“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2Tim 3:16-17 NKJV)
Bible Study Key No.3 - Refer To Different Versions of the Bible
Sometimes we need a new light thrown on familiar Scriptures. Of course, the Holy Spirit can illuminate Scripture at any time, but one way to jolt your thinking out of the, "I already know that", rut is to look up the same Scriptures in different translations of the Bible. Just a slight change of wording can open a Scripture to your understanding in magnificent ways, and give the Holy Spirit just the opportunity He has been looking for to reveal fresh truth from familiar verses.
As you probably know, there are many different translations of the Bible available. Sometimes this can prove a little confusing. Which one is the best? Why do we need so many? They range from freely rendered paraphrases like Eugene Peterson’s ‘The Message’, to the literally translated 16th Century classic, the King James Version, or the more modern New International Version.
In Bible translation there are basically two schools of thought:
Word by word translations taken directly from the actual words of the original documents.
The texts are taken broadly, idea by idea, and presented in easy to understand language. These do not always remain accurate to the original language texts.
Translation Methodology also falls into two main categories.
1. "verbal or ‘literal’ equivalency".
Literal word for word translation (Example: King James Version, New American Standard)
2. "dynamic equivalency".
Involves some degree of interpretation, where the translator tries to present what he thinks the writer is trying to tell us, whilst aiming to stay true to the original text. A cornerstone of dynamic equivalency is its goal of translating ideas rather than words. This methodology has become by far the most popular in recent decades. In English, popular dynamic equivalency versions include the New International Version, the New Living Translation and The New Testament in Modern English by J B Phillips.
Some contend that dynamic equivalency can divert the meaning of scripture, because it involves the attempts of fallible men to interpret what they consider to be the meaning of any given passage.
Dr Ryken, in “The Word of God in English”, points out: “if it is possible to translate more accurately by abandoning the words of the original for its ideas, why do the dynamic equivalent translations end up in such disagreement with each other?”
Supporters of dynamic equivalency however, point out its ability to provide the modern reader with a clearer understanding of what otherwise may remain obscure and incomprehensible. It is indeed true that the New Testament in particular was not written as an intellectual or exalted form of literature, but very much in the common language of those to whom it was addressed.
Dynamic equivalence is not a paraphrase. Dynamic equivalence applies to individual words or phrases, not whole sentences and paragraphs as in a paraphrase.
A paraphrase goes beyond just taking certain words and translating them dynamically, to taking entire thoughts and paragraphs into modern language. Popular paraphrases include Today’s English Version (Good News for Modern Man), the Living Bible, the Contemporary English Version, and The Message. Paraphrased Bibles cannot be used for serious Bible Study because they do not maintain textual accuracy, and therefore cannot be relied upon to be entirely trustworthy in their interpretations. Their limited use for personal reading and edification, and to enhance study of accepted translations, can be helpful however.
Serious Bible students should have at least one good translation as an integral part of their Bible studies. A translation is more trustworthy than a paraphrase if you are looking to grasp the original words of the men who penned the scriptures. We would recommend either the King James, New King James or New American Standard as some of the most accurate. Certain flaws in dynamic equivalency make other popular texts such as the NIV and NLT less dependable.
It is a good idea to have several different translations and paraphrases in your library, so you can enjoy the rich resource that they offer to any serious researcher. Many Bible software programs offer an extensive library of different versions and translations, and provide an easy route to quickly compare them with one another.
Refer to Different Versions and Translations of the Scriptures for a list of some of the more popular translations with brief comments on their usefulness.
A Simple Study Method
A great method of study, particularly verse-by-verse study, is to simply look up the same scriptures in different versions of the Bible.
This is so easy and very rewarding, and the best thing is that you don’t have to be a professor to do it! Often something as simple as this is all it takes to open our mind to new revelation as each version can shed a different light on familiar scriptures.
Example 1: 2 Timothy 4:2 using the KJV and the Amplified
The King James translates 2 Timothy 4:2 this way:
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”
Now, if you own an Amplified Bible, turn to the same scripture. The beginning of that scripture in Timothy is translated: “Herald and preach the Word!”
Instead of simply saying ‘preach’, the Amplified urges us also to ‘Herald!’. Herald who? As the Amplified makes clear with its capitalizing of the word ‘Word’, we are to herald ‘The Word’ Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ!
The word ‘herald’ in the Oxford English dictionary includes these two ideas, among others:
“...To proclaim the approach of ...To usher in.”
Can you follow how exciting this method of study can be? Using only two versions of the Bible and an English dictionary, we have gone from the merely ‘preaching the word’ to acting as a forerunner, announcing the immanent approach of the Lord Jesus Christ. And not only does our preaching herald His return, it also ‘ushers in’ His presence here and now! Surely this is the purpose of preaching!
Example 2: Colossians 3:1-2 using the NKJV and the NLT
Turn in your Bible to Colossians 3:1-2. The NKJV renders it:
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.”
Now look at the same paragraph in the popular New Living Translation:
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power. Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth.” (emphasis added)
Isn’t that beautiful? “Let heaven fill your thoughts”, “Set your sights on the realities of heaven.” I love that! This kind of discovery in the Word makes me want to jump and shout, “Hallelujah!”, right there in my study. In fact, that is exactly what I do. I have a Holy Ghost party right there as I spend time with God in His Word. After all, if people go to a feast, there is usually a great deal of drinking, dancing and shouting goes on. Why should it be any different at God’s banqueting table?
A word of warning
We must be careful not to build elaborate doctrines based on a particular rendering or translation of a portion of scripture. Always allow scripture to interpret scripture, and remember, only the original Hebrew and Greek texts are the actual words that God inspired His prophets to record. We must be careful not to deify a particular English translation, remembering that every translation, however good, by its very nature, will contain some discrepancies and mistranslations.