There are a lot of different Bible translations to choose from. What is it that actually sets them apart? It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of them, often leaving new believers in the dark. A good place to start is understanding the philosophies behind the different translations, so you know what to look for. What are the different types of Bible translations?
Formal Equivalence: Word for Word
The first type of translation is the most straightforward. Formal equivalence is when translators try to make as literal a translation as possible. This technique tries to take the original word and find the closest equivalent to it in the desired language. Some attempt to rearrange the words for grammar, but generally they try to get as close to the original words as possible. A few notable examples include the English Standard Version (ESV) or the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The potential downsides of formal equivalence are that sometimes words do not have perfect counterparts in other languages and meaning can be lost. It can also be a bit difficult for some readers due to its attempt to match the original language and grammar.
Functional or Dynamic Equivalence: Thought for Thought
The second type is a bit less concerned with translating words as it is thoughts and concepts. A functional, or sometimes referred to as a dynamic equivalence, will take a phrase and try to interpret the meaning, rather than just get the closest word possible. Examples would include the New Living Translation (NLV) or the New International Version (NIV). These can be much easier to read and understand, but there is a higher risk of error in interpretation. It is far less likely for a translator’s errors or biases to appear when trying to match words. When they also need to understand and convey the meanings in their translation, it is more likely that a mistake would be made.
If done properly, and handled with care, either formal or functional translations will work. Most of the major translations we use today have been carefully examined by scholars and committees. Don’t feel like you need to stress over your Bible being accurate. Those two types of Bible translations are safe.
Optimal Equivalence: Hybrid Approach
This third category is a bit more of a wild card. Optimal equivalence blends both the literal formal approach, and the thoughtful functional approach. However, this can be used in a few different ways. Sometimes you end up with a good translation like the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), which simply applies both techniques to be as accurate as possible. However, this would also include some of the more loose translations like the Message (TM). These kinds of paraphrased translations can be useful but should probably not be your primary source for Bible study. While helpful in explaining concepts in different and, for some, more understandable ways, they can often go a bit far in changing the text. At the very least, keep another translation handy to compare it with when studying.
Discuss your thoughts for this post on our Facebook Group here.