I want to share a great resource for your ongoing Bible study and deeper understanding.
There are many different translations of the Bible out there. What's the difference and how should we choose which is best for us? I will share a very short video, a longer and very helpful video about translation philosophy and a book recommendation with a couple notes about it if you really want to dive in. (The second video is one of the authors sharing some of the content from the book).
The book is fairly short and readable (doesn't require academic knowledge). It's called How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth.
To summarize briefly, there are a different philosophies of translation and many of our English translations are on a spectrum between the two major philosophies.
The first approach is called 'formal equivalence.' This is also known as 'literal' or word for word translation and seeks to retain the form of the original text (word order and grammar) while producing a basically understandable translation into English. Translations toward this end of the spectrum include the King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, The English Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version.
Our tendency is to think that this type of translation is 'better'. The reality is that both approaches have strengths and shortcomings. (See the second video for much more information about this.)
The other major translation philosophy is often called 'functional equivalence.' This method seeks to produce the meaning of the original text in good (natural) english. According to Strauss and Fee, the book's authors, advocates of functional equivalence stress that the translation should sound as natural to the contemporary reader as the original text sounded to the original readers. Translations on this end of the spectrum are the New Living Translation, The Contemporary English Version and The Message.
Many of the translations that we see are somewhere between these two philosophies. These can be called 'mediating translations'. Translations that are sort of 'in the middle' are the New International Version, the New English Translation and the Christian Standard Bible (formerly HCSB).
The authors describe the difference between the three types of translations as follows: Formal equivalent versions seek to modify the Hebrew and Greek forms until the text is comprehensible. Mediating versions modify forms until the text is clear. Functional equivalent translations modify the form until the text is natural.
Which type of translation is best? It depends on your purpose. Along with the Bible Project video above, I recommend owning a few Bibles ideally.
I personally prefer the NIV for most uses - a 'mediating' translation. I also like to regularly consult a 'formal' translation like the NASB for work study etc. If you want a Bible that's the easiest to read in English, the NLT is a good choice. This type of translation can be a good choice for reading through large portions of scripture, like reading through the Bible in a year.
How (Not) to Read the Bible is a great potential resource for several people. It would be good for someone who's considering Christian faith but finds the Bible to have too many problems to get past. Also for the Christian who has friends asking you questions about the Bible that you don't have good responses to. For all Christians, the author offers some great general reminders to help us study and interpret the Bible well.
He shares 4 principles for reading the Bible well and then applies them to challenging questions including what the Bible says about violence, slavery, science, women, shrimp, and more!
1. The Bible is a Library not a book. It is 66 books in different languages in different genres written over a huge period of time. We need to understand these factors in order to read the Bible well.
2. The Bible is Written for us but not to us. In order to really understand the Bible well, we need to enter the world (culture, place etc) of the original audience. When we grow in our understanding of how it would have spoken to them, we can grow in our understanding of what it means for us in all times and places.
3. Never Read a Single Bible Verse. Anyone can take a single verse and use it to say something that is not the point of what's being communicated. When we look at context, starting with the paragraph, section, book, etc. we get a fuller picture. Just as important is to see where the verse fits into the big picture story that the Bible is telling.
4. All the Bible Points to Jesus. According to the writers of the New Testament and Jesus himself, He is the clearest picture we have of what God is like. He has come to make the way for us and to both teach and demonstrate God's heart and intentions for us and our world.
There are many study Bibles out there. I'd like to recommend one in particular for those who are interested primarily in digging in for understanding. There are others that are perhaps better for practical life application.
The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible incorporates some great scholarship from other publications, including one of my favorite resources the IVP Bible Background Commentary (and the Old Testament edition as well as some helpful articles and archeological information.