What are the types of English translations (literal, interpretation,
literal+interpretion): Holman (HCSB), King James, Contemporary (CEV), Good
News (GNB), God’s Word (GW), The Message (MSG)? We see the MSG translation
as interpretation and the KJV as a literal translation. Is that correct?
(I am Romanian and my wife is Hungarian)
About Bible versions, it is possible to divide translations into three
1. Word-for-word. These translations go from the original directly into
the daughter language, preserving as much as possible the same word order,
even if it results in a somewhat awkward style in the second language.
2. Phrase-for-phrase This type of translation translates the words in
Greek or Hebrew to the daughter language, but it changes word order and
phrases in order to better match the style of writing in the second
language. This type of translation is, debatably, less accurate than
word-for-word, but it is in general more readable. The statement that it
is less accurate is not always true. There are situations in which
phrase-for-phrase translation actually gives a more accurate feel for the
meaning of the original.
3. Paraphrased. This is not really a translation, but an interpretation.
Paraphrased versions fall somewhere between a translation and a
commentary. The greatest effort is given to relating the meaning and
intent of the original, rather than preserving the words of the original.
Paraphrased “translations” have gotten a bad rap, but they definitely have
their place, because even if they are not as literally true to the
original, if they help the reader to more fully understand the meaning of
the text, it is hard to call that a bad thing.
Examples of word-for-word would include the RSV and the NAS.
Phrase-for-phrase would include the NIV and the NKJV. Paraphrase include
the Phillips, the Living and the New Living Bible.
Which is the best to use? There is no single answer to this question. I
would say that it depends on the kind of studying one is doing. If one is
casually reading the Bible while waiting in the dentist’s office, perhaps
a paraphrase is best. If one is reading the Bible to get the general sense
of a book, a paraphrase may be good, or a phrase-for-phrase. For very
careful study of the meaning of words and phrases, word-for-word or
phrase-for-phrase would be preferable.
This discussion does not include mention of the quality of an individual
translation. The recent New Living Bible is so much better than the Living
Bible that it has given new life to paraphrased versions. The Message
Bible is a paraphrase. I have not used this translation, so cannot make a
useful comment about its quality. In general, (although this is not a
rule) paraphrases are more liable to include the bias of the translator.
The Living Bible was relatively biased and not trustworthy. The New Living
Bible is of much better quality. The King James is phrase-for-phrase, not
word-for-word. In its time, it was the best translation, but by today’s
standards it is not a good translation. This is because it was made using
very few Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Even the manuscripts which the KJV
translators had were not nearly as old or as good quality as the ones we
have today. There are a number of significant Greek textual errors which
make it into the King James Version. Besides, many of the words in this
translation use extremely archaic meanings, some of which are very
different today. I definitely do not recommend the King James Version.
Some Bibles are a bit harder to get used to, such as the Jerusalem Bible,
which is a fairly good translation, but which does not have verse markers
done the traditional way and which uses Jehovah for God, even when the
original does not have YHWH. There are many little quirks which may not
affect the quality of the translation, but which may affect how an
individual responds to the translation.
A rule of thumb is that a good student of the Bible will use more than one
translation. I personally am not a great example in this area. I use about
three or four translations, but have used paraphrases very little. I hope
this answer has been helpful to you.
John Oakes, Ph.D.