Next weekend at Riverview, we are launching into the craziest series we have ever attempted.  Our plan (God willing) is to teach one sermon from every book of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  Because there are 66 books in the Bible, it will take us (you guessed it) 66 weeks.  We will take a break for Christmas and Easter, but other than that we are gonna plow straight through.

One of our goals in this crazy series is to demystify parts of the Bible that many of us rarely (or “never”…if I may be so bold) crack open.  We want you to love the Word of God and see all of it as “God-breathed and…useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV)

To that end, I decided to dedicate this week on my blog to talking about an issue I get a fair number of questions about: Bible Translations.  Specifically, [highlight color=”yellow” text_color=”ffffff” background_color=”#98ADAD” background_opacity=”1.00″]why are there so many translations of the Bible and why does Riv use the one(s) we do?[/highlight]

At Riv, we are both doctrinally conservative and culturally fluid, which is just a fancy way of saying we want to present the timeless and unchanging message of the Gospel in a way our culture can hear.  We want the Bible to speak for itself but in a language we can understand.  That’s why I personally study from several translations of the Bible and teach predominantly from one (and I am starting to add another…more on that on Friday).

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There are two primary schools of thought in Bible translation: “Word for Word” and “Thought for Thought” and each has strengths and weaknesses.  Here’s where various translations land:

Graphic courtesy of CSB.

Word for Word

The greatest strength of this method is that each individual word in the Bible is examined in the original Greek and Hebrew (and occasionally Aramaic) for it’s most accurate meaning. Then, the best possible word in English is chosen and placed into the sentence. This approach gives you the most precise and literal meaning of each word.

The greatest weakness is that this method can create cumbersome sentences that are hard to decipher. It also leaves very little room for interpretations of figures of speech and the “normal” use of different words / phrases to the original hearer. It is possible to be incredibly accurate in word usage, but to miss the point because it’s clouded in abnormal idiom.

My favorite Word for Word translation is the English Standard Version (ESV) although I also use the New American Standard (NASB) and  the NET Bible (NET) in my studies.

Thought for Thought

You can basically flip around the strengths and weaknesses of “Word for Word” translations to get the strengths and weaknesses of “Thought for Thought” translations.

These translations take great care to communicate the point or meaning of the original text using contemporary English. While this makes the translation much easier to understand and easier to read, it can create inaccuracy in a few ways. First, when attention isn’t paid to the precise meaning of words, important theological points can be lost. Secondly, it leaves more wiggle room for the translators to write into the text their interpretation of a passage instead of the precise meaning.

My favorite Thought for Thought translation is the New Living Translation (NLT).  I love the cadence of this translation, but sometimes find myself cringing at some of the lost doctrinal clarity.

The Best of Both Worlds

I have found that studying both of these types of translations together (along with the Greek and Hebrew sources from a Bible software like Logos) gives a better understanding of the “normal interpretation” of each passage.  I have also just started to use the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) which is a new translation that tries to land squarely between the “Word for Word” and “Thought for Thought” using a method they call “Optimal Equivalence.”

The rest of the week, I am going to review my four favorite translations (ESV, NLT, NET, and CSB) and share how I use them in personal study and preaching.

Why are there so many translations of the Bible? There's actually a pretty good reason. Click To Tweet