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Which Translation of the Bible is the Best?

Which Version of the Bible is the Best? One question often asked is, "Which version of the Bible is the best?" The answer depends on what "best" means--easy to read or accurate.

If the reader is interested in knowing what the original writers were saying, then the answer is to learn Hebrew and Greek. Now, I really don't expect a flood of readers to sign up for ancient language courses, but the axiom "something is lost in the translation" is literally true, especially of the Bible. Our modern English translations have made valiant attempts to use the best language available to convey the Biblical message; however, in many cases there are no good English equivalents for the original text. For instance, in Greek there are three distinct words for love, each with a different nuance, but there are no direct English equivalents.

Another problem with some translations is the tendency by some translators to "fix" apparent problems of the texts. One of the difficulties is we don't have the original writings, the "autographs," of the Biblical authors. Translators only have copies--literally thousands of copies--of what might have been original texts. The copies that exist were all written by hand, painstakingly copied word by word. However, often the copiest would miss a letter, change a word, or in a number of cases, offer a comment or two. Today it is difficult to tell what original and what has been added or left out, so it is up to the translator to decide what may be "authentic" and what probably is not.

In some cases there are instances where one passage disagrees with other parts of scripture. In a number of versions the translators have either added or left out words that are in the original texts to "fix" the conflict. One example in found in 2 Samuel 21:19. In Hebrew it says that Elhanan kills Goliath the Gittite. However, in the King James Version (KJV) the translators noted the conflict between who killed Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 (David) and this passage (Elhanan), so they added the words "the brother of" Goliath to eliminate the conflict. To credit the KJV, these added words are written in italics so the reader can understand they were added by the translators. However, other versions such as the Living Bible do not mark added words which can cause confusion and conflict.

So, which version is the "best?" The absolute best idea is to use a number of versions side by side when doing Bible study so you can compare what translators have done. When you run into a conflict do not hesitate to call your pastor for assistance (that's part of his/her job). In single versions, however, the Revised Standard Version is generally true to the texts available and offers alternatives in footnotes, though its language is rather formal. The New Revised Standard Version tends to be accurate, though it sometimes sacrifices accuracy in its attempts to be inclusive (for inkstand, to indicate when "man" really indicates "humanity"). The New American Standard Bible is generally acceptable, uses common English and has widespread usage among Southern Baptists. There are of course a number of other fine translations, this list isn't meant to be inclusive, so if yours isn't mentioned check with your pastor for more information.

There are a few specialty Bibles of not as well. One is the Tanakh, the Jewish Publication Society's translation of the Old Testament scriptures. It is accurate to the Jewish heritage and offers insights into both ancient and modern Jewish culture. Another is the New Jerusalem Bible noted for its attempts at combining accuracy with beauty of language.

Today's English Version (also called the Good News) is a very readable and accurate version, though its primary focus is to get the ideas right rather than trying to translate the exact words--which is fine for most of us. Finally, the Contemporary English Version, recently released by the American Bible Society, has been touted as one of the most readable versions as well.

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