The biblical manuscripts were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek (means common Greek of 2000 years ago).

Hebrew is a language that is about 4000 years old. It died as a spoken language about 350 B.C. It has been revived in Modern Israel but with many changes.

Aramaic is a language that has been dead for many centuries. Translators must depend on ancient secular manuscripts to reveal the grammar and vocabulary of Aramaic. Parts of Daniel and Nehemiah are written in Aramaic.

Koine Greek is 1800 years old. It was the language of the common people when Jesus lived on this earth. Modern Greek is quite different but related.

Hebrew and Greek are rich languages that have an extensive vocabulary and a grammar and syntax that are capable of expressing fine differences in meaning. Sometimes the English language does not express all that the biblical languages expressed.

Moreover, early copies of the Scriptures were written in the ancient style with no space between words, no punctuation, no paragraphs, and with everything written in the equivalent of capital letters. A division by chapters and verses was not added until the Middle Ages.

The translator has to make choices: How is he or she going to move from one language to the other? What will the criteria be?

It needs to be emphasized that God has given us a dependable copy of his Word. Even though there are differences in the underlying manuscripts as well as a different approach to translation, the differences between the reliable translations are few and minor. None of them affects a major doctrine.

1. Types of translations

  1. Literal Translation
    • The translator(s) keeps as close as possible to the exact words and phrasing in the original language.
      • King James Version (1611)
      • New King James
      • Amplified
      • NASB (New American Standard Bible)
      • ESV
  2. Dynamic Equivalent
    • The translator(s) attempts to translate words, idioms, and grammatical constructions of the original language into the precise equivalent in the receptor language. They update the language, grammar, and style.
      • New International Version
      • NET Bible
  3. Paraphrase
    • The translator(s) attempts to translate the “ideas” from one language to another. There is less concern about using the exact words of the original.
      • Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English
      • The Living Bible
      • The Message

2. Samples of Translations

  • Psalm 119:105
    • NIV: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”
    • Living Word: “Your words are a flashlight to light the path ahead of me . . .”
  • 1 Peter 5:14
    • KJV: kiss of charity
    • NKJ: kiss of love
    • NIV: kiss of love
    • Phillips: Give each other a handshake all around as a sign of love.
    • The Message: Give holy embraces all around.
  • Romans 12:1,2
    • KJV: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Note that words in italics do not have a Greek word behind them. The translators have added English words to make the meaning clear.)
    • NIV: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
    • Phillips: “With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves toward the goal of true maturity.”
    • The Message: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

More Sample Translations

3. Which translation should you use for Bible Study?

  1. For reading, basic Bible study, and memorization, use the literal or dynamic equivalent category.
  2. Use several translations for more extensive Bible study.
  3. Note that a paraphrase can be used to stimulate your thinking when other translations become so familiar that they just slide through your mind without making any kind of impression, but a paraphrase is not an adequate study Bible since it strays from the original text.
  4. If you can read another language, then also use a Bible written in that language.

Credit: Much of this page makes use of material from Sheila Evans