Which Bible Translation Is Best?

Which Bible Translation Is Best?

What version of the Bible do you use? Why have you chosen it? Do you use other versions as well?

Just last weekend I was listening to a pastor speak to an ecumenical group and one person asked the pastor which version of the Bible he prefers. He discussed three or four translations he likes and explained why. I appreciated his answer, especially in light of an article I’d just read.¬† It talks about the Bible and all the translations available to us today. The position this author takes is too important not to discuss here at Living in the Word.

Jost Zetzsche is a translation technology consultant, a translator, and an author. He shares in the opening paragraphs of the article about how most sermons these days involve the explanation by a pastor of various words or phrases of a passage of Scripture in their original languages (Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic). We may assume that without that language help we can’t really expect to understand the Scripture on our own, at least not fully. Zetzsche compares it, on a lesser scale, to pre-Reformation times, when common people couldn’t read and also often didn’t speak the only language in which their Bibles were available. They had to rely on their priests for the reading and explanation of the Bible.

Be careful what you assume. What’s Greek to your pastor really may not be so out of reach for you, Zetzsche contends in this radical statement:

As a working translator, I have studied translation for years. And though I would agree that knowing the original languages is key for any other text, when it comes to the Bible, I don’t. In fact, I believe that translations of Scripture are not secondary fill-ins. Rather, they are integral to the ongoing and primary expression of God’s message to us.

Did you get that? He’s saying that rather than feeling our translations today are getting further and further from what God actually said when the Bible was first written, we should see that, actually, our translations today are exactly what God has for us now, in our place and time.

This author/translator goes on to talk about how words are both powerful and fickle. They go only¬† so far in fully expressing any truth. Yet God chose, through his own voice, to speak creation into being. And in Revelation, “every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before God in worship. In Acts, the Holy Spirit allowed those of many languages to understand one another. Language plays a key role in the way God moves among us and communicates with us.

Citing Paul in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile,” and God’s gathering of all peoples as one in Christ, Zetzsche explains that neither is there a difference “in the value of particular languages and how they express the Word of God.”

Any expression in any one language has a range of meaning, something that linguists call a semantic field. … Add to that the constantly changing nature of language and corresponding changes in meaning, the opinions and allegiances of translators to certain theologies and doctrines, and the ongoing research that casts new light on the source text, and you end up with a lot more than one translated version of the Bible for each language, especially in cultures with vibrant faith communities.

And concluding, Zetzsche shares about a fascinating translation gem that occurred in Chinese translations of Scripture. As background, he explains, “Our thinking and imagination are necessarily confined and constrained by our own language and its assumptions. But when we encounter another language–as it confronts and interacts with biblical text–it can expand our understanding of God and our world.” [Emphasis mine.]

We know that God transcends gender, but expressing that absence of gender grammatically in pronouns (he, she) isn’t possible in most languages. Modern Chinese, however, can express God using a third-person singular pronoun similar to “it” while also, in the first part of the Chinese character, signifying something spiritual. After a century of translating the Bible into Chinese, one native translator coined a new “godly” pronoun (a brand new Chinese character) clarifying that God has no gender aside from being God. Though we may not understand Chinese, hearing about this translation breakthrough adds to our own understanding of God.

Every future translation of the Bible, into many and varied languages, “will not add anything to the original words of the Bible. But each of these translations¬† has the potential to mature and increase our understanding of those words and, ultimately, our comprehension of God.”

Here’s my dream as a faithful translator sitting in the pew [says author Jost Zetzsche]: The next time my pastor expounds on the broader meaning of a biblical term, that foreign-sounding word he draws from may well be Quechua or Navajo or Korean or any of the more than 2,000 other possibilities, thus drawing me and my fellow worshipers into the ongoing translation process of God’s Word.”

So, let me ask you again–What version of the Bible do you use? Does Jost Zetzsche’s view influence the way you think about other translations of Scripture and the way you receive God’s Word?

Read the excellent 3-page article by Jost Zetzsche here (http://www NULL.christianitytoday NULL.com/ct/2013/april/knowing-what-bible-really-means NULL.html?utm_source=ctdirect-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=10446663&utm_content=168090027&utm_campaign=2013). All quotes above are taken from the article.

For more encouragement on how to approach the reading of Scripture, see this previous post, Why Do We Read?.

***Thank you, readers and friends, for wading into the nitty-gritty of words and the Word. What a meeting of minds and hearts it is. So grateful for your part in this dialogue!

{The Photo! This wonderful photo is even better with some explanation. Thank you to Flickr/tsmyther for the use of the photo, and for this description: Barcelona, Spain – The Great Doors of the Passion entrance of the Segrada Familia church are covered with words in the two local languages, plus Latin and the Biblical languages – Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Various words are thrust out for effect, and, occasionally, they are highlighted with polished bronze for empahsis.

The concept of words as barrier and entryway is an interesting one. You can cut people (or God) off with various words, erect barriers that last a lifetime with the right words placed properly. They are also the means to entry into the heart of another, telling them of your feelings and expressing your belief.

In the Judeo-Christian faith, words were used by God to create the world. He spoke, and things became. In the Christian Bible, John the Evangelist says, “The Word became flesh, and dwelled for a while with us.” The Word was Christ, and when he ascended to Heaven, he left his word written in our hearts, and, later, written on paper for us to know Him through.}


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