We find many articles on Bible translation express a similar idea: go to a bookstore and read various translations and pick one you like. In other words, they’re all roughly equivalent, and choosing one over the other becomes personal preference.
Unfortunately that’s wrong as major differences exist, thus we need a method to find those differences, and select a translation best expressing the original author’s words.
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1. Find the Translator’s Methods
Normally at the front of your Bible the translators include a preface. Read it and you’ll find the background of the translators, how and why they performed the translation, their statement of faith, and so on.
Hidden in those notes becomes the first issue: which text the translators used, as two distinct lines exist:
- Textus Receptus
- Westcott-Hort, UBS, and Nestle-Aland.
Generally, the Textus Receptus proves superior to the others, for reasons why see our article on Bible Translation.
2. Check for Missing or Changed Verses
It might surprise you to learn some translations delete verses, or remove words which change the meaning of passages.
- (Matthew 18:11 NKJV) For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.
- (Matthew 18:11 KJV) For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
- (Matthew 18:11 NIV) deleted
Also Revelation 11:17:
- (Revelation 11:17 NKJV) saying: We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.
- (Revelation 11:17 KJV) Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.
- (Revelation 11:17 NIV) saying: We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign
Also note Matthew 25:13 (where a deletion turns the verse into nonsense), Mark 2:17 and Acts 8:37.
Westcott-Hort’s textual base deletes many verses; some of the modern translations follow it closely (NIV), while others less (NASB). Examining these verses reveals how much human editing the translators feel God’s Word needed in the name of “scholarship”.
3. Determine if it’s Literal or Paraphrase
All translations paraphrase to some extent, but some take a greater license than others; 2 Timothy 2:15 provides clues to how literally the translator viewed their job.
- KJV — Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
- NIV — Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth
“Rightly divide” translates the Greek orthotomeo — similar to a math term orthogonal meaning a right angle, carrying the meaning of precision and accuracy. In this case “correctly handles” isn’t too bad, but it’s not as precise.
Instead of “Study” the NIV uses “Do your best” which changes the meaning and waters down the devotion as study implies dedication, while just doing your best can mean a lot less.
This one verse reveals volumes about how the translator views their job. Is it to make a “user friendly” translation, or to accurately and literally translate? Keep in mind a paraphrase isn’t always bad, but you do need to know when the translator attempted to paraphrase.
Use these three steps to become familiar with how and why the translators performed their task, and instead of “choosing what you like” you’ll be on your way to understanding how and why various translations came to be, and the bias of the translators. For a more through study on the subject, have a look at our article on Bible Translation and find out why the KJV remains the best Bible.
We recommended using either the KJV or NKJV for primary study, but keep a New Living Translation handy for when a paraphrase might be helpful.