Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part series on “When the Bible Comes Alive.”
By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, Baptist and Reflector
Until my college years, the King James Version was the only Bible I had and read. Yet, even in those early years, the Bible had begun coming alive for me in my own personal study of the King James Version. And I still use that version.
Yet, no one Bible translation can meet all the needs a Bible translation requires in coming from Hebrew and Greek into modern word meanings and scholarship today. Tyndale, Wycliffe, and the Geneva Bible all preceded the King James Version from original Hebrew and Greek into English. And no language remains unchanging — not even English. That’s why we keep on having new English dictionaries. Though God’s Word is unchanging, English keeps changing. And to be true to God’s Word, translators need to accurately translate the faith of our fathers into the language of our children.
Today, we have Bible translations galore. We have access to more English Bible translations than space would let me mention. They all try to be true to the original languages.
However, translations vary from efforts to translate (1) word for word from the originals; or (2) thought for thought from the originals; or (3) a mix of word for word when possible but moving to thought for thought when it is best. Some of the most popular translations are the NASB, the NIV, the NRSV, and Southern Baptists’ use of the CSB (Christian Standard Bible) in curriculum and elsewhere.
My third and later Bibles: Greek and Hebrew. In college, I began the study of Greek. And in seminary I added the study of Hebrew. The Bible began to come alive for me in ways I had never dreamed of. An example you will be familiar with comes from I Corinthians 13. The KJV has “charity” instead of “love.” The Greek word is “agape” and it never meant only “charity.” Modern translations agree: It is“love.”
So, which English translation Is best? No single English translation can completely and accurately rise above the place of the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. On the other hand, there are valuable guidelines to help the Bible come more alive for us in choosing English translations.
The KJV has been and still is a standard translation for many churches and individuals. I don’t know of any doctrine negatively affected by the KJV.
Readability and understandability enter the picture, and numerous contemporary English translations help us at these points. I recommend starting with the KJV.
Then I recommend at least one “Standard” version — a translation that tries to stick as close to the original Hebrew and Greek as it can in putting the Bible into English.
Translating from one language to another satisfactorily in every way is more than my mind can conceive. By every way, I mean this: word for word, form or syntax, readability, and understanding. But a standard, contemporary translation of the Bible related to a sound study Bible provides almost all the understanding we usually need and can understand. The heart of the Bible itself and God’s message in it is evident if we read and pray.
Conclusion: At my age and stage of life, I’ve spent enough hours studying the Bible in the translations to be a Bible scholar. But I’m not!
Rather, I find the Bible comes alive most for me when I read the text, pray, worship with others, listen to my pastor, and obey what I understand God wants me to do. May that continue as long as I breathe and until time ends (see I Corinthians 13).
— Copyright 2019 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write email@example.com.