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Why So Many Bibles?

Why are there so many Bibles to choose from? I recently preached the importance of having a daily quiet with God and focused part of the sermon on the role of Scripture in that quiet time. Afterwards, I was approached by someone who asked, “Would you help me find a Bible I can understand? I get confused with all the thee’s and thou’s in the one I have.”

Choosing a Bible can be quite a feat because so many choices exist. Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to help you grasp why so many Bibles exist, and to help you choose the right one for you. Today, we will start with choosing a translation.

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek, with some smaller portions in Aramaic. The translators who give us our Bibles in the English language must take these writings and put them into modern English, which is not easy to do. For example, meanings of words change over time and to find a word in modern English that communicates what the author intended can be challenging. Add to this the reality that there is not always a direct English word equivalent to a word in the original language, and you begin to see some of the difficulties involved.

The translators want to produce a Bible that will communicate in a way the reader can understand. They attempt to reach a wide audience, and though that audience may speak the same language, they will vary on what they can grasp. Also, the readers’ goals may vary. One person wants to do an in-depth study that will get them as close to the original, word-for word languages as possible. Another person wants a more readable translation in which they do not have to do a lot of digging in order to find out what the passage means.

Choosing the right translation you will read is foundational. The translation you choose needs to be one to which you are drawn and one that you understand. It also needs to be one that fits the purpose for which you are reading it.

Bible translations tend to fall into a few basic categories. One is a word-for-word translation. In this category, scholars try to translate each word based on how the word was used at the time of its writing. In reality, no translation is exactly word-for-word. A second category is thought-for-thought. The scholars here endeavor to communicate the thought the writers were communicating rather than focusing on individual words. Still another category is what some call “balance,” named because the translator is working to find a balance between word-for-word and though-for-thought. Last, but not least, is the paraphrase category. A paraphrase communicates in modern terms and vocabulary, taking greater liberties in the translation process. A paraphrase often expands on the original language.

When you are choosing what translation you are going to use, keeping the above in mind can be helpful. But how can you know what Bibles are in which category? Introductions found in the front of many Bibles often include this information, but here are some examples:

1. Word-for-word: King James, Authorized Standard, Revised Standard, New American Standard, New King James, New Revised Standard, English Standard

2. Thought-for-thought: New Century Version, Contemporary English Version, New Living Translation

3. Balance: New International Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Today’s New International Version

4. Paraphrase: Good News, The Message

So how do you choose a Bible translation? First, know the purpose for which you will be reading that translation. Next, choose a category of translation that fits your purpose. Finally, go online and look at examples of various translations you are considering and prayerfully discern which one will be the most helpful. Here is a good place to start:

Next week: “How do I choose from the endless choices of Study Bibles?”

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