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.
This is the recording for a lecture event that we did with Dr. Carmen Imes. Her book Bearing God's Name is one that I highly recommend. This video will give you an idea of the core content of the book as well as some material from her forthcoming book on bearing God's image. The teaching begins about 5 minutes in. Find the book HERE.
The Bible Project is one of the most consistently helpful resources out there. Their core belief:
"From page one to the final word, we believe the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus. This diverse collection of ancient books overflows with wisdom for our modern world. As we let the biblical story speak for itself, we believe the message of Jesus will transform individuals and entire communities."
I'd like to recommend 4 ways you might choose to utilize the resources here, depending on where you are at.
1. Watch the Videos - there have a LOT of short videos on various themes throughout Scripture.
2. Check out the Podcast. This comes out once a week and his about an hour long. In it they take a deeper, but accessible, walk through the larger themes of the Bible. The material from the podcast gets distilled into the short videos I just mentioned.
3. Read through the Bible. There is a Bible reading plan with the YouVersion app that has video intros from the Bible Project along with daily readings.
4. To go Class! They are developing an online classroom function that goes even deeper. This is a great way to really dive in and might be for you especially if you are preparing for teaching ministries or want deeper ongoing education.
I know that I learn something every time I engage with the material from The Bible Project and I think you will as well!