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Why So Many Translations? The Present State of English Bible Translation

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Step into any bookstore and you are immediately confronted with an abundance of English Bible translations. Several questions will immediately come to mind: How did this situation come about? What is out there? How should I use all of these translations? By understanding the different translation philosophies which undergird various translations and the strengths and weaknesses of each philosophy, the believer can profitably use different translations to gain greater trust in God's Word, to understand God's Word better, and in turn to live a life which pleases Him.

(Outline from Powerpoint)


  • For those of us who speak English, we have an embarrassment of riches.
  • There are more Bible translations in our language than in any other, and they are all readily accessible to us.
  • There are new translations being produced even now.
  • Is this good or bad?
  • Goal for today:
    • survey the field to show what types of English Bible translations are available  
    • explain why this situation exists  
    • offer appropriate responses  

The Current Situation

  • There is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to English translations.
  • For the NET Bible preface we count twenty-five different English translations of the entire Bible and approximately forty of the New Testament.
    • Revisions of existing translations  
    • Original translations which are based only upon the Hebrew and Greek scriptures.
  •  There have even been revisions of these versions.
    • NASB was updated in 1995.
    • The NIV has been recently updated with the TNIV, Today’s New International Version.
    • The RSV has been updated with the ESV.
    • The Living Bible has been updated with the New Living Translation, which itself has recently been revised.
    • Currently in production are the NET Bible and the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

Why does this situation exist?

  • There are different translation philosophies at work.
    • Formal Equivalence: The translation of one language into another retaining as much as possible the original forms of the first language.  
    • Dynamic equivalence: The translation of one language into another with a goal of translating the meaning of the original without regard to the forms of the first language

Formal and Dynamic Equivalence

  • quand les poulets aient les dents
  • when chicken have teeth
  • when pigs fly
  • That will never happen.

Examples of Extremely Literal Translation

  • Matthew 1:18

Tou' deV *Ihsou' Cristou' hJ gevnesi" ou{tw" h . mnhsteuqeivsh" th'" mhtroV" aujtou' Mariva" tw'/ *Iwshvf, priVn h] sunelqei'n aujtouV" euJrevqh ejn gastriV e[cousa ejk pneuvmato" aJgivou.

“Of the but Jesus Christ the birth thus was. Being betrothed the mother of him, Mary, to Joseph, before or to come together them she was found in belly having from Spirit Holy.”

  • John 4:15

levgei proV" aujtoVn hJ gunhv: kuvrie, dov" moi tou'to toV u{dwr, i{na mhV diyw' mhdeV dievrcwmai ejnqavde ajntlei'n.

“Says to him the woman, ‘Sir, give to me this the water that not I thirst nor I come here to draw.”

Comparisons of Formal and Dynamic Equivalence Translation

  • Romans 3:21

NASB “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets”

NLT “But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight-- not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago”  

  • Ecclesiastes 11:4

NASB “He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.”

NLT “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”

Why does this situation exist?

  • There is a very heated battle about which is more appropriate for Bible translation. There is a place for both, though, and their advantages and disadvantages should be carefully understood.
  • English is changing as all languages do.
    • All languages are in a continuous state of flux.
    • All translations will eventually be out of date.
    • The advent of the internet and all its related applications has created a greater state of flux than in the past.
  • English Bible translations need to change as well. (Judges 16:7 in NIV)

How should we respond to this situation?

  • Our tendency is to exalt one translation over another.
  • • King-James-Only movement
  • Instead we should recognize our bounty of riches and use it accordingly.
  • Dynamic equivalence translations are good for those who know little or nothing about the Gospel or the Bible.
  • Formal equivalence translations are good for those who understand biblical concepts and want to understand more carefully the exact wording of the text.
  • Dynamic equivalence translations are good for situations where the public reading and comprehension of scripture has a prominent place.
  • Formal equivalence translations are good for situations where the details of the text are the central focus.
  • Recognize that the multiplicity of translations can increase our confidence in the Scriptures.
  • Use this bounty of wealth to your advantage.
  • Be gracious, but be educational.


  • There is a sense in which every translation falls short of perfectly communicating the original text underneath it.
  • More importantly, there is a sense in which every translation contains the word of God and accurately communicates its sense.
  • Be aware of what is out there and how the translations differ, but more than that trust the one you have and listen for God’s word to speak to you from its pages.

Related Topics: Text & Translation

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