The Best English Bible Translation (3)

Two, sometimes conflicting concerns dominate the translation of Scripture and therefore choosing the best English Bible translation: readability and accuracy.  On the one hand, there is the need for a Bible translation to be understandable, obviously.  On the other, there is a concern for the translation to be as accurate to the original as possible.  Sometimes this difference is described as functional (readable) versus formal (accurate).

Conflicting Ideas

Here’s the problem, these two appear, at times, to be at cross-purposes.  The more readable and understandable a translation is, the more it has been adapted and fitted to the culture into which it’s being translated.  The more adaptation and “fitting” that takes place, the less literal it is.  And the more literal to the original text a translation attempts to be, the more challenging it is to make it readable.

Biblical Principle #1

What’s more, both ideas are actually rooted in biblical principles.  First, regarding readability; God is concerned that people able to understand His word.  God has spoken to man (Heb. 1:1-2) and it is certain that He intends for that communication to be understood.  The message that God wants man to know has to be conveyed in an understandable way.

Jesus said this was God’s intent. “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Matt. 11:25-26).

If Scripture was kept in a language unknown to the reader or even in an archaic or otherwise difficult-to-understand form of a known language, the communication is effectively hindered or even stopped.  What good is it to have a Bible that one cannot read and understand?

Biblical Principle #2

The second principle is concerned for accuracy.  In the process of revealing His will to men and inspiring them to speak and then write that message, God made sure they said and wrote what He actually wanted.  Paul describes this process in 1 Corinthians 2.  God’s Spirit searches the mind of God to know it.  He then takes those spiritual thoughts and combines them with spiritual words and reveals them to selected men.  These words, Paul says, are the ones “we speak.”  The end result being that we have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:6-16).

Notice that Paul says that the process of revelation and inspiration was not one of the writers of Scripture just saying things however they wanted to.  Rather the Spirit so guided and directed them that the very words were inspired (see also 2 Pet. 1:21 and 2 Tim. 3:16).

I believe this speaks directly to the need for accuracy in the translation of Scripture.  What has been gained if a translation achieves very high levels of readability,  yet ends up being only a human interpretation of what God actually said?

Balancing Act

This leads us, then, to the business of translation philosophy.  How does one go about combining these two?  We move on to that in the next post.  Please read on.

Before doing that, do you have any thoughts or observations you want leave in the comments below?  Please be sure and do that.

God bless,

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  1. […] • the translation philosophy and approach–that is, who did the translating and the balance struck between accuracy and readability (to see this post, CLICK HERE), […]

  2. […] Finding the best English translation of the Bible means dealing with a challenging issue: effectively honoring the need for a translation to be accurate as well as understandable.  In case you missed it, the underlying concerns were introduced in the previous post, found HERE. […]

  3. […] Next, we’ll turn out attention to the actual translators and their ideas about how best to translate the Bible (CLICK HERE). […]

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