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Bible Versions: What is the Best Bible Translation? by David Malcolm Bennett

As part of my journey I also worked in the Bible Society Bookshop in Brisbane, Australia, for over twelve years. This exposed me to a host of different Bible translations and a wonderful variety of customers with all sorts of views on the subject.

The King James-Only Debate

Many people brought up on the KJV have been happy to let it go, as I did. That does not necessarily mean that any of them respect it less. The primarily reason for letting the KJV go is that language has changed so dramatically in the past four hundred years that in many places it is very hard to understand and, worse, easy to misunderstand. Many of us have therefore adopted more recent translations, written in modern English.

“Suddenly, the words seemed to leap from that page and I understood very well what they meant about sin, salvation and the Lord of that salvation. Suddenly, I found the Bible exciting and challenging.”

However, there are many others who refuse to let the KJV go. To most of these people the KJV is the only translation. I have dealt with the King James-Only debate in the earlier article that appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of The Pneuma Review, and those wishing to follow this matter are referred to that. This article will deal with translations that have appeared since the Second World War.

Different Methods of Translation

As necessary background to the various versions, we first need to examine the different methods of translation. There are two main approaches to translating the Bible: “formal equivalence” and “dynamic equivalence”, though these are not generally used exclusively. In its most extreme form the formal method translates very literally, attempting to translate each word accurately. The dynamic method does pay attention to the individual words but is more interested in the question what is this sentence or passage saying? It is more concerned with the translation of a whole portion, than it is about individual words. This means that the formal approach tends to give a generally literal, sometimes rather wooden, translation, while the dynamic method results in a less literal, though livelier version.

In reality no major English translation is totally formal or literal in its approach. Much of it would be unreadable if it was. Probably the New American Standard (NASB) is the most literal of the popular versions. Nor are any genuine translations totally dynamic. The Good News Bible (GNB) and the Contemporary English Version (CEV) are the best examples of the dynamic approach. Paraphrases such as the Living Bible and The Message are more extremely dynamic, and, frankly, are only to be used with great caution.

Translators generally use a mixture of the formal and dynamic methods. They note the specific words and try to understand them individually, but words appear in sentences, in contexts, and must be understood by the words, sentences and ideas that surround them. Sometimes a literal approach does not translate into good English, so a more dynamic approach is called for. Some translators lean towards one method, while others lean towards the other. Translators may favor the method that they consider best for a particular verse or passage.2

What is the Best Bible Translation?

Is there a “Best Bible Translation” in English? Well, yes, I am sure there is, but I suspect that the only one who knows its identity is God Himself. Fortunately, there are a number of quality English translations, for which we should be grateful. One of these may be best for one person, while a different version may be better for someone else.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Spring 2013

About the Author: David Malcolm Bennett, Ph.D., is an Anglo-Australian Christian researcher and writer with over 15 books in print. They include The Altar Call: Its Origins and Present Usage, The Sinner’s Prayer: Its Origins and Dangers (companion website: SinnersPrayerBook.com), The Origins of Left Behind Eschatology, Edward Irving Reconsidered: The Man, His Controversies, and the Pentecostal Movement, and The General: William Booth. He is also the transcriber, editor and publisher of The Letters of William and Catherine Booth and The Diary and Reminiscences of Catherine Booth.

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