How do we know which is the most reliable translation of the Bible?
Please tell me how do we determine if a certain translation of the bible is reliable or more reliable than others or the most reliable. Thank you very much.
There are more than a dozen really excellent translations into English out there. You can use any one of these and consider them to be relative reliable. No translation can be perfect. It is literally impossible to create a perfect translation because any one word in Greek or Hebrew, even if you understood its meaning perfectly, does not have an exact equivalent in English or any other language, for that matter. By the very nature of the translation process there is not “best” translation.
Here is my suggestion. For most purposes you can use one translation, such as the RSV NAS TEB, NIV HCSB and many others. If you want to dig deeper and if you are really concerned with accuracy and reliably, what you can do is use three or four of these translations. Most helpful is to have one or two word-for-word translations (such as RSV, NAS) as well as one or two phrase-for-phrase translation (such as the NIV or the New King James). Sometimes the word-for-word is technically more precise, but it is harder to understand, which, bottom line, means it is not the “best.” I would avoid using only paraphrases (such as New Living Bible), although even these can be helpful, as long as you also have a more literal translation in hand as well.
There are a couple of translations out there which you should avoid. The New World Translation is an abomination as it is produced by the Jehovah Witness and is extremely biased. The other translation I suggest you avoid is the King James because its language is very obscure and because it was made for poorer quality Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.
I believe that if you will use the tools available to you, which includes three or four different reliable translations (remember that most of the translations are reliable) as well as a comprehensive concordance to help with more obscure questions, you will do just fine. You do not need to be worried about having a sufficiently reliable Bible.
I am copying and pasting notes on this topic below. It may not all copy and past very well, so I suggest you go to my web site and look in the power point section for the class called something like Inspiration, Inerrancy: Biblical Texts and Biblical Translations.
I hope this gets you started.
Editor’s note: Document attached. Bible Manuscripts and Translations
Inspiration, Inerrancy, Biblical Texts and Bible Translations
A. First Considerations:
1. What is the meaning of inspiration?
2. Exactly what is inspired?
a. Original autographs?
3. Is the Bible inerrant?
1. What is the meaning of inspiration?
2 Peter 1:20-21 moved by the Holy Spirit, men spoke from God.
1 Thess 2:13 Not a human message, but as it truly is, the message of God.
We believe that the entire scripture is inspired by God because the Bible says so, because the evidence supports this conclusion, and, very importantly, by faith in God. Faith includes things unseen. We cannot “prove” that every word of the Bible is inspired. This is accepted both by evidence and by faith.
2. What is inspired?
a. The original autographs, for sure.
b. Is the manuscript copyist inerrant? Clearly not!!!
Q: Why would God trust his inspired word to fallible copyists?
What would be the alternatives?
c. Are translations/versions inspired? Clearly not!!!
Q: Why would God trust his inspired word to non-inspired translators?
What would be the alternative?
4. Doesn’t God’s sovereignty apply to translations? Wouldn’t God see to it that translations are accurate and inspired? If God inspired the early church to correctly choose the NT books, why not inspire the translators?
5. If our translations are not inspired, does that mean we do not have access to the inspired Word of God?
6. Note, even if we knew koine Greek, there would be problems of interpretation. Even knowing koine Greek would not remove the question of interpretation and arguments over doctrines. We know this because there were disagreements in the second and third century.
Even some of those who heard Jesus in the flesh preaching probably did not understand some of the idioms and illustrations Jesus used.
7. If there are errors in the copied manuscripts and if we do not have access to inspired translations (assuming we do not know Greek or Hebrew), what should we do?
What should we put our faith in?
Sometimes we can make a virtue of putting irrational and unreasonable faith in God.
Ex. God will change this light from green to red.
Ex. God will inspire the translators of a particular version.
Ex. God will show me the mate he has in mind for me.
Ex. God will perfectly preserve his Word.
Ex. If the Bible said Jonah swallowed the whale, I would believe that!
For me: My reason tells me and the evidence supports the belief that God influenced and ultimately determined what writings ended up in the canon.
I cannot prove this, but it is a reasonable conclusion, based on evidence and an unexaggerated faith in how God works in general.
3. Is the Bible inerrant? (ie completely without error)
This is a more difficult question than you think.
Are the original autographs inerrant?
The simple answer (by evidence, but by faith as well, of course): Yes!!!
The nuanced answer: What do you mean by inerrant?
Q: Are the speeches by Jesus transcripts?
Might Luke have faithfully reproduced speeches based on a lot of evidence from all the sources he used, and might he have borrowed from written oral traditions which were compiled over the years?
Q: What about the speeches by Abraham or Joseph or Cain? Are these the exact words they spoke, or are they an inspired depiction of what happened?
(God certainly could do this, but the question is whether he did)
Bear in mind, to the Near Eastern and especially to the Jewish mindset, this was not the issue. They did not expect or assume such a Western definition of inerrancy.
Q: What about the order of events. Is every event in every gospel in a precise chronological order? (Jesus clears the temple, for example)
Are you going to base your faith in the inspiration of the Bible on this?
Q: What about the number of years Moses was in Midian? Might it have actually been 39 years and the author rounded it to 40 because of the spiritual significance?
I am not saying this is the case, but we should ask what our faith in the inspiration of the Bible is based on. What are we committed to?
My conclusion: The entire Scripture is theologically and doctrinally inerrant—perfect. It is verbally inspired.
The theological consistency of the Bible holds up with a devastating weight of evidence.
The doctrinal consistency of the Bible holds up fantastically well also.
(But, be careful. John 9:31) This is an inspired passage, but the statement is not correct. Think about that.
Even the inspiration of every single word holds up wonderfully well.
(Galatians 3:16 Paul argues based on the fact that a single word is plural)
Whether it is inerrant in the way a 21st century Western mindset person would define this word is a dubious proposition. I certainly would not base my faith on this.
B. Now, let’s talk about translations.
Translation Comparison Charts
NASB New American Standard Bible (1971; update 1995)
AMP Amplified Bible (1965)
ESV English Standard Version (2001)
RSV Revised Standard Version (1952)
KJV King James Version (1611; significantly revised 1769)
NKJV New King James Version (1982)
HCSB Holman Christian Standard Version (2004)
NRSV New Revised Standard Version (1989)
NAB New American Bible (Catholic, 1970, 1986 (NT), 1991 (Psalms)
NJB New Jerusalem Bible (Catholic, 1986; revision of 1966 Jerusalem Bible) NIV New International Version (1984)
TNIV Today’s New International Version (NT 2001, OT 2005)
NCV New Century Version
NLT1 New Living Translation (1st ed. 1996; 2nd ed. 2004)
NIrV New International reader’s Version
GNT Good News Translation (also Good News Bible)
CEV Contemporary English Version
Living Living Bible (1950). Paraphrase by Ken Taylor. Liberal treatment of ‘blood.’
Message The Message by Eugene Peterson (1991-2000s)
Translation Comparison Chart from Zondervan
Version Reading Level Readability Number of Translators Translation Philosophy
NASB New American Standard Bible (1995) 11.00 Formal style in modern English but more readable than the King James Version. 54 Word-for-word
AMP Amplified NA Expanded and “amplified” by means of a system of brackets and parentheses, which sometimes make for fragmented reading Frances E. Siewert, plus 12 others Word-for-word plus additional amplification of word meanings.
ESV English Standard Version 8.0 Literal style, but more readable than the King James Version 100+ Word-for-word
KJV King James Version 12.00 Difficult to read due to 17th-century English vocabulary and word order 54 Word-for-word
NKJV New King James Version 9.0 Easier word usage, but somewhat choppy because it maintains 17th century sentence structure 119 Authors used the origial KJV as a benchmark, while working to produce an accurate and modern word-for-word translation
HCSB Holman Christian Standard Bible N/A A highly readable, accurate translation written in modern English 90 Balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought
NRSV New Revised Standard Version 10.40 Contemporary, dignified with generic language in reference to humans 30 Attempts a balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought
NAB New American Bible (Roman Catholic) 6.60 A clear and straightforward translation that reads smoothly. Written in basic American English. 55 Word-for-word
NJB New Jerusalem Bible (Roman Catholic) 7.4 A highly readable, accurate translation written in modern English 36 Balance between word translation and meaning
NIV NNew International Version 7.80 an accurate and smooth-reading version in modern English 115 Attempts to balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought
TNIV Today’s New International Version N/A same as NIV 115 Balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought. Deliberate attempt to be gender neutral
NLT New Living Translation 6.3 A readable translation; uses vocabulary and language structures commonly used by the average person 90 Translators were involved in bringing the classic Living Bible from its status as a paraphrase to a thought-for-thought translation of Scripture.
CEV Contemporary English Version 5.40 Clear, simple English that a child can understand, but with a mature style that adults can appreciate 100+ Thought-for-thought
NIrV New International Reader’s Version 2.90 easy to read and understand; uses simple, short words and sentence 11 Balance between word translation and meaning, with an emphasis on meaning where necessary for simplification
GNT Good News Translation, formerly Today’s English Version (TEV) and Good News Bible (GNB) 6.0 Very simple, readable version without jargon. Uses a limited vocabulary. R. Bratcher (NT); Bratcher plus six others (OT) Thought-for-thought
The Message 4.8 An easy-to-read, modern-language paraphrase Eugene H. Peterson Thought-for-thought. Converts the original languages into the tone and the rhythms of modern-day American speech while retaining the idioms and meaning of the original languages.
a. Read the introduction to the translation.
b. How many translators?
c. What denominations were represented?
Examples we probably will not use: New World Translation, Alexander Campbell’s translation.
A general analysis of the different styles of translation.
1. Which is the best translation to use? The answer will depend on what is
a. To do a deep and detailed study in order to do Bible teaching or to deepen our own personal knowledge of the scripture.
b. Reading the scripture to allow an entire section have an impact.
c. Reading scripture in public (what public?)
d. Studying out, defending and explaining a doctrine.
e. Reading for inspiration and to give us faith.
f. Doing a word study, Doing a topical study, etc….
2. No style is right or wrong. Sometimes word-for-word gives a better and more accurate sense. Sometimes phrase-for-phrase. Generally, thought-for thought not as good for deep, detailed study, but if we are simply reading to be encouraged and inspired, it might be better. It can shed light on an obscure meaning in some cases.
On balance, having access to all three can be complimentary.
3. If you really want to be maximally careful, in order to study out a passage or teach a class or etc. You can always use a Greek interlinear, as well as a Greek lexicon and a comprehensive concordance.
None of these is the best kind of translation.
Should we use the NIV exclusively? NO!!!!!!
I have heard the argument: If we all use the NIV it will make it better to listen to sermons and to memorize verses.
Hmmmm……. Maybe if we were all baby Christians, that might make sense.
C. Is the KJV the only authorized/inspired English translation?
Some claim that the KJV is the best translation and that other Bibles are somehow “of the devil.”
These arguments are coming from someone trying to PROVE their conclusion, not from someone trying to discover the answer.
The original KJV translation teams did not claim infallibility or anything like this.
They are loaded with logical fallacies
1. In every case, when the KJV is compared to the NIV, the KJV is the better translation.
Response: This is a completely biased analysis.
KJV Holy Ghost Use of ghost archaic.
Last night: James 3:13 (KJV says conversation) Who [is] a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. NIV Let him it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
Translation Comparison of Selected Passages
KJV NASB ESV NIV NLT2 Message
A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. A man of many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother. Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.
Comments: The KJV follows the Septuagint (Greek OT) rather than the Hebrew text. The meaning of the Hebrew text conveyed by the NASB, ESV, NIV, and more or less the NLT. The Message is completely out in left field. I see no legitimate connection between the concept communicated by the Hebrew text and the text of The Message.
KJV NASB ESV NIV NLT2 Message
Romans 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;
whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–
For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public–to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured.
Comments: KJV is the most literal here. There is disagreement about whether the word paresis means “remission, forgiveness” or “passing over, leaving unpunished.” This explains the difference between the KJV and all cited modern versions. Interesting to see the NIV agree with the KJV against the NASB and ESV’s treatment of the phrase ‘in his blood.’ Original text data missing from The Message: no mention of blood or of God’s self-justification. Confusing terminology: What does it mean to “set the world in the clear with himself?” And what is the “altar of the world?”
2. The KJV contains the whole New Testament and has no deletions (unlike the modern revisionist translations). Matthew 5:18 Not a jot or a tittle
Acts 8:37, 1 John 5:7-8, Luke 17:36, (Acts 15:34) etc….
These are not deletions!
Which is worse: a deletion or an addition (Revelation 22:18)? Clearly, an addition!!!!
This is really a ridiculous charge. If you want to, you can read the “missing” passages in the margins.
3. The KJV is more hard hitting and less compromising about sins.
Response: This might be a legitimate strength of the KJV (although I have not studied this claim out sufficiently to have an opinion)
4. The KJ translation used superior manuscripts to those used by other translations.
They used the Textus Receptus of Erasmus which relied almost exclusively on the Byzantine text (but which also, unfortunately, included Acts 8:37, 1 John 5:7-8)
Manuscript Date Von Soden Classification
(in modern terms)
1eap XII e: family 1; ap: Ia3
1r XII Andreas
2e XII/XIII Kx (Wisse reports Kmix/Kx)
2ap XII Ib1
7p XI/XII O18
Byzantine Text. A minority of the early texts are of the Byzantine Textual school. The earliest (ironically) is Codex Alexandrinus, but this is only Byzantine in the four gospels.
Possibly initiated by Basil or John Crysostoam.
Alexandrine Text. Overall the earliest and generally the most reliable of the families of manuscripts.
Generally the Byzantine text has closer agreement between parallel texts in the gospels. It has evidence of having been “improved.”
Generally less “difficult” readings.
Western Text. (Codex Bezea gospels)
Bottom line, on balance, older HAS to be more accurate. (playing telephone)
Old Testament. In 1611 the state of Hebrew scholarship was very elementary. Very often they did not know the meaning of words. Often they resorted to using the Septuagint.
5. The translators of the NIV included homosexuals and deists who deny the
deity of Jesus Christ.
This is called an ad hominem argument. If you are making an argument one way to do this is to go after the character, not of your opponent’s position, but of the opponent’s character.
Don’t vote for my opponent because he is ugly.
Democrats have the wrong position because they do not take showers.
XXXXX doctrine is not true because Jehovah’s Witness believe it.
This is infantile and does not fit with the Golden Rule. These people should be ashamed of themselves.
This is blatant character assassination. Are they implying that homosexuals are unable to do good translation?
What about the character of the KJV translators?
Consider the translators. They were fairly committed Calvinists and had a theological bias with which I am uncomfortable.
Also, consider the Textus Receptus, which was put together by Erasmus, a Catholic and by fairly late Orthodox church.
1. The entire Old and New Testaments are inspired by God. We know this both by evidence and by faith.
2. The Scripture is verbally inspired and inerrant. We also know this by evidence and faith. However, we ought to be cautious about over-committing ourselves with regard to the meaning of inerrant.
3. We English speakers, technically, do not read the original inspired text, but with sufficient help from scholars we have at least as good an access to understand the original as those living in the first and second centuries.
4. The debate over the “right” English translation is not a useful one. A good student of the scriptures who does not have a deep knowledge of the original languages will use more than one translation, as well as other resources to arrive at a good understanding of the meaning of the text.
5. Those who argue that the King James Version is the only acceptable, inspired translation and that others are demonic are full of bologna (but don’t quote me on that).