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Asking Questions


What translation should I use?

3.24.2020 • 2 Comments

There are so many things that can paralyze us when we decide to really start studying the Bible. For instance, what translation should I use? And which should I stay away from?

When Grumpy Mom Takes a Holiday came out last year, the reviews that stung the most (because I wanted to explain it) were mentions of how I included The Message paraphrase of the Bible.

I think what bummed me out most was to feel like those reviewers didn’t trust my discernment (or even their own) to be able to read different translations or paraphrases with educated filters on and insight that we can and should read things differently.

I think there’s this assumption that one is right and the rest or wrong which means we see a translation used and throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is unfortunate because I think it polarizes and has us missing out on things that God can use is we are discerning.

The other danger is that we just assume all translations are essentially the same and read a translation that should be used as supporting text as the inerrant Word of God.

As I’ve been studying more about translations, I’m noticing something. If we understand where each translation comes from, we can read multiple versions confidently.

With a multitude of translations out there, it’s easy to get confused but when we get educated on what makes them difference, it doesn’t have to scare us. But we do need to lay a foundation of what translations are based on and how to use them.

1. Unless you are reading the original manuscripts in Hebrew and Greek, you are reading a translation that is man-made.

Here’s the funnel:

Divine author

Human author

Original text

Copies of original text

because Scripture was transcribed by many

Critical text

these copies were compiled by a committee that compares readings in order to determine which reading is most likely to be closest to the original

Translator or translation committee – put into different languages

English translation


When I was little, I thought if I found a typo in the Bible it meant it was no longer inerrant. And thankfully I never found a typo to test that theory, but I think that has more to do with the fact that even the most modern translations have been printed for decades and faced plenty of reprints if a typo was found.

I say all this not to make us leery of the validity of our Bible, but to maybe shake faulty foundations so we can stand on a solid one.

2. There are two basic approaches to translating and all translations fall on a spectrum between the two based on what is valued most for the translation.

The formal approach, which is also known as “literal” or “word-for-word”. Will sacrifice meaning for form if necessary. This means if it’s a choice between being understood better by today’s reader or most closely mirrors the original text, they will choose to mirror the original text.

The functional approach, which is also known as “idiomatic” or “thought-for-thought.” Will sacrifice form for meaning if necessary. If the choice is between preserving form or saying it in a way that can be understood by today’s audience, it will choose being understood.

J. Scott Duval and J. Daniel Hays said it’s wrong to assume that literal automatically equals accurate because translation is more than just finding matching words and adding them up. They shared examples of instances where the word-for-word would be very difficult for us to decipher the actual meaning. Both have their place. It’s just really important we don’t confuse the two.

3. Discern what value a translation can offer.

I’ll be honest, there are some translations you absolutely should stay away from, but you’re likely not reading the Reader’s Digest Bible or the New World Translation (Jehovah’s Witness). What your trying to decide between is likely the most popular ones and many have a value in some capacity.

If you are looking to mix up the translations you read but want to know how best to use them, here’s my suggestions based on experts way smarter than me. 😉 If you want to stick with just one translation, you most certainly can. If it’s because you think that translation is the only one that’s real though, read this article. I found it super interesting!

  • IN-DEPTH STUDY – Stick with a translation like ESV, NASB or HCSB. These are word-for-word and if you are planning to study deeply (i.e. word-for-word) it wouldn’t make sense to use a paraphrase. Duvall and Scott emphasize choosing a translation that uses modern English, is based on the standard Hebrew and Greek text and was translated by a committee rather than one person.
  • CASUAL READING – Listening to the Bible in your car or doing a little light reading before bed? You can read something easy to read that most resembles our everyday language like the New Living Translation (NLT).
  • ADDITIONAL INSIGHT – The Amplified Bible, The Message version and commentaries. I think it’s really important to know that both the AMP and MSG are paraphrases that infer meaning beyond what is stated. Meaning they may add meaning that’s not necessarily intended so never treat these as Scripture. The Message was technically translated from Hebrew and Greek and not just paraphrased from an English translation as some say BUT it was written by the opinion of one man and as I’ve mentioned, a translation by a committee is best.

4. As you study God’s Word, pray that the Lord will give you a discerning spirit.

I think it is possible to read things you don’t 100% agree with a discerning heart. The poetic language of The Message opens up word pictures when I get stuck on a verse I’ve read a thousand times. But this is why an understanding and coming at it with a discerning, rather than naive heart is super important!

I hope this was helpful but friends, dig into translations and how they came to be! Don’t just take my word for it. It’s been fascinating to study this more and gives me more confidence to study the Word when I know how to approach each translation and understand the purpose it can serve. This book has been so good.

Authors of said book, Duvall and Hays wrote “In 1536 Tyndale was executed and his body burned for his resolute commitment to Bible translation and his desire to ‘make the boy that drives the plough in England know more of Scripture than many a scholar.’”

It is a gift that we get to read Scripture on our screens and on our laps daily. We need to do our due diligence of course, but I pray we won’t get paralyzed by being unsure what and how to read and instead, pray for wisdom as we read and just be really grateful we get to! There are still people around the world who don’t have the Bible translated in their native language and that work is currently being done.

Praise the Lord we even have the opportunity to have our hands on so many translations and resources. Let it not be lost on us!

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Comments (6)

ESV, NASB or HCSB…I think I know what ESV (english standard version) and NASB (new american standard bible?) stand for, but what is HCSB?

It’s Holman Christian Standard Bible. Apparently CSB is the updated version. I had never heard of this one until I read some books by Priscilla Shirer. It’s the one she uses a lot!

Please post your source that says the Amplified Version is a paraphrase. Is there more than one version of the AMP version that you are aware of?

GREAT question! This was something I was shocked by when I read it but I understood it after it was explained. Basically what’s in the brackets are a few options of what the word meant and I’ve heard from several Bible scholars, there’s only one intended meaning for the words in Scripture so something isn’t accurate. Also, what I read in Grasping God’s Word said the AMP version “tries to give the reader an understanding of the many meanings contained in a particular verse…leaves the misleading impression that the reader is free to choose from among the options presented.” So essentially if it presents several options and the words in the Bible have one meaning, some included are incorrect. I’m not clear if what’s not included in the brackets is word-for-word. It might be and might explain why soo many graphics include it as the most literal!

Thank you for your response. This is interesting to me and I will be doing some comparisons as I move through my Bible study. My study Bibles are ESV and NASB, the AMP version is what I use sometimes to jump-start my brain if I need it. I use the KJV too for a bolt of flair. My goal is to grow, you helped to discern something and that is always a welcomed treat. Thank you!

Yes! I think that’s great! I’ve always loved using different translations and got some heat for the MSG showing up in my book. I think when you understand how each can be read, it’s definitely invigorating to read several!