My Thoughts on Bible Translations

I want to make it clear right off that I’m not a Bible scholar. I’m a Bible teacher with a passion to make the word of God understandable and, along those lines, I have some thoughts on Bible translations.

Let me also add quickly that we are blessed beyond blessed today with so many Bible translations available at our fingertips. When I was a student in Bible college and I wanted to read a different Bible translation it meant a trip to my local Christian bookstore to buy it. Later, when technology made digital copies of God’s Word available, we still had to purchase the version of our choice. Today, with apps like the Youversion, suddenly we can read pretty much any Bible translation we want — and they’re all FREE. It’s really incredible!

But that still raises the question: which one is best for you?

Methods of Bible Translation

To answer that question it might help to know how Bibles are translated. (Note: A glossary of Bible version names and abbreviations is listed at the end of this article.)

Have you noticed that some Bible versions read very differently than others? Some sound pretty much like the way you and I speak in everyday conversation, and others are a bit more formal and rigid. The reason for that difference depends on the method of translation that each group decides to take when setting out to translate God's Word. Essentially there are two, dissimilar methods.

The first is called the “Formal equivalence” – or “word-for-word” approach. In this case, every effort is made to keep both the word order and sentence structure of the original Hebrew or Greek. Bibles that use this method include the ESV, NKJV, and the NASB. These are the Bibles that tend to sound a little rigid and often include words that you and I don’t use in common day-to-day conversation.

Then we come to the second method which is a “Functional equivalence” or “thought-for-thought” rendering of the original text. This is also referred to as ‘dynamic equivalence’ — in case you weren’t confused enough already — and it’s what you’ll find in the International Children’s Bible (ICB) and the New English Bible (NEB) just to name a couple. The goal of a thought-for-thought approach is to produce the most natural and readable style possible in the reader’s language.

But then there are translations like the NIV, NLT, and NRSV which confuse the process even more by trying to balance the concepts of word-for-word and thought-for-thought in a single translation. Sheesh!!

(Note: Bibles like The Message and The Living Bible are not translations at all, but rather paraphrases.)

For decades I read and taught from the NIV (1984 revision). I really loved that Bible, and still do. It remains both readable and accurate. My first NIV came out of the lost and found at the church I was attending back in the early 1980’s. It was a paperback and I used it and wrote in it until it was literally in tatters. So, I marched down to my local Christian bookstore and bought my very first NIV Thompson Chain-Reference Bible. It was very cool!

The Problem with word-for-word

Have you ever noticed that Bibles that claim to be word-for-word choose different English words to translate the text? How can that be? I mean, if they’re rendering a passage word-for-word then their translations should be identical, right?

Wrong! And the reason is that many times Hebrew and Greek words may require multiple English words to accurately convey their meaning. Each translating committee has to determine which words they're going to use, and sometimes they're very different from another translation.

Here's an example of how the meaning of a word can vary:

Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3 (NASB)

Seems pretty straightforward. But although the Greek word that is translated born occurs exactly that way some 41 times in the NASB, it is also rendered as:
  • father (37 times), 
  • begotten (4 times), 
  • became the father of (4 times), 
...and by approximately 10 other English words or phrases.

Greek and Hebrew words can have variations of definition depending on the context of the passage. It’s up to the translators to determine that context and then choose the English word (or words) they feel best expresses the original meaning. Obviously, different translations choose different words, which takes the whole idea of word-for-word and sort of tosses it up into the air.

Here’s the point: word-for-word translations are wonderful and incredibly useful for studying the Scriptures, but they’re not always the most effective way to convey the meaning of the passage.

Check out this example of how 1 Kings 2:10 is rendered in these different translations:
  • KJV: “So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.”
  • NIV1984: “Then David rested with his fathers and was buried in the City of David.”
  • NIV2011: Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. 
  • NLT: “Then David died and was buried in the City of David.”
You can tell by reading all these different versions that the challenging phrase here is “slept with his fathers” which, by the way, is the most word-for-word accurate rendering of the original Hebrew. It was used in those days to refer to someone who died and was buried in the same area as his deceased relatives.

But does that word-for-word rendering really say it best? In our culture, the idea of sleeping with someone has a sexual connotation, but that’s obviously not what the author was trying to say. For that reason, of the four translations listed, I find the NLT probably does the best job of conveying the simple meaning by saying, “David died.” But it doesn’t tell us everything, does it?

If I had my way, I would merge the NIV and NLT so that the verse reads this way: “Then David died and was buried alongside his ancestors in Jerusalem, the City of David.” In this case, we have a sentence that contains everything the author wanted us to know in a way that is clearly understood by a modern English-speaking reader.

Is there a danger to the thought-for-thought approach?

Even though I believe that a thought-for-thought translation often does a better job of conveying the meaning of the text, the method is not without its potential dangers. Questions arise, such as, how far should we go to make the passage easy to understand? And is it possible to go too far?

The answer is, unfortunately, yes.

Back in 2011, when the publishers of the New International Version (NIV) released their latest revision, I was troubled by some of the changes made to the text. Although I really like a thought-for-thought approach, the fact is, it doesn’t always bring clarity to the passage and, if you’re not careful, it can do the opposite. Up until the 2011 revision, I always felt the NIV did a good job of giving the reader the meaning of the text without compromising accuracy. But with the latest changes, I felt they stepped over the line by adopting a new gender-inclusive approach. That’s why I switched to the ESV.

I’m not saying the new NIV is a bad translation. Not at all. I wouldn’t hesitate to give a copy to someone who needed a Bible. But in terms of accuracy, I feel that Bibles like the ESV, NASB, and NKJV do a better job of staying faithful to the text, despite their somewhat rigid and inflexible reading styles.

Is there an absolute best translation?

I’ve always believed the best translation is the one you read. But with any of the modern-English translations, it’s hard to go wrong. And because they are all so easily available you really don’t have to choose. Even though you may have a favorite, I would encourage reading through the Bible every year in a different translation. If you’re up for that kind of a challenge you will certainly get a well-rounded view of the Scriptures.

Glossary of Bible translation names:

NIV - New International Version
NASB - New American Standard Bible
ESV - English Standard Version
NKJV - New King James Version
NLT - New Living Translation

Q&A: Isaiah 53:3 tells us "by His wounds we are healed." From what are we healed?

Q: Isaiah 53:3 tells us "by His wounds we are healed."  From what are we healed?

This is a great question. There are many within the Body of Christ who have been taught incorrectly as to the meaning of this verse. But there really shouldn't be any problem understanding it because the Apostle Peter not only quoted this passage from the Old Testament, but he also explained what it means. It goes like this:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  1 Peter 2:24-25 (ESV)  

Peter explains that the "healing"  Isaiah prophesied about was a spiritual healing that allowed those of us who were "straying" to return to God. This healing was made possible by Jesus paying the penalty for our sins and removing the barrier that separated us from God.

The reason this is important to know is that many in the Body of Christ have assumed that the word healing refers to the healing of our physical bodies. That belief has spawned an entire movement, predicated upon the idea that included within the work of redemption that Jesus accomplished for us on the cross is the guarantee of physical healing.

Let me just say that I believe in physical healing. And as much as I would like to, I simply can't believe that healing is guaranteed us through Christ's work on the cross because the Bible doesn't support that idea.

Q&A: How does God want us to look at the past?

Q: How does God want us to look at the past?

One thing every human being has in common is a past. We have all experienced life in its various forms throughout the years—some wonderful and some painful. The good experiences are pretty easy to handle. But the painful experiences present us with a host of problems that continue to challenge modern man. The question is continually asked: “How do I deal with my past?” And although people have come up with all kinds of theories, Christians should be wary of methods of dealing with the past which have no biblical foundation. And the reason for this caution is because your past can become either a miry pit, trapping you and keeping you from recognizing and enjoying the blessings of God, or it can be a learning ground of experience that can deepen your understanding and shape your character.

The Past is a Teacher

There are times in God’s Word that the Lord counsels His people to consider the events of the past. He does this so that the lessons of the past might shed light on their current situation. Here’s one example:

Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence. Your first father sinned; your spokesmen rebelled against me. (Isaiah 43:26-27 NIV)

In this passage the Lord is calling His people to draw insight from the events of the past—in this case by remembering mankind’s original sin through Adam, thus helping them to recognize how sin has separated them from God. And there are other references to remembering the past so as to learn valuable lessons from it. In this way, the past can be a wonderful “instructor.”

Dwelling on the Past

While there is a place and time to recollect the events of the past to gain a heart of wisdom, there is also a time to just let it go—release it. In the same book that we drew the earlier Scripture passage, we see the Lord saying something else about dealing with the past. Here He says:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV)

Here is an important word from the Lord on the dangers of focusing too much on the past. After a strong exhortation to forget the former things, the Lord says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Do you not perceive it?” This question is vital to understanding how dwelling on the past affects us.  The fact is, when we are mired in the thoughts and events of the past, wallowing in the hurts and pain of yesterday, we become oblivious to the “new” things the Lord is doing all around us. That’s why God asks, “Do you not perceive it?” The perceptions of someone who struggles with letting go of the past, literally become dulled—keeping them from “seeing” the good things the Lord is doing all around them.

Only God can make a way where there seems to be no way. But we must get our eyes off the past and fasten them upon the power of the Lord. The writer of Hebrews tells us to: “...fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (12:2 NIV) This cannot be done when our eyes are fixed on our past.

Letting Go of Hurts

Modern psychology suggests that the way to be healed of your past is to go back and “relive” those events. God, on the other hand, tells us to learn from them, and let them go! The problem is, sometimes our past is full of painful memories which can be very hard, if not impossible to forget. And those who cannot forget the past, usually cannot come to a place of forgiving those who had a hand in shaping their past. Forgiveness and releasing those who’ve hurt us is the key.

The good news is that God doesn’t expect us to conquer our past all by ourselves. Your loving heavenly father is the One who longs to take your past and bring healing and wholeness to the wounds you’ve received. The question is whether or not you are willing to let go and forgive!

Notice in the following passage how the Apostle Paul refers to his Lord:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)

Paul called God “...the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…” What a recommendation! But how many Christians today truly know God in this way? How many have opened up their hearts to the Lord and allowed Him to bring His perfect comfort into the wounded and darkened areas of their heart? I would suggest the number is quite low, and so we see the Body of Christ running after “other” methods of bringing healing to their tortured souls. What a tragedy! If we would only release, forgive and move on.

One woman who was all too familiar with tragedy and unforgiveness was Corrie ten Boom. Corrie lived during WWII and personally experienced the horror of the Nazi invasion of her homeland of Holland. Corrie, her sister, and their elderly father were all arrested by the Nazis—charged with hiding Jews. She and her sister, Betsy, were taken to a German concentration camp, where they were exposed to the most horrific conditions imaginable. Betsy finally died in that hellish concentration camp, but through a cleric’s error, Corrie was released.

After the war, Corrie opened a home to minister to the people who had been so shamefully and tragically treated by the Nazis. She observed one common element in those who were able to heal from the events of those horrible years. She wrote: “Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.” (Tramp for the Lord p. 55)

May the Lord give you the strength today to give Him your past.

Q&A: Are we saved by making a choice of our own free will, or does God choose those who will be saved ahead of time?

Q: Are we saved by making a choice of our own free will, or does God choose those who will be saved ahead of time?

This question represents a classic area of disagreement between Christians. There are two schools of thought and each holds tenaciously to their position. One says that each and every individual is personally responsible for their decision to make Christ Savior and Lord and their status as a born-again Christian is entirely one of their own free will.

The other side holds just as firmly to the belief that we are chosen beforehand through the sovereignty of God and predestined to be saved. They would say any “choice” we have in the matter is simply because we were chosen first by God.

The problem with this argument is that both sides of the debate boldly quote Scripture to back up their positions. As a result, most Christians feel compelled to side with one position or the other—whichever they feel defend their position with the most convincing evidence.

The solution to this conundrum—which seems to completely escape proponents of both sides—is one that does no violence to the body of Scripture. Put simply, both positions are equally true. Having said that, I am well aware there are many who believe what I have just said to be patently impossible. They themselves are unable to reconcile how they can be Christians resulting from both an act of their free will and God's predestination. Therefore they reject this conclusion out of hand.

But I would argue its validity from two perspectives:

1. It is biblical.

There's no question that the Bible speaks of God’s sovereign election (predestination) of the saints. Romans chapter eight is one very clear example. But there are, likewise, passages of Scripture which speak of the choice given to mankind. The King James version of the Bible renders Revelation 22:17 with the words, “…whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”  The NIV says “…whoever wishes…” and the NKJV says “…whoever desires…” The idea is clearly set forth that there is a choice we face in receiving Christ as Lord. This idea is repeated many times throughout the Word of God.

2. The ability to reconcile these two ideas is not our responsibility.

Christians often fall into the trap of accepting or rejecting a truth based on whether or not they can personally comprehend it. This is always dangerous and holding to that idea may require you to take a scissors to your Bible. Can you comprehend eternity? How about the Trinity? Yet both are clearly revealed in God's Word.

At the end of the day, my responsibility is to prayerfully look into the Word of God and determine what truth it reveals, regardless of whether I can personally explain those truths from an intellectual standpoint. And what the Bible reveals about our salvation is that 1) God elected us for salvation according to His foreknowledge, and 2) we must choose (receive) Christ according to the gift of our free will. As for explaining how those two realities can coexist...that’s God’s problem, not mine.

Q&A: What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit?

Q: What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit?

First of all the word "blaspheme" means to utter obscenities or profanity, or to speak things that are irreverent and untrue about God.

The specific term in question, which is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is recorded in Matthew and Mark.

Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. "Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house. "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:22-32 (NIV) This is also mentioned in Mark 3:22–30.

As you can see from the passage above, Jesus said that “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” was literally speaking a word against the Holy Spirit. But specifically, He spoke of how the Pharisees claimed that Jesus was casting out demons through the agency of Satan. Jesus referred to this as speaking against the Holy Spirit, which He also called an unforgivable sin.

There are many who believe that this kind of blasphemy can no longer be done, primarily because the unique circumstances in which this was first spoken are no longer present. Those circumstances include the Pharisees’ public rejection of Jesus as Messiah in the face of all He had done among them. (Many have commented that never before in mankind's history had so much light and revelation been given to those who lived at that time.) To see and know as they did and still to attribute His works to Satan shows a willful blindness and hard-heartedness that is chilling. It appears these Pharisees revealed the extent of their wickedness by expressing this final rejection of Christ by those words of blasphemy.

I have spoken to many people over the years who have been plunged into a paralyzing fear over the belief that they have committed this unpardonable sin. I have told each one that their tenderness of heart and complete willingness to repent of any and all sin proves precisely the opposite. I don't believe the Pharisees had any concerns about having committed this or any other sin. That's what made their hearts so hard and led to their downfall. Those who are concerned about having committed this sin are among the most soft-hearted people I've ever had occasion to meet.

(Click here for a video teaching I did on this subject)

Q&A: Can the devil bless someone?

Q&A: Can the devil bless someone?

Based on some Scriptures that quickly come to mind I would have to say, no, he cannot. That doesn't mean that Satan isn't able to serve up the fulfillment of some deep fleshly desire, but ultimately it isn't going to be a blessing — in fact, quite the opposite.

James makes it clear to us that...

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17 (NIV) 

In other words, the blessings that come our way are from God, not Satan. Along those lines, the Apostle Paul reminded us that the works of Christ and the works of Satan have nothing in common. He wrote:

...what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 (NIV) 

And Jesus gave us some of the most insightful character references for Satan that we possess. The following passages are especially helpful in answering your question:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy... John 10:10 (NIV) 

[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44 (NIV) 

It seems pretty clear according to the Scripture that Satan is only capable of deception, lies, and murder. 

Q&A: Do stillborn babies go to heaven?

Question: Do stillborn babies go to heaven?

Over the years I've had the occasion to officiate at many funerals and graveside services for babies who were either stillborn or only lived a few minutes or hours after birth. It is always a very challenging time and the question that is naturally on everyone's mind is whether we will be reunited with the children we've lost.

If you're looking for a single Bible passage that says, "All the little babies go to heaven" — you're going to be disappointed because such a passage doesn't exist. But that doesn't mean the Bible doesn't give us valuable insight from which to reach an informed conclusion. It does!

So what does the Bible say?

In 2 Samuel chapter 12, we're told of a time when a baby born to David's wife Bathsheba died. While the child was sick David fasted and prayed. But after the baby died David said: “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” 2 Samuel 12:22-23 (ESV)

In the midst of his grief, David expressed a confidence that one day he would be reunited with his child, obviously referring to a time after his own physical death. Where did David get this information? Was it just a belief of his time? I think not. David was a man with unique insights into God and His plan for mankind. Much later, Peter declared that David "was a prophet." (Acts 20:30) I believe David was speaking with prophetic insight when he declared by faith that he would see his child again.

The other thing we must keep at the forefront when considering such questions is the character of God. By knowing God's character we can fill in the blanks on many issues in life that are not directly addressed in the Bible. And one passage I love to remember is in Micah 7:18 which says that God "...delights to show mercy." — or as the ESV renders it, "...[God] delights in steadfast love."

So, you have a little baby who, for whatever reason, is either stillborn or doesn't live long past birth. And you also have a God who literally delights to show mercy and steadfast love and is perfectly fair and just. What do you end up with?


Here's the bottom line. Our God is GOOD! And we can always trust Him to do the right thing.