REV. DR. MICHELLE J. MORRIS HAS A MASTER OF DIVINITY DEGREE AND A PH.D. IN RELIGIOUS STUDIES BOTH FROM SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY. SHE ALSO SERVES AS A UNITED METHODIST PASTOR IN ARKANSAS. SHE STARTED THIS BLOG AS A PLACE TO HAVE INTELLIGENT AND FAITHFUL REFLECTIONS ON THE BIBLE.

Which Bible translation is the best?

    In my FAQs category, I will be discussing some of those frequently asked questions I get either as a Bible scholar or as a pastor. One of the first ones I get whenever I come to a new church to serve or when I talk about being a scholar is, "Which Bible translation is the best?"

     My answer: there is no clear answer to this question. The ideal (besides learning to read and translate Hebrew and Greek) is to have more than one translation and read them together. Then when you find significant differences, you will know there is a disagreement about translation (and probably also theology).

    My denomination's official choice is the Common English Bible. This is the one I typically use from the pulpit and in Bible studies now. But full disclosure: I was one of the writers for the notes and sidebars in the recently released CEB Women's Bible. It was also published by the Methodist based publishing house, Abingdon Press. Generally, though, I think it is a solid translation. The one place where it regularly gets my hackles up (and has been, from what I understand the dominant critique) is that they translate the phrase that has typically been translated Son of Man as Human One. I understand why they do it. Human One is a more inclusive way of talking about Jesus (rather than a totally masculine one) and the word that is typically translated man is actually human. Literally it would be more accurate to translate the phrase as Son of Humanity.

    The truth is, all translations will have things that bother us. That is the advantage of reading more than one translation family. To find out which Bibles are in which translation families, just google English Bible Family Tree and you will find which ones are drawing off the same source material and which ones aren't. You will find it is tough to get out of the King James family line, particularly if you are buying the more popular English translations.

  And while we are at it, let me talk about the King James. The KJV was the first Bible I ever read. I read it cover to cover, and I kept a list of words that had to be looked up in the Oxford English Dictionary to make sure I was understanding everything. That experience made reading Shakespeare in high school a breeze. Some passages, like the 10 Commandments and Psalm 23, will only sound "right" to me in King James. That being said, it is not a particularly great translation. Many biblical manuscripts have been discovered since the publication of the KJV in 1611, making most of the modern translations paradoxically more accurate with respect to antiquity. Also, like every translation, the translators had their own internal motivations, and the translators in that case were motivated by keeping King James happy.  And just in case anyone out there reading this is thinking, "But that is how Jesus spoke," I am about to rock your world and tell you that Jesus most likely spoke Aramaic. He definitely did not speak English, which didn't even really exist yet (or existed in a form far more rudimentary than the English of King James). Also, the New Testament texts are all written in Greek, which Jesus probably didn't speak either, so our texts are already translations of what he said, which actually explains a lot. I tell you this not to make you feel stupid. It is not your fault you didn't know. Many churches teach this false knowledge. I don't know why. I suspect it is partially because that is what they have always taught, partially because it opens up questions about biblical authority, and partially because it controls who knows what about the Bible, since King James English is now almost as much a foreign language as French is for most of us. I used to smuggle CEB Bibles to the King James side of town in my previous appointment so people could know what the Bible was "really" saying.

    One more distinction to make in this post. There is a difference between a translation and a paraphrase. The Message is a paraphrase. In that type of work, the paraphraser gets a good idea of what is meant by the original manuscript, and then the paraphraser puts that idea into his or her own words to convey understanding. It is not a literal, word by word translation and it does not even try to be. The paraphrase is at times longer and at times shorter than the original text, depending on how carried away with the meaning the paraphraser got.

   So there is my very long answer to a question that I expect most of you thought would be answered in just a few words. As with all things that really matter, though, it is rarely so simple.

    Happy reading, whatever version(s) you use!

   

I Want Something Just Like This

THAT'S in the Bible?!