To properly study the Bible, every student of the Word needs to know precisely what they are reading. In today’s society this is often difficult because we are saturated with dozens of different translations, and each translation often transcribes some verses differently from the rest. One might naturally ask ‘why does this happen’ and ‘what translation should I be reading from?’ These are great questions, and understanding why there are multiple translations can help assist anyone interested in choosing an appropriate Bible translation to study from.
There are three main types of translations available today. The first type of translation is what is called a formal equivalence translation, and this simply means a literal translation from the Greek and Hebrew. The translations on the formal equivalent (literal) end of the spectrum often tend to lose the authorial intent because they keep the exact form of the writing. For example, a formal equivalent translation would translate maison bleue into “house blue”, and yet no one who speaks English would ever say it this way. In common English we would say that there was a blue house, and this is not the case with a literal translation. While reading translations with formal equivalence we may become tripped up in the wording and lose sight of what we are reading and studying. Examples of formal equivalent translations include the Kings James and New King James Bibles (KJV and NKJV).
The second type of translation is called functional equivalency, and this translation tends to be more dynamic in its approach. This dynamic approach attempts to preserve the original meaning of the text while phrasing it in a way that is relatable to modern readers. This type of translation is probably best suited for people who are keenly interested in studying and reading the Bible because it is relatable without losing integrity. Examples of functional equivalent Bibles are the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the English Standard Version (ESV).
The third type of translation, that is relatively new, is called a free translation. A free translation is not concerned with the form of the original writings, but rather is concerned with conveying the ideas of the written content through modern English. These translations tend to be more like storytelling while trying to be faithful to the original content. These translations, although good for understanding the ideas behind the books of the Bible, are not good for study purposes because they tend to over-modernize the original authors. An example of a free translation would be The Message by Eugene Peterson.
Overall, when we examine the Bible, we should examine the text with different translations to assist us in understanding what the author intended to say. Our primary Bible should be in the range of a dynamic (functional equivalent) translation, while a great secondary source could be a literal (formal equivalent) translation, and a good source to help stimulate a possible meaning of the text could be a free translation. Choosing an appropriate translation will guide us into the minds of the original authors and help us understand what the author was trying to say to his audience, and keeping this in mind will help us from taking biblical verses out of context.