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Preparing to Study

Choosing a Bible

It only takes one trip to a bookstore to know that there are hundreds of options in Bibles. Some are better for reading or devotionals, some for study, and others for children. There are Bibles with wide margins, compact travel versions, study Bibles with notes of explanation. . . the list goes on and on.

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and has been translated into English. The differences in translations vary in reading levels and in style.

There are basically 3 types of Bible translations:

  1) Literal -- This is a “word for word” translation. It follows the Hebrew or Greek as closely as possible. Therefore, a literal translation will be the closest English translation of the original text. Drawback: Some of the wording may sound awkward in today's English

  2) Dynamic-equivalent --- This is a “thought for thought” translation that translates the biblical words and phrases into clear and contemporary English equivalents. The priority is on the intended meaning along with comprehension. These translations are easy to read and faithful to the original message. Drawback: In a few instances the original meaning of the text is not conveyed clearly.

  3) Paraphrase or free translation -- These translations are more concerned with clarity than exact wording. They are easy to read, but can give the impression that the Bible was written in the 20th century. For example in Psalm 119:105 "lamp" in KJV and NAS is translated "flashlight" in TLB. Obviously there were no flashlights a few thousand years ago! Drawback: Compromises on the original meaning of the text.

See the chart of translation comparisons.

Smart Bible students will take advantage of all 3 types of translations. But, it is best to use either a literal or a dynamic-equivalence translation for your actual study. These 2 translations grasp the basic meaning of the passage which was originally tried to for its audience. Remember though that the different translations can help to provide unique insights into the text and ideas on how to better communicate the Bible to others.

A short book that I’ve found helpful on how the Bible came to us and explanations on the different types of translataion is The Complete Guide to Bible Versions by Philip Comfort.

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