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"Which Bible Translation is Best?

Which Bible Translation is Best

L. Ray Smith

I am continually asked which Bible Version is the best? My answer is: There is no best. There are good and better, but how does one know just which one is the best? I use many, and I find them all helpful at times.

Many people believe that understanding the Scriptures has to do with having a "perfect translation" of the Scriptures. I try to tell them that there is no such thing as a "perfect" translation. And even if you read Hebrew and Greek fluently, it is still no guarantee that you will understand what you are reading.

Truth be known, millions who believe that the King James, for example, is a perfect inerrant translation have not a clue as to what is involved in translating from one language to another. It may be possible to translate a few specific words almost perfectly from one language to another. But once we get into whole sentences, paragraphs, pages, and whole books (written by different people over a period of many centuries, in ancient languages), the task is almost daunting. When considering the enormity of the task, I believe most translators of most Versions have done a satisfactory job.

That is not to say there aren't problems with all Versions. But thank God there are many copies of the Greek, and some copies of the Hebrew manuscripts which makes it possible to come pretty close to the mind of God in most areas of the Scriptures.

There are four stern warnings in the Scriptures with regards to adding to or taking away from the Word of God:

"For I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall ADD unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.

And if any man shall take away from the WORDS of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Rev. 22:18-19).

"You shall not ADD unto the word which I command you, neither shall you DIMINISH ought from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you" (Deut. 4:2).

"What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not ADD thereto, nor DIMINISH from it" (Deut. 12:32).

"Every word of God is PURE: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him. ADD YOU NOT unto His words, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar" (Prov. 30:5-6). Surely God did not sternly warn against adding to or taking away from His Word, while knowing it would never happen. Of course it has happened. But the immature absolutely refuse to believe it. They argue God is able to preserve His Word without error. And surely He is able, but that does not detract from the fact that men have indeed tampered with the interpretation of and translation of the very words of Scripture. God KNEW that men would add to and take from His Word—hence the warning.

Admittedly, by the translators themselves, a perfect translation is not possible. Surely the teachers are more honest regarding their errors and imperfect knowledge than their students who swear by every word of their imperfections.

Notice these nine remarkable statements from the Translators of The King James Version immediately following the Preface, entitled: THE TRANSLATORS To The Readers (1611 Edition—I will copy it as is, in the archaic English spelling):

"No cause therefore why the word translated should be denied to be the word, or forbidden to be currant, notwithstanding that some IMPERFECTIONS and BLEMISHES may be noted in the setting forth of it"

"For to whom euer was it imputed for a fault (by such as were wise) to goe ouer that which hee had done, as to AMEND IT where saw cause?"

"But the difference that appeareth betweene our Translations, and OUR OFTEN CORRECTING OF THEM, is the thing that wee are specially charged with; let vs see therefore whether they themselves bee without fault this way, (if it be to be counted a fault, TO CORRECT) and whether they bee fit men to throw stones at vs…they that are less sound themselues, ought not to object infirmities to others."

"Some peraduenture would haue no varietie of sences to be set in the margine [as the King James has done from the start; albeit they have in recent times been all removed in many editions] lest the authoritie of the Scriptures for deciding of controuersies by that SHEW OF VNCERTAINTIE [not knowing for sure the proper or best way to translate this or that], should somewhat be shaken."

"Now in such a case, doth not a margine do well to admonish the Reader to seeke further, and NOT TO CONCLUDE OR DOGMATIZE VPON THIS OR THAT PEREMPTORIALY? For as it is a fault of incredulitie, to doubt of these things that are euident: so to determine of such things as the Spirit God hath left (euen in the iudgment of the iudicious) QUESTIONALBLE, can be no lesse then PRESUMPTION."

"Therefore as S.Augustine saith, that VARIETIE [different] of Translations is profitable for the find out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversitie of signification and sense in the margine, where THE TEXT IS NOT SO CLEAR, must needes doe good, yea, is NECESSARY, as we are perswaded."

"An other thing we thinke good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that wee haue not tyed our selues to an VNIFORMITIE OF PHRASING [that is just another way of saying they would not be tied to being CONSISTANT in their translating even though, consistency would be more accurate], or to an identitie of words, as some peraduenture would wish that we had done [I FOR ONE], because they obserue, that some learned men some where, haue beene as exact as they could that way [as though being "as EXACT as they could" is not a virtue]."

"Thus to minse the matter, wee thought to sauour more of CURIOSITIE THEN WISEDOME, and that rather it would breed scorne in the Athiest, then bring profit to the godly Reader." (All CAPS are mine).

I can certainly agree and sympathize with almost everything said by these truthful and candid Translators of the Authorized Version, with one exception. Although they believe that "Variety is the spice of life," I would rather suggest that "Honesty is always the best policy." I certainly prefer a translation that is consistent and meticulously accurate over one that has great variety, and reads smoothly with a poetic and melodious rhythm.

With that said, my personal teaching, preaching, and study Bible is nonetheless, the King James Version. But the primary reason for this is that more people are more familiar with King James than any other Version. Sadly, for many unlearned students of God’s Word, to quote from any Version other than the King James, is to not be quoting Scripture at all. Not to worry, one can learn the Truths of God from ANY translation once God opens one’s mind to the things of the spirit.