Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series on Bible translations. Part one was printed in the May 2 issue of the Baptist and Reflector.
By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
The original Bible and translations from it. I find a lot of confusion over the proliferation or multiplication of biblical translations today. Let me start at the beginning. The original biblical writings were Hebrew and a bit of Aramaic for the Old Testament. The New Testament was written in Greek except for a few Aramaic fragments (such as Jesus’ deep emotion in saying, “Eloi, Eloi. lama, Sabachthani” [in Aramaic, His native language]: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, KJV). But Greek is the language of the New Testament.
The Bible has 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books — 66 all total. There are 929 chapters in the Old Testament and 260 in the New Testament — for a total of 1,189 chapters in the whole Bible. Modern scholars with computer help have said there are 807,361 words or forms in the Bible. Another lists 608,890 word forms in the Bible. Percentages of original languages are roughly these: 76 percent of the words are Hebrew; 1 percent Aramaic; and 23 percent Greek — numbers vary because of methods used.
Because most people can’t read the original languages, world-wide, there are 2,530 translations of the Bible in whole or part. In English alone, we find hundreds of complete Bible translations or New Testament translations. The most popular English translations by sales in 2017 include these [by initials]: KJV; NIV; ESV; Amplified; NASB; NLB; NRSV; CEV; NAB. Another list includes the CSB [Christian Standard Bible].
But back to my personal journey. I still preach out of the KJV because most people grew up with it, and it gives me the most to explain. As a licensee with Holman, I worked some with the translation committee chairman Bruce Metzger on the NRSV. And I feel the NRSV is a fine standard version. I also use the NASB and the relatively new 2015 Amplified Bible. But as a Southern Baptist and one who uses curriculum published by LifeWay, I find myself using the CSB regularly. (Note: This translation succeeds The Holman Christian Standard Bible).
So, what difference does a translation make to you? Interestingly, the first time I read completely through the Bible was when I read Ken Taylor’s The Living Bible Paraphrased (1971). Ken and I became good friends later. He worked with the scholarly community to strengthen his original work, which now is the New Living Translation. It’s fine! And, of course, I refer to the Greek text almost daily and do word studies in Hebrew. I use a wide range of other English Bible translations for references. Most Bible-reading Christians have a favorite Bible translation. But many of them do not know the criteria for their favorite version other than that they just like it and it appears readable and understandable to them. That’s all right. You can divide Bible translations into types: those that try (1) to be literal as possible in bringing over the original languages into English; (2) those that mix literal translation with necessary changes for understanding in English; and (3) paraphrases that try to represent meaning for meaning without worrying so much about words and word order.
I don’t know of any leading Bible translation I’ve listed that harms any biblical doctrine. In other words, you’ll profit by whichever of those translations you read. One caution or caveat: Don’t get hung up too much in the gender used in pronouns in translation. Most of us have an opinion on whether we prefer gender-neutral language as much as possible or faithfulness to the original languages. I belong to the latter category. But I respect others and other translations. So please don’t write off a translation just on the basis of its use of pronouns.
Conclusion: I’m still on the journey! My faith is strong as ever that the Bible is God’s Word. And my confidence is great as ever that anyone who reads and obeys God’s Word will both find the way to eternal life and will find the way to live a richer and more fulfilling life on this earth. You do have to take the initiative, though, to get a Bible and read it. May you begin that journey or continue it if you’re already in it.
— Copyright 2018 by Johnnie C. Godwin: firstname.lastname@example.org.