The Bible you were given is worn down, it’s time for a new one. Should you just pick one with a great cover? One that is easy to read? The translation your church has always used? Something that is more modern or contemporary? There is a host of questions you could ask yourself. But the most important question you could ask is: What makes a Bible translation trustworthy?
Translating a Bible needs to consider 2 important things
Every translation has to take two things into consideration when getting the job done – culture and consistency. Culture means translators need to be able to understand the original word (what it meant when it was written) and find the culturally relevant word in the language it is being translated into (what it means to us now). That also includes how the sentence is structured. Greek sentences are often back-to-front for us English readers. That makes for hard reading. It’s about keeping it connected to the reader.
Consistency is not allowing culture to dictate so much that we lose the close ties to the original and thus its meaning. Is it consistent with the original text and translation? It’s about not losing the true meaning of the text.
So essentially, it’s a tug of war between these two ideas. Each translation will either lean into one of these or seek to find a happy medium. You need to know which way your Bible translation leans. Or, if one end is culture and the other end is consistency, you want to know where that translation has plotted itself along the line.
Be careful what you wish for
Have you ever tried reading a NKJ – New King James Version? It is pretty tough. Why? Because they have plotted themselves extremely close to the consistencyfactor. This means sentences are hard at times to navigate.
Then you get The Message translation. It is very easy to ready. Plus, it almost speaks the way you and I do in a conversation type style. They have opted to lean in the opposite direction into culture.
And then right in the middle you may find an NIV. The NIV tries to keep the tension between the two and so is always seeking to be culturally accessible, yet as consistent to the original as possible.
Okay, so good to know? But does it matter? Surely, it should be about the translation I wish for?
The caution sign must go up at this point, because the desire first and foremost should be what God wished for me to hear, not how I wish to hear it. This is his word and so every length should be taken as to what he originality intended to say. We should not forsake reliability for the benefit of accessibility. Be careful which translation you wish for, as it may obscure your view of God.
But accessibility should not obscure your understanding either. We need to be able to carry the word of God to our hearts and into our lives.
So, what makes a Bible translation trustworthy?
So, a trustworthy translation is one that seeks to marry the tension between culture and consistency, rather than opt too far in one corner. Or better yet, use two different versions to compare.
I use a NIV which is good tension version, but then I opt for the ESV. The ESV is one step closer to the original to pick up nuances where meaning may be obscured. Your second version should always lean further into the reliability element so that you can prioritise God’s original voice.
We will, pick this idea up later down the line with: HOW A TRANSLATION AFFECTS THE MEANING OF THE BIBLE? Here I will show you how one word, or sentence structure can change what God is really saying.
So, make sure your Bible translation is trustworthy or make sure you compare versions.