A Simple Guide to Picking a Bible Translation

1978

1. UNDERSTAND DYNAMIC EQUIVALENCE

What is Dynamic Equivalence? Dynamic equivalence also known as functional equivalence is a modern method of Bible translation. It is the philosophy that when an original part of the scriptures are difficult for a contemporary audience to understand then the translator should render the original text in a way that can be understood by the modern audience. The dynamic or functional method of translation is widely known as thought-for-thought translation. The danger with dynamic equivalence is that it gives the translator the liberty of rendering the text in a way that he or she may think is best. Dynamic equivalence often results in a translator providing personal commentary on a particular portion of text rather than the original meaning.

2. UNDERSTAND FORMAL EQUIVALENCE

What is Formal Equivalence? Formal equivalence is the classic method of Bible translation. Formal equivalence is the literal word-for-word translation of the biblical text. This method is also known as an essentially literal translation. Translators who employ this method are more concerned with capturing the original meaning of the scriptures. Dr. Leland Ryken explains that literal translation leaves very little room for the translator to adopt an “intermediary interpretive process between the reader and the original text.” Simply put, word-for-word translations strive to preserve the original meaning of the text in a modern language.

3. KNOW THE BASIC DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE ALEXANDRIAN AND BYZANTINE TEXT

The Alexandrian and Byzantine texts are the two major text types that underly the New Testament. Alexandrian and Byzantine texts are written in Koine Greek. Textual extant’s that originate from the Byzantine empire are referred to as the Majority Text. They are referred to the majority text because they account for approximately 90 percent of existing Greek texts. The Textus Receptus originates from the Byzantine texts, which underlies the KJV, NKJV, and MEV Bibles. The Alexandrian text-type is the text that was used by the early church in Egypt. The oldest Alexandrian texts are the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus. Most modern translations of the Bible (NIV, NLT, ESV, NET, etc.) come from these two Alexandrian text-type.  

4. HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT TRANSLATION PHILOSOPHY WAS USED?

Most Bible versions will provide a statement outlining what method of translation was employed to translate the text. Here is a sample of the ESV Translation Philosophy:

“The ESV is an “essentially literal” translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on “word-for-word” correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.”

https://www.esv.org/translation/philosophy/

5. A NOTE OF CAUTION

Choosing a Bible translation is critical to one’s spiritual growth. When one first starts reading the Bible they should stick to a literal translation, preferably the KJV. If your pastor uses a different translation, it would be beneficial to use the same translation. It would also be wise to discuss with your pastor there preferred translation of the Bible. As you become more familiar with a literal translation of the Bible, you will become more proficient at noticing interpretive changes, and outright omissions.

If your having trouble picking out a good Bible translation, I recommend this short (32 pages), but insightful booklet by Dr. Leland Ryken.

Daniel Bracamonte is the Founder and Editor of the Apostolic Review. He holds a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies at Regent University and is currently completing an MTS at Regent School of Divinity. He is also the Pastor at Word of Life Apostolic Church in Missoula, MT.