Literality of Bible Translations

Which Bible translations do you use and why do you use them?  For many of us, that may not be something that we regularly think about.

Many of us attend a church that falls into one of two categories:

  1. We like the church and that’s why we chose/choose to go there.
  2. It’s the family church.

Normally, Bible translations come along for the ride at the church.  Personally, you may use something that isn’t the church standard, but many pick Bibles based upon what their church leaders use or advocate.

Literality of Bible Translations

Notice I didn’t say “accuracy”.

While I’m grossly over-simplifying the issue, the spectrum of Bible translations ranges from word-for-word (most literal but not always communicating a concept ideally) to thought-for thought (less literal but conveying the intent better in our modern language).  I think the favored term for “thought-for-thought” is “dynamic equivalence”.  This spectrum creates tension and difficulty among a lot of different people for a variety of reasons.  For now, disregard that discussion–I’m happy if you own a Bible.

What you’ll find is that the less literal translations are often easier to read due to being more like our modern, spoken/written English.  The more literal translations are often more terse–the words are transliterated and then minimally rearranged to adhere to grammatical rules and to get to a modicum of comprehensibility.  There will always be a minor inflection of personal beliefs into equivalency-motivated translations while more literally translated Bibles will always be more difficult to understand.

To see a metric of where many Bible translations fit in that spectrum of literality, visit the following link:

The graphs there do not provide bragging rights.  It gives you a scale to see what the translators of your translation were trying to target their produced equivalency.  Even better, that link provides several passages with clear comparisons.


Comparing two translations is a difficult task.  While there are some translations that have clear audiences, most major translation efforts have an honest, trustworthy goal of bringing the Bible to more people.

In all fairness, most translations are owned and copyrighted for the intent of bringing a profit. Oddly, this kind of ensures the integrity of the translation in that clear agendas in the translation effort would be pointed out and the expense of the effort of translation would ultimately be a tremendous loss.  Further, Bibles cannot be published without cost.

What am I ultimately suggesting?  Use multiple translations.  If your beliefs are founded upon the use of only one translation, then it’s a bad belief.  I think you’ll learn that a variety of translations provides insights to the others and will make your understanding of any passage much more profound.  If you have a more literal translation–or an older translation–a less literal translation might be a breath of fresh air.  If you’re reading from a less literal work, a stroll in grammar more like what is produced may help to develop more appreciation for the original manuscript.

In either case, I wish you the best in your studies.

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