In translating the Bible into English, three general categories of translation are most common. Word for word translations, thought for thought translations, and paraphrases. The same three options are also used in the translation of other ancient books into English.
Word for word translations make a special effort to carefully interpret each word from their original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic into English. Word for word translations tend to be the best for studying because of their accuracy, though they sometimes lose the poetic nuances of the original languages. Probably the best word for word translations are the New American Standard Bible (NASB), English Standard Version (ESV), and the New King James Version (NKJV). The King James Version (KJV) is also a word for word translation but because of its’ use of old English it is very difficult for some people to read.
Thought for thought translations attempt to convey the full nuances of a passage by interpreting the scriptures entire meaning and not just the individual words. Thought for thought translations may include words that were not included in the originals in an effort to give the same meaning that the reader of the original languages would have had. The best and most widely read thought for thought English translation is the New International Version (NIV).
Paraphrased translations pay even less attention to specific word meanings than thought for thought translations in an attempt to give the poetic or narrative essence of a passage. For this reason, many paraphrased translations do not even have verses in them. Examples of paraphrased translations include The Message, The New Living Bible, and The Amplified Bible.
Some translations are very poor and we would not recommend that they be used as credible translations for study. These include the Jehovah’s Witness translation called the New World Translation, which was written by editors with no working knowledge of the original languages. We would also not recommend current politically correct attempts to remove the masculine names for God in Bibles like the New Revised Standard Version.
Since each style of translation has different strengths and weaknesses it is best for students of the Bible to use multiple translations that include word for word, thought for thought, and paraphrase versions to gain a fuller insight into the Scriptures. Generally, it is best to use the ESV or NIV as your primary study Bible as these are the most common modern day translations.
While purchasing a study Bible can be quite expensive, it is imperative that every serious student of the Bible invest some money purchasing at least one nice Bible with some helps and room for their notes. There are several good study Bibles available on the market, which can provide good materials to help the reader understand the text of Scripture on a deeper level. We recommend the new ESV Study Bible, which is a new resource, but it has tremendous notes in the text and some incredible articles about the theology and major teachings in the Bible.
At Genesis, we use the ESV or English Standard Bible for our study on Sunday mornings, and in any printed material we will publish. We also use other translations from time to time in teaching in order to share other nuances a text might contain.
Material in this blog comes from the Genesis Gospel Class. Some material taken from the Mars Hill Gospel Class, Mars Hill Church, Seattle, WA.