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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Most accurate version

I have just received a question by email from a blog reader who asks:

In your humble opinion which version of the Bible is the most accurate? I currently enjoy the English Standard Version. I enjoy your blog and look forward to sharing it with others.

Thank you
Thank you for your question. It is an appropriate one to ask since accuracy is the most important thing to look for in a Bible version. Many have the same question that you do.

I have been studying English Bible versions for many years. I study them because I love God's Word and I enjoy seeing how different Bible version teams word their translations.

Biblical scholarship has continued to advance through the centuries. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, additional New Testament Greek manuscripts, and better insights into the lexicography (vocabulary study) and syntax of the biblical languages have all improved our understanding of what the original (through the copies available) biblical texts meant. There have been advances in biblical exegesis and literary criticism of the Bible so that we have better tools for getting a more accurate understanding of the biblical text.

This is a wonderful time to be alive and studying God's Word. There are probably more well qualified biblical scholars alive and doing good quality research and publication than at any other time in history. Several of the most recent Bible versions have benefitted from such research.

So, which is the most accurate English Bible version today? I don't think we can answer that question by listing just one single version. The NET Bible may word a some passage(s) more accurately than any other version. The ESV team may have given us the most accurate wording in some other passage(s). The HCSB team focused on accuracy and probably has worded some passages in a way that may be more accurate than wordings in some other versions. The NRSV is highly regarded by many biblical scholars as an accurate version good for serious Bible study. There is an objective accuracy that pervades that version. There could be some passages in the NRSV which some could consider more accurate than wordings in other versions. I have found some of the wordings in the ISV (International Standard Version) to highlight "tenses" of Greek verbs so well, that the ISV may be more accurate in that area, and even others, than some other versions.

The truth is that we probably have the greatest number of accurate English versions available today than at any other time in the history of the English Bible.

I don't think any exhaustive objective (well, as objective as one can be when evaluating accuracy, which can be a subjective enterprise since exegetes often do not agree on the meaning of a passage) study has been made ranking current English versions in terms of accuracy. I did some small studies like this, trying to evaluate accuracy in the main English versions as objectively as I could. The results are posted on my webpage Studies evaluating English Bible versions. Click on the link from the title of the webpage, and then study the files in the Accuracy section. Be aware that I often define accuracy in terms of whether or not the readers of a version can get the accurate meaning from the translation wording. I call this communicative accuracy. Some only define accuracy from the viewpoint of the exegetes and translators. So not everyone will agree with my conclusions in my accuracy studies.

This is starting to get wordy, as many of my posts do, and I have just gotten the breakfast call, so I must end this post. I must, in conclusion, assure you that if you find a Bible version that you like, you will probably also be finding an accurate version, unless your preference is for a paraphrase such as the stimulating, but sometimes inaccurate, paraphrase called The Message.

Feel free to ask any followup questions you need to either by posting them in the comments to this blog (you can sign in an "anonymous" if you do not wish others to know your name or email address) or, again, by email.

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At Wed Jun 22, 08:59:00 AM, Blogger Phil (Col 1:27-28) said...

Wayne this is off topic, but I wanted to thankyou for your help. It has been very helpful and I believe beneficial. Making these templates more personal has been quite a learning experience. So, again thankyou for your help.

And as to the question of which translation is the most accurate, well considering my very limited experience, it usually is the one you that you like the best and believe that the Lord Jesus would have you to use.

How is that for a mostly subjective response? :)

Blessings in Christ Jesus!

At Wed Jun 22, 01:21:00 PM, Blogger Trevor Jenkins said...

I have a problem with the notion of "accuracy"; it isn't accurate to use it of Bible translations. For accuracy to be well-defined there has to be some stanadrd or measure involved. There must be objectivity otherwise to ask "what is the most accurate" is meaningless.

If people have asked me whether a particular translation is accurate or not I ask them in return what they mean by accuracy. They can't answer the question. Occasionally someone will try but their answer can always be paraphrased as "how far from the KJV rendering is it?" Even that can't be assessed in any accurate sense. These questions are subjective with a pretense of objectivity. Even Robert Martin in his critique of the NIV "Accuracy of Translation" succumbs to this fallacy.

Now it is proper to ask questions about the quality of a translation. Perhaps the question we should ask of each translation in isolation from all others is does a reader of the translation obtain the same understanding of the text as those who first read/heard the text would have done.

We should stop using the word "accuracy" unless we are very clear about what we are using as our measure. Iff we can be objective about the translation would accuracy be appropriate


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