.

Use Bible Gateway to compare various translations side by side.

Translation Survey

NIV – most commonly used evangelical translation; it has solidly balanced the tension of translating the words and ideas.  

TNIV – gender inclusive version of the NIV

NAB – committee of the best scholarship in American Catholic tradition

NASB – many believe it to be most accurate.  Primary translation for most seminaries

NRSV – good formal equivalence without going overboard; this is Fee’s top recommendation for a formal equivalent translation; translation is gender inclusive

ESV – Like the NRSV, this translation worked of the RSV to make a version closer to functional equivalence.

NASU – very literal, almost to the point of being wooden.  Could not find it online. 

KJV – most focused on formal equivalence; use of poor manuscripts diminishes its value

GNB – Solo translator work.  Some criticize it for the translator’s weak inerrancy views.

NJB – French origins; does not favor masculine translation yet is not as gender inclusive at NRSV and TNIV; leaves loaded Jewish terms un-translated (for example “Yahweh” instead of “Lord,” “Sabaoth” instead of “hosts”), most comonly used among English speaking non-American Catholics.  Could not find online. 

NLT – quality free translation of the LT which exercised too many freedoms

REB – British scholarship committee’s work – some idioms use will be unfamiliar to North American readers.  Could not find online. 

The Message – primarily a single translator’s work.  Took extreme freedoms in translating the idea.


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