This post is especially for millennials, from a millennial.
Biblical translations are a fickle subject. Many people have opinions on which translations are the most “correct” or “orthodox”, which is great – but a little scholarship might change your opinion. Let me take a crack at it.
So, I’m going to walk through some common mistakes or misunderstandings that tend to sneak up on people concerning translations. These bolded statements are from conversations that I have had with students my age. A majority of this conversation will be focused upon the New Testament side of things, because, well… I don’t know Hebrew very well!
“I read the King James Version because it’s the most reliable translation.”
Sorry. The KJV is poor in quality compared to biblical texts in the 20th/21st century. I promise I do not have a prejudice against “thy” and “thou”. The KJV is a “literal” translation from Hebrew and Greek into English, which is a great thing. The only problem is that the KJV only used a few older Greek manuscripts in the creation of the New Testament. To be a bit more technical, the KJV uses almost solely the Textus Receptus, while we now use a dynamic, critical text, which means we have an overwhelming amount of researched Greek texts that have helped us create a more reliable New Testament. It’s not the KJV’s fault, but we just have a better Greek text to translate from.
“The Douay-Rheims is the most ‘Catholic’ Bible.”
Sigh. I’m sorry, Grandpa. This is not true either! The Douay-Rheims is a literal translation from the Latin Vulgate into English. Why is that an issue? Let’s be very clear here – the New Testament was written in GREEK. The Latin Vulgate, although beautiful, is also not the best translation in the world. The Douay-Rheims is a translation of a translation. You do not need to be a critical scholar who compares the critical Greek text and the Latin to understand that translating a translation cannot be as literal as starting with the first translation. Also, reiterating my point in the KJV post, our Greek texts are better now than in the time of Jerome. I am very aware that Jerome was closer to the time of Jesus than we are, but he also had limited resources. We translate from Greek instead of Latin for a reason.
So, which translation is best?
This question is mostly subjective. It depends on your goal of reading the text: are you reading devotionally or are you wanting a more literal translation? The New American Standard Bible, which is a Protestant Translation, is one of the most literal translations. It is the English text that I compare my personal Greek translations with. The New American Bible (RE) is one of the standard Catholic Bibles according to the USCCB, and it is a strong translation. The New Jerusalem Bible is more on the functional side than the literal side, but is also a very popular translation. If you would prefer a more language-inclusive text, the New Revised Standard Edition is a fantastic option. Do not worry, the Holy Spirit will not be emasculated if you do not refer to it as a “he”.
- There is an entire field dedicated to the study of finding the most reliable text. It is called textual criticism. Why is this necessary? We do not have a single original manuscript or copy of any of the biblical texts.
I hope this helped clear up any lingering misunderstandings about translations. Please drop me any other questions you might have in the comments!
Alex Blechle is a MTS student at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary, and a Graduate Assistant for the Pray Tell Blog. Alex graduated from Manhattan Christian College in December of 2016 with a B.A. in Theological Research and Bible & Leadership.