WAVE Study Bible

Which Bible Should I Use?

When Studying…
Denise and my favorite English Bible translation is the New American Standard Bible (NASB) with the King James Version (KJV) as our second favorite. After that, we use the other Bible translations in their strength—some are good for one thing and others are good for something else (see below for an example).


When Teaching…
When we teach, we encourage those that have a favorite Bible, to use that Bible and find the Facts, Lessons, Challenges, and Response from it. But since most people do not have a favorite Bible, we include a copy of the passage with each Lesson.

My choice for which translation to use during training goes like this…. There are many obstacles as you learn how to study the Bible. Part of my job, as the teacher, is to remove obstacles that would hinder you. So, when I look at a passage, if the King James Version of the passage does not introduce additional obstacles, I will go with it. But if the Elizabethan English of the KJV would hinder learning, I will either use the NASB or use both KJV and NASB. Since I know the original Bible languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic) I understand the translation issues and the KJV and the NASB are excellent word-for-word translations.

Having said that, I believe the best overall strategy for studying the Bible, after you get engaged in the process, is to make use of multiple Bible translations. Let me explain why….


Multiple Translations are Helpful
There was once a time when it was impractical to carry around more than one Bible translation because they were big and heavy. With that limitation it became important to choose that translation carefully because it was your only exposure to God's word. This would give rise to heated discussions about which translation was the very best and the most accurate. Today we are not limited to one Bible translation. Anyone who can afford a smart phone or iPod can carry many Bible translations conveniently wherever they go. Now that there is no limitation, is there a benefit in comparing different Bible translations? Indeed there is.
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Romans 6:23 emailed from WAVE Parallel Bible

Multiple Translations Get You Closer to the Original
The first benefit comes from the fact that God did not write the Bible in English. He used the languages that were familiar to the human authors whom God inspired to write the Bible. The New Testament was written in Greek and the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and a few portions in Aramaic (a language similar to Hebrew). So to get the Bible in English, somebody must translate it from these languages to English.

When you translate a document from one language to another it is sometimes difficult to convey the range of meaning the Original language allows. In those situations, different translators will invariably pick different translations.

Without knowing the Original, the best way to discover the range of meaning allowed by the Original language is to compare these different translations and put together a picture in your head of what the Original must be saying. Comparing several Bible translations is like the mother who sees her 4 kids run into the house all telling their version of what just happened on the playground. The mother would get the best sense of what just happened on the playground if she listened to each story and put together a mental image of what just happened. That would be much more complete than if she only listened to one of the reports. By comparing the different translations you get the range of meaning allowed by the Original language.


Multiple Translations Meet Your Needs in Different Ways at Different Times
The other benefit of comparing several translations is that you can make use of the strengths of each translation. Every major translation follows a carefully designed translation theory. Some want to match original words to English words as closely as possible regardless how awkward the result sounds in English. This theory could be thought of as the word-for-word translation theory. The KJV and the NASB are Bible translations that fit this category.

Other translations are more focused on making the Bible as understandable as possible. These translations match original thoughts to English thoughts as closely as possible. In practice, a single thought is usually a single sentence. But sometimes it is as large as a single paragraph. This theory could be thought of as the thought-for-thought translation theory and translations that use this theory are also known as paraphrases. The Living Bible and The Message are translations that fit in this category.

The last group of Bible translations attempt to accomplish the objectives of both of the other groups—they want a translation in which the wording matches the original wording and is easily understandable. These translations match original phrases with English phrases as closely as possible. This theory could be thought of as the phrase-for-phrase translation theory. The NIV, NET Bible, and most of the other translations fit somewhere in this category.

The truth of the matter is that sometimes it suits your purpose best to have word-for-word accuracy and other times another approach fits better.


For Example
The example below shows Psalm 1:1 in eight Bible translations. The translations in the blueish panels are word-for-word, greenish panels are phrase-for-phrase, and warm colored panels are thought-for-thought translations.
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Psalm 1:1 screenshots from WAVE Parallel Bible

This verse has been translated from Hebrew into English for us by eight different translation teams. I will also translate the Hebrew of this verse for you in a very wooden and mechanical word-for-word manner so you can see how the polished translation teams are helping you:

"Blessed [is] the man who does not walk in the counsel {or advice} of the wicked {or ungodly},
and in the way of sinners he does not stand {or remain, endure},
and in the seat of scoffers he does not sit {or remain, dwell}."


This verse, like all the Psalms, is Hebrew poetry and is awkward to bring into English well. The three word-for-word translations smooth out the phrase "and… he does not…" into the crisper English word "nor." This conveys the same meaning as the phrase "and… he does not…" but it also conveys the crisp sense of the Original Hebrew poem. Notice that none of the word-for-word translations above alter the key words in the verse like "walk," "counsel," and "sinners."

Now take a look at the three phrase-for-phrase translations. They begin to take liberties like "who does not
follow the advice" (NIV). The actual word that was used was not "follow" but was "walk." By using the word "follow" these translations have removed the metaphor of "walking" and stated the meaning of the metaphor more directly. God is not coaching us on the mechanics of walking. He is warning us not to "heed" or "follow" the advice of the ungodly. Can you see how this translation is not an accurate translation of the Original word, but is an accurate translation of the meaning of the phrase? This is what phrase-for-phrase translations do.

The thought-for-thought translations, on the right, take even more liberties to convey the thought. The Message translates the same phrase as, "you don't hang out at Sin Saloon." The only word in this translation that came from the Original language is the word "sin" which came from the word "wicked" or "ungodly." But if you sit back and compare the two thoughts they are going in the same direction. In effect, this translation has exchanged the metaphor of "walking" for the metaphor of "hanging out" at a "saloon." We generally associate a "saloon" with ungodly behavior and we associate "hanging out" as associating with and following a group of people. So, "hanging out at Sin Saloon" is lending your support to ungodly people, just like the literal verse.

Back when people were limited to carrying a single translation of the Bible, thought-for-thought translations like the Living Bible were heavily criticized because they only illustrated one of the connotations of the actual words. In the case above, the connotation of the word "walk" that was illustrated was the idea of "associating with," and "supporting" a group of people. But when you spend time and explore the other possibilities from a word-for-word Bible, the word "walk" could also have a connotation of "your natural course of life" or "the carrying out of your daily activities" and you would also apply the verse to those areas. Since thought-for-thought translations could not provide all the possible angles, the critics said you should not restrict yourself to that kind of a translation.

But now that you are not limited to one translation. You can make quick reference to these vivid Bibles as you explore what the actual words mean. When used in combination, these different translations give you much to work with. Consulting multiple Bible translations gives you the fastest and richest exposure to the range of meaning intended by the Author.


WAVE Parallel Bible Presents Multiple Translations
WAVE Parallel Bible was built around the concept of comparing Bible translations because we believe it is the most effective way to study the Bible. The email above is how Wave shares a verse with someone else. Wave sequences the translations from left to right in columns that begin with the word-for-word translations, end up with thought-for-thought translations, and progress smoothly through each of the variations.

That way you can do most of your studying in your favorite translation then move to the translations on the left when you get focused on specific wording, or move to the translations on the right when you have totally lost the trend of thought and want to regain it quickly.


Use Bible Translations in their Strength
Comparing quality Bible translations in this way makes use of the strength of each translation, it provides you with the range of meaning allowed by the Original, and it helps you never be stuck puzzling over an awkward English translation.

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