Most people don’t specifically choose their Bibles. They are gifted one when they become a believer. They use their grandmother’s old Bible. They don’t know what to look for, so they just pick one that is pretty. Some adults even still carry around their very first Bibles (often a student Bible) just because they want what is familiar to them.
But, did you know that you can pick the best Bible for you based on something concrete? Something that is measured by more than familiarity or fancy? Based on the quality and accuracy of the translation. And did you know there is a way to discover if the Bible you hold in your hands is a good and accurate translation?
To be honest with you, I didn’t know you could pick a translation of the Bible on anything more than previous preference or recommendations from other believers. I thought you had to be a Bible scholar or a seminary graduate to be able to pick the “best Bible translation.” I also thought you had to know the original Greek and Hebrew (the primary languages of the Bible) to begin to make an educated choice on Bibles.
So, in my early days of walking with Jesus, I just read the Bible that I already had. It was a New International Version (Student Bible). But I quickly switched to a New American Standard Bible because it was the Bible my pastor used and taught from. Back then, I had a hard time listening to the pastor read a different version while I read along with him, using a Bible that had different sentence structure and different wording. (I still have a hard time listening to a different version than the one I am reading)
And then I went to college and discovered that there were a ton of different versions of the Bible. And quickly discovered that not all versions were created equal. In fact, some were not even translations at all. Some of them could more accurately be termed “interpretations.”
I chose to steer clear of these “interpretations” of Scripture in favor of more accurate translations. And I knew the list of the “accurate ones” that I could choose from. So I stuck close to my NASB.
And still I didn’t know, that I (me, personally) could figure out which Bible translation was right for me, without any input from any “experts.” Simply through diligent word study, I could evaluate my Bible and figure out how accurate it is.
Why accuracy matters
You may be wondering why it even matters what translation of the Bible one chooses. Isn’t it good just to be reading the Bible? Isn’t it profitable no matter how I get it in me?
Well, yes…and no.
Scripture tells us a number of things about itself. Things that have been said so much in Christian circles that they have lost much of their meaning.
1. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Note that God says of his Word that it is not only His and not only that it is profitable for us, but that ALL of it is all those things. So every bit of it matters. That’s why studying the whole thing is worth it.
2. Jesus said of the word that not a bit of it, “not the smallest letter (one iota, yodh) or stroke (one projection of a letter, serif) shall pass away from the Law until it is accomplished“(Matthew 5:18). So down to the smallest letters and parts of letters matter. And they have meaning and purpose.
3. David said of God and His Word: “Thou hast magnified Thy word according to all Thy name” (Psalm 138:2). He realized that God Himself said that his Word was on par or as substantive as His name – which is above all names, which is holy, which is forever, eternal. That makes His Word pretty important. And it makes the individual words of His Word important, too.
4. The Psalmist said of the Word of God, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). If you add to this the same metaphor that Jesus uses for the lamp of the body in the Sermon on the Mount, “the lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light (Matthew 6:22), it shows just how important a clear lamp is. The accuracy and clarity of the translation of the Bible you choose is important to accurate and clear understanding of His Word.
So, it matters that the Bible you hold in your hands, that you read for Bible study, that you share with your kids is clear and accurate, down to the littlest details. You will want to pick the BEST Bible you can!
What makes a Bible accurate?
I may have convinced you that it is important that you have an accurate translation of the Bible; but you may be wondering what’s the difference between an accurate translation and anything else?
There are two types of Bible translations: dynamic and formal equivalence. These two processes for translating the Bible into modern-day English highlight different things.
Dynamic translations highlight the overall, intended meaning of the passage. They would like for you to “get the meaning” just as the original hearers of the Word would have “gotten it.” The focus is less on the individual words themselves and more about the big picture. As you may note, this type of translation could vary greatly based on the translator’s interpretation of the text. Modern day popular examples of dynamic translations are The Message, The Living Bible, and, to a lesser extent, The New International Version.
Formal equivalence translations are focused on getting not only the specific meaning of each individual word, but also translating the sentence structure and verbal dynamics of the original languages of the Bible into modern language. These versions would be less susceptible to the translator’s interpretation of a passage, as they are focused on a “just the fact’s ma’am” type of interpretation. But, some of these versions are more accurate than others. Modern day popular examples of formal equivalence translations are the King James Version (original and New), the New American Standard Bible, and the English Standard Version.
As you can see, if you are looking to pick the best Bible – looking for accuracy and clarity, you will want to pick a Bible in the formal equivalence category. When you use and read one of these versions of the Bible, you can be certain that you are getting the specifically God-chosen words of the Scriptures, which He has magnified according to His name. As for the dynamic translations of Scripture – I hear that recycling thing is really catching on (wink).
How to test the accuracy of your Bible
Once you have sorted through the vast array of translations available and have found one that is in the category of accurate Bibles, did you know that you can evaluate the Bible you have chosen for accuracy? You don’t have to rely on those translators (who may or may not be throwing in a little interpretation along the way). You can discover for yourself just how accurate the translation you have is.
And you only need one thing: access to an Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.
When you have access to an Exhaustive Concordance, you can look up any word in the Bible and find out immediately if it was translated clearly and accurately in your modern version. You simply look up the word you are interested in and look at the original word in the original language. If the definition you get is the same as the word in your Bible, the translators have accurately translated that word.
Do you remember in your English teacher telling you not to define a word with a word? Well, in Biblical Word study, it is BEST to define a word with a word. It is what tells you there is no difference between the original language and your modern translation. For example, if you look up the word for firstborn in Hebrews 1:5, you will find that the Greek word for firstborn is “first child” or “firstborn.” The translators did their job well in this case.
As you do simple Biblical Word study (as you read through the Scriptures), you will begin to note if the words you look up (in their original language) match the words you find in your translation. The more they match, the better your translation.
Once you have evaluated the translation of the Bible you are using for devotions and for Bible study, you can be sure you have picked the best Bible. And your use of the exhaustive concordance is a springboard for further Biblical Word study, when you are ready to discover more about the individual words of Scripture. For more information on the resources I use for Biblical word study, check out this article.
What version of the Bible are you currently using? Have you evaluated it according to these standards?