IT’S THE QUESTION OF THE WEEK.
It comes from Tommy Hartman, who wins a free book for bothering to ask.
Here’s his question:
The number 1 question I get all the time from people who question my beliefs is the one I can’t answer. It’s this: “With the many different translations of the Bible, how do you know what you are reading in say an NIV or ESV Bible is true to the original words and not completely taken out of context and mean something totally different?” I usually answer by just saying “faith” but it’s tough to try and explain it.
Tommy, here’s hoping you never have to answer that question again by saying, “Faith.”
There are answers less helpful than that, but they involve cussing and hand gestures.
I read a survey a couple years ago that said 61% of Bible readers prefer a “word-for-word” Bible translation, as opposed to paraphrases.
Those people only say they do. And they don’t know what they’re talking about.
If they did, the New American Standard Bible, which is one of the most literal on the market, would be outselling the New Living Translation, which is a fairly loose paraphrase by comparison.
Polls measure only what people say. Not what they do. And it’s what folks do that matters.
Sales figures released this month by the CBA, a group that monitors sales of Christian books, places the New Living Translation in the number four slot. The New American Standard Bible barely manages to make it into the top 10 – at number 10. That’s based on the number of Bibles sold.
If people really wanted to get about as close as possible to an English version of word-for-word Bible lingo, they’d be going after Bibles like Young’s Literal Translation, which didn’t make it into the Top Ten at all.
Let me show you why people only think they want a word-for-word Bible translation. And, Tommy, let me give you the answer to your question at the same time.
Turn to John 3:16.
- “For God did so love the world, that His Son — the only begotten — He gave, that every one who is believing in him may not perish, but may have life age-during.” (Young’s Literal Translation)
- “For God so loved the world, that He gave His [a] only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Footnote: a. John 3:16 Or unique, only one of His kind, (New American Standard Bible)
- “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (New Living Translation)
Can you see why the New Living Translation outsells the other two?
That said, can you also see that these three Bible translations say pretty much the same thing. They just say it in different ways.
That’s the answer you can give to people when they ask the question about which Bible is right. Tell them that if they read the Bible in different translations they’ll see that only on rare occasions do they go in different directions. And the reason they sometimes go in different directions is because the original language is hard to decipher, and scholars didn’t agree on how to interpret the meaning of the original words. But that doesn’t happen very often.
When I study the Bible, I read the passage from several different translations. I’ll also read the notes in study Bibles. And sometimes I’ll go to commentaries that give even more background than I can find in a study Bible.
That’s how you know you’re reading what was intended. You study.
Save the “faith” answer for questions a whole lot tougher – such as how do you explain the Trinity, three Gods in one? For that, go to “faith.” Any folks who think they can explain the Trinity need their medication adjusted.