Lost in Translations
Q. Why are there so many translations of the Bible? I know they aren't very different from each other, but there are differences. Are some more right than others?
A. One reason for so many translations: There are just so many different ways to translate the Bible's three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). Some words don't really even have an English equivalent. So, during the translation process, many decisions have to be made about how to state these messages, feelings and thoughts. (Two sample questions we'd have to ask if we were translating: Should we write the Hebrew word hallelujah as hallelujah or as praise God, which is its actual meaning? Should the Greek word baptizo appear in English as baptize or as submerge, which is what it means?)
The second reason for all these translations: Our own language keeps changing. Verily, verily, few thou knowest who speaketh Shakespeare's English today. Forsooth! Most people need a translation that's closer to the way we talk today.
Because there are legitimate choices to be made about how we express the original words of the Bible, we have different translations. Some translations, like the New American Standard Bible, seek to translate each and every word from its original language. Others, like the New Living Bible, translate ideas or phrases into more modern-sounding English. Today's New International Version is a good combination.
Because translation comes down to decisions of word choice—and not really changing the meaning itself—it's usually a safe bet that none are really "more right" than others. In fact, most interpretations come straight from the very ancient manuscripts. So it's not like a new translation is just a rewritten version of an old English translation. Translators always go back to the original languages to start a new version.
To find a version that fits you best, go to a bookstore and thumb through a few. Or, go to biblegateway.com. There, you can see the same verse in several translations.
Because of questions like the ones you've asked, many people want to learn Greek and Hebrew to understand more closely what the Bible means. Maybe your interest in this is God's way of calling you to study those languages.
Marshall, a former pastor, is editor of Leadership Journal, a magazine for pastors.
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Ignite Your Faith magazine.
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