Browse online or walk into most any Christian bookstore and you’ll see a cornucopia of Bibles and accessories—Amplified Bibles, Audio Bibles, Study Bibles, Parallel Bibles, and a whole host of versions. We often ask, “Which is the best?”
Yet, I don’t think that’s the right question to be asking. Or at best, it’s a trick question. For one thing, different options will suit some better than others. And secondly, I don’t think anyone should stick to just one option. Why?
1. There is no such thing as a perfect English version—There are many good versions, and some that are more accurate than others. But the only perfect version was the original version, which we no longer have and of course wasn’t even in English (But instead Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek).
2. When we compare different translations for a specific passage, it helps us see which verses or phrases are open to interpretive debate—Linguistic geniuses piece together what they think is most likely the original wording by using a variety of methods. They put this together into a main Hebrew/Greek text with linguistic footnotes. Then they keep studying the ancient manuscripts to learn more and keep improving the translation. Then, other biblical scholars come along and translate the Hebrew/Greek into English.
Linguistic scholars aren’t always sure how best to translate certain words, so they give it their best educated guess. A word may have more than one meaning and, being a few thousand years removed from the culture in which the language was spoken, it’s not always easy to pick up from the context what meaning to assign a word. Also, a few words occur so rarely that scholars don’t even know for sure any of its definitions.
What this essentially means is that if you don’t want to take several Greek and Hebrew classes, your next best thing is to compare various versions and note the differences. This will help show you what portions were harder to translate, and it potentially brings up points that scholars are divided on so you know what to look into for further study.
Some differences are so subtle that it won’t make a big difference, but sometimes it will.
Stay tuned, and I’ll give an example later this week of how comparing various translations can help us with 1 Timothy 2:12.