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Question and Answer

What is the best English version of the Bible?

It is easier for me to name the worst version, or versions, than the best. A few versions are very, very bad, but many are quite good. Serious Bible students have different preferences, depending—to a certain extent—on their choice of philosophies governing translation. Some Bible students like a word-for-word translation. Others prefer a “dynamic equivalent” approach to translation.

Perfect word-for-word translations are not possible, of course. Languages are different. Latin languages are wordy; to translate 100 pages of an ordinary book in English takes about 120 pages in Spanish or Portuguese. Still, word-for-word translations stick close to the original text, and many scholars consider them more reliable than other versions. The NASB and ESV are fine examples of this approach.

By “dynamic equivalent” is meant an attempt to capture the thought of a sentence or paragraph. The New Living Translation excels at this. Its translators did not count words. They gave us the English equivalent of what the writers of the Bible said, or seemed to have intended to say. It is pleasant reading. The NIV uses a combination of both approaches to translation.

Find the version that suits your needs, and, if you can afford it, buy two or more versions. I read several in turn without trying to decide which is best. As a missionary familiar with some of the problems in Bible translation, I can assure you that few if any translations on the mission field can match for accuracy or beauty any of a dozen English language versions. So find a version you like and pay no attention to critics who complain about it.

BY C. Donald Cole

C. DONALD COLE hosted Moody Radio’s Open Line for 26 years before retiring in 2008. Before joining the team at the Moody Bible Institute in 1971, Pastor Cole and his wife, Naomi, served the Lord as missionaries in Angola from 1948 until 1966. Pastor Cole then served as a faculty member of Emmaus Bible College of Dubuque and as editor of Interest magazine.

Pastor Cole authored several books, and was married to his wife Naomi for 65 years before he went home to the Lord in 2012.

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