One of the most confusing things for Bible readers today is the sheer abundance of translations. One simply does not know which version to follow. In my own interactions with countless students of Scripture, I am often asked: “If I want to read the most faithful translation of the original manuscripts, which translation should I choose?”

My common answer is that no translation is perfect. It is frankly impossible to fully and perfectly reflect the exact nature of the original text — no matter which translation method was used by the scholar or team of scholars, and no matter how competent they are as translators. Though this may sound disheartening, we must not evaluate translations in terms of perfect vs. imperfect (all translations are, in fact, imperfect), but rather in terms of “less accurate” vs. “more accurate.” This is one of the reasons why you, a serious Bible student, must stop delegating your own responsibility for the study of Hebrew to an elite class of biblical scholars. Instead, you must take responsibility and be a part of the coalition of the willing that examines and double-checks all official translations.

Essentially, there are only two types of English translations available today – the King James Bible and all others. No doubt my previous sentence is bound to create a storm of angry responses for lumping together such diverse translations as the New International Version (NIV) with the New American Standard Bible (NASB) or the New Living Translation (NLT) with the English Standard Version (ESV). Even at the risk of provoking your righteous wrath, I maintain that this categorization of English translations is accurate.  Let me explain.

Whatever the faults of the KJV, there has never been another Bible translation that approached its literary beauty and grandeur. The KJV translation of the Bible is as colorful as the personalities that put it together (you should one day listen to God’s Secretaries: The Makings of the King James Bible by Adam Nicholson). Prof. Robert Alter (interacting with another scholar) has succinctly stated that the King James Bible, “remains the closest approach for English readers to the original – despite its frequent and embarrassing inaccuracies, despite its anachronisms, and despite its insistent substitution of modern English tonalities and rhythms for biblical ones.” I encourage you to read Robert Alter’s own “Hebrew Bible” translation in three volumes, where he attempts uniquely (and to my mind very successfully) to remedy many shortcomings of both the King James Version and other modern translations.

One major improvement is that Alter’s translation does not sacrifice the physicality and concreteness of the original Biblical Hebrew (as all modern translations do) in favor of modern demands for dry informational clarity which essentially obliterate the music behind the text of the Hebrew original.

In retaining those elements of the original Hebrew, his translation makes a tremendous leap forward in revealing the poetry, rhythm, tone, and therefore, the original meaning of the Ancient Hebrew text shared by Christian and Jewish communities for centuries.

We had the privilege of conducting an exclusive interview with Prof. Robert Alter as part of our guest scholar talks series. You can review our Hebrew Bible collection mini-courses here.

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

181 COMMENTS

  1. Well spoken; KJV translators labored (I found while studying Hebrew) to try to reflect grammar of the original. To translate is inevitably to interpret also.
  2. No offence just being simple-communicating like Jesus commands, your seventh sentence, is quite a house of mirrors statement if i've comprehended it correctly.
  3. It is more important to have the guidance of the Holy Ghost than what translation or original language text one reads.
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  4. The KJV for me. I have the NKJV which has footnotes of original versions and Septuagint..I read the Good News Bible concurrent with the NKJV.
  5. The KJV for me. I have the NKJV which has footnotes of original versions and Septuagint..I read the Good News Bible concurrently.
    • The Syriac, a direct of late Syrian Aramaic is a fourth century translation of the Greek New testament Byzantine text,which quotes the Greek septuagiant rather than the original Hebrew text. That is why it often agrees with the septuagiant.
  6. Thank You, Dr. Eli, for maintaining scholarship and integrity, while remaining sensitive to Christ-followers. Each dedicated English translation of Our Creator's revealed Word is an innate treasure despite material limitations. Witness these worthy translations of Yeshua's be-attitudes from his "Sermon on the Mount": "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9, KJV). "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9, NIV). "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9, NASB). "Happy are those who strive for peace--they shall be called the sons of God" (Matthew 5:9, TLB). "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9, ESV). It is important to note that, even though the Greek transliteration of "huioi" is in masculine form, its meaning is akin to the generic term "offspring" rather than as "males only;" and this truth is broadcast in various translations as "sons" or "children." Have a blessed and powerful day!
  7. I've studied Hebrew and Greek many years now. The problem with translation is not usually from words on a page but to the heart!
    • WELL SAID! A friend of mine who spent 14 years in prison for his faith in Romania said, the Bible is black ink on white paper. It’s good to learn the white. He spent three years in solitary spoke six languages from the Jewish background. He wrote the book tortured

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  8. The influence of higher criticism and new methods of textual criticism highly influenced modern processes. Also the flawed notion that newer is better.
    • I applaud your comment, Mr. Hay and am in complete agreement. Many times, these new translations are produced out of a profit motive more than a sincere desire to translate God's Word accurately. I do not refer to the version being offered by Dr. Ely as I have not yet
  9. Bible should be translated into the language of the People. The Tudor English of the KJV is not today's English
    • Of course, John, and no one is advocating against translations into the language of the people. Rather, the article focused on the inherent dangers of Bible translations. Translations are great tools, but every tool has a safety warning on it, because if you use it wrong, the results could be detrimental.

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    • Once I asked myself: in which language does God speak? And I felt that God speaks in the language that I understand.

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