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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Which translation should I use?

Joe, a frequent visitor to this blog, asked in the Comments to the preceding post:
I get asked a lot by laymen about which translation one should use.
What is the best response to this question?
Joe, I'm going to make a post out of this question since it is so frequently asked and it is an important question.

There is no single "best" answer for this question. The answer requires several other questions to be answered first, including:
1. What audience is going to use the translation? New believers? Seasoned Christians familiar with traditional Bible English?
2. What kind of English does this audience prefer in a Bible? More natural English? Bible English?
3. What will the translation be used for? Mostly devotional reading? Serious Bible study?
4. Does your church already use a good Bible version as its pew Bible?
When these questions are answered, one can often help the questioner narrow the options of Bible versions down to one to three which would fit their situation.


At Wed Apr 19, 09:51:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...


I'm glad you made this a post. In my situation the "answers" are:

personal study: NIV (I like it)
family devotions: CEV (Kids understand it)
at church: NASB (Pastor uses it)

At Thu Apr 20, 05:34:00 AM, Blogger Joe said...

Wonderful response! Thank you.

If you don't mind, I would like to include this post in the course I teach called, "How to Study the Bible."

I will give appropriate credit.

At Thu Apr 20, 10:20:00 AM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Ask them, "what do you want to do with the Bible?" If they say something along the lines of "in-depth, detailed, analytical study," then recommend two versions, one such as the NASB, NRSV, or ESV. The other version should be one that moves them along the pathway of taking in larger hunks of text, something like the CEV, NLT2, GW. Encourage them that by using this version and working hard they will get the big picture. Tell them that getting the big picture of (say) Philippians is very, very hard with something like the NASB. But what getting the big picture will do for them is that they will be able to disambiguate the many, many choices the more literal translation gives them. In other words, their interpretive and analytic efforts will tend to produce more accurate results.

If, however, their response is, "I want to read it." Ask them if their intent is to comprehend what they read much the same as if they were reading a good book. Ask them what other books they read. The idea is to get them focused on the desire to comprehend. Then, suggest something like the (T)NIV, CEV, NLT2, GW, etc.

Frankly, what I've found useful is to grab an electronic copy of the NLT2 or NIV and strip out chapter and verse numbers and then paragraph it. The first time I did that was with Ephesians and I was struck with how I started to grasp Paul's overall message.

I haven't had the opportunity to teach a Bible Study course, yet. However, if and when I do I'm going to start with the newspaper. The idea is to get them to understand how they comprehend a printed text first. For example, a person doesn't figure out what a newspaper article says by cutting and pasting together two pieces from two different articles from the same newspaper.

After that I'll move up to something like Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" and work with understanding and summarizing paragraphs.

Once that skill is developed, I'll move to the Bible probably dealing with the range of translations as I pointed out above. The intent here is to get the student to grasp what the interpretive issues are with literal versus dynamic translations.

Also, I might do this with the class: give them an unparagraphed copy of Ephesians from the NLT2 with no chapter or verse numbers. I would ask them to paragraph it (without any crutches and no "cheating"). That would strengthen their skill of comprehending and thinking in (and seeing) paragraph level chunks.

Hope that's helpful.

At Sun Apr 23, 08:06:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

Good ideas, Mike.

I taught a class something like what you're talking about on Philemon. We read the whole letter every Sunday for five weeks and tried to comprehend it as a whole, eventually bringing in linguistic, historical insights as well as tying it to other books like Colossians and Ephesians. I imagine 1st century AD Bible study was really a matter of reading a single letter in detail and then talking about it.


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