True Life Church Community Blog

Why So Many Bible Translations (Pastor Rigo Mercado)


Have you ever wondered why there are so many Bible translations out there? We hear Christians say I read the New Kings James, another says I read the New International Version, and still another says the Message translation is the best.  Why so many translations?

The Bible was originally written in three languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic and the New Testament was written in Greek.  What Bible Scholars do is read the Bible in their original languages and translate it into today’s modern language.  The three primary ways the Bible is translated into English from its original text is through the following methods: word-for-word, thought-for-thought and free translation.

The word-for-word method of translation is also referred to as “literal” translation.  In this method the original word choice and phrases of the biblical authors are used.  The advantage of this method is that it keeps the translator’s own interpretation to a minimum. The disadvantage of this translation is that it can be hard to understand at times and seem stiff and unfamiliar. Over time, though, you can get used to its style.

The thought-for-thought translation approach uses everyday language familiar to English readers. This translation method is easier to understand, and it does not lose its original meaning. The disadvantage of this approach is that it usually refers to the translators writing what they think it means, instead of what the original text says word-for-word.  Thus, we may miss some of the nuances in the wording that the original writers intended for us to see.

Finally, there is what is called free translation or paraphrase (the far extreme of thought-for-thought). The purpose of this approach is to give the reader a flow of the general ideas of the bible in simplistic ways and at times render sentences in new ways. This approach can be used as more of a commentary to help clarify what you may not fully understand in other translations. The Message Bible is an example of this.  The down side of these translations is that the reader is relying heavily on the translators to explain the meaning through their own language, and thus one will definitely miss out on the subtle “brush strokes” that the writers of Scripture intended. And sometimes, in an effort to “explain” the text the translators will add qualifiers that weren’t included by the original writers. For example, Matthew 18:35 in the NKJV reads, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” The Message Bible reads, “And that’s exactly what My Father in Heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.” The phrase “anyone who asks for mercy” was not a qualifier in the original text. The writer of the MSG bible is inserting his own idea of when forgiveness is commanded and when it is not.

So what translation should you read? The one that helps you understand the truths of the Word of God. There is no right or wrong translation to use, however it is always good to read different translations for your personal devotional readings and especially when preparing to teach from the Bible.

No matter what Bible translation you read, always remember the Holy Spirit is our teacher and ask Him to help you understand the deep treasures of the Word of God.


The Graph below shows which translation method each of today’s Bible versions fall under:

bible translations

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