Dear Theophilus: Difference Between Bible Translations

By Shelly Hogan

Reading the Bible

Dear Faculty,

What is the difference between Bible translations and interpretations? How can one know whether a specific translation is accurate enough?

Sincerely,

Theophilus

Dear Theophilus,

This is a good question and one of great importance. Why? Because it is essential to be able to trust the validity of something that is foundational to one’s worldview, moral decisions, and life practice. With that in mind I will endeavor to give insight to your inquiry.

Translation v. Interpretation

Initially, we must understand the difference between translation and interpretation. To translate something is to take it from its original language and put it into a different language. To interpret something is to seek to analyze or make sense of something that is being read or watched. When we look at these simple definitions, we can discern that interpretation and translation are very similar. The key difference being translation predominately involves written material between one or more languages, while interpretation encompasses spoken content. Now, let’s look at these words in connection with the Bible.

Reading, Teaching and Preaching

One of the primary forms of Bible interpretation would be preaching and teaching. This involves oral communication, either face-to-face or through some form of media. This is the process of taking what is written in the Bible and sharing its meaning or intent verbally with others. Another form of interpretation is when one reads scriptures and conceptualizes or forms an understanding, that can then be applied to their own life. Essentially, all of us are utilizing interpretive skills whenever we read, study or listen to new data and this includes the biblical text.

Translation Differences

Translations take the Bible in its original or source language and translate them into another language or format. There is a myriad of Bible translations in the world today. These not only comprise other languages but different types and reading levels as well. Some Bibles have been translated from the original text word for word, others have been translated in thought for thought modality and some have even been paraphrased within the same language.

Choosing a Good Translation

The many translations of the Holy Scriptures provide the reader with a multitude of choices. You asked how one can be sure whether a specific translation is accurate enough? This is a great question and understandably, very important to the serious Bible student. Rest assured, there are many reliable English translations available today. To ensure that you are reading a dependable translation you will want to make sure that it has been translated either word for word or thought for thought by a reputable team of Bible translators. It also helps to gather insights from knowledgeable people that you trust to point you in the right direction for your study level.

Rest assured that most mainline translations have been well vetted and are dependable. They have been developed from the original languages by a team of Bible and language scholars to ensure that nothing essential is lost in translation. Please note, there are some translations to steer clear of and these are translations that are obscure in language or developed from untrustworthy sources. As I mentioned before, consulting with a learned person will help in choosing the best translation for you and guide you away from any questionable sources.

Have your own theology questions? Get your questions answered by emailing cotblog@gcu.edu using the subject line “Dear Theophilus.” To learn more about GCU’s College of Theology visit our website or use the request more information button at the top of the page. If you feel called to a life of ministry, visit our Theology and Ministry degree page.

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