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Since we no longer have any original manuscript, scholars have to compare later transcriptions and translations to determine what the most likely original reading was. This school of study is called 'textual criticism'. This has led to most translations being based primarily on either Byzantium manuscripts or Alexandrian texts. It is actually impossible to perfectly translate one language into another, due to each language having different grammar, cultural idioms, and words that are not always directly synonymous with a counterpart in a different language. To overcome this hurdle, English translations generally run from the spectrum of word-for-word literal translations, that try their best to translate words into their closest counterparts even if some meaning is lost, to thought-for-thought translations that seek to express the meaning of the original passage in a new language, which allows Hebrew and Greek idioms to be better expressed in English. (There are also 'paraphrases', like the Message Bible or NLT, but as faithfulness to the text is not a main concern for them they would not make a list of 'most accurate' translations.) There is no 'perfect' translation. Due to this, it is often helpful not to pick just 'one' translation to read, but to find several good ones that have different strengths. Word-for-word often make great study Bibles. And thought-for-thought often make great devotional Bibles. Here is a list of the 'closest' Bible translations in English: 1) NASB - New American Standard Bible The New American Standard Bible holds the reputation of being the most accurate Bible translation in English. It is a 'literal' translation, holding to the formal equivalence school of thought that the translation should be as literal as possible. Most Bible scholars agree, as the NASB is generally agreed to be the most literal of the English translations, reflecting Hebrew and Greek grammar and style the best. The NASB also restricts scripture to the oldest and best manuscripts available. Verses that are not clearly scripture are placed in footnotes rather than the main text. These translational notes are invaluable for those worried about getting the most accurate translation possible. [In these ways the NASB surpasses another good, popular literal translation, the ESV, as the ESV does not always footnote when necessary and is slightly less accurate in its rendering.] For even more accuracy, you can find NASB study Bibles that underline key words that link with a Hebrew and Greek lexicon in the back. 2) NKJV - New Kings James Version While the NASB is generally considered the 'closest translation' and the 'most literal', there are many scholars and Christians who prefer translations based off of the Byzantium texts alone for the New Testament and eschew the Alexandrian texts. For these, only the KJV or NKJV is really a candidate for 'most accurate.' The NKJV updates the older King James Version by using more modern English words to avoid confusion, and by footnoting verses that have been shown by textual criticism to be dubious and likely later additions. While this 'downgrading' of verses to footnotes is upsetting to many KJV purists who prefer the original, it is more accurate in regards to faithful translation by checking the reliability of manuscript variances. In general, most English translations are going to be over 99.5% accurate, with minimal variance between them. Translations that are less accurate and best avoided as actual translations of scripture are loose paraphrases like the Message and cult translations like the New World translation by the Jehovah's witnesses. **** For a list of good translations that are 'easy to read,' and hence easier as starter Bibles or for devotional Bibles, see: https://ebible.com/questions/4705-what-is-the-easiest-bible-translation-to-read
The Bible was written mostly in Hebrew and Greek. Since most of us are not fluent in those languages, we need the Bible translated into our native tongue. Since your question is in English, I will discuss English translations of the Bible. In evaluating the merit of Bible translations, there are two main issues to be considered. The first is the manuscript basis of the translation, and the second is the translation method used. We almost certainly do not possess the original autographs of Scripture—the copies penned by the human author. If we did, we probably would not be able to identify them as such. What we do have is many ancient copies. It would be nice if they all read exactly the same, but they do not. There are slight variations in the manuscripts. However, textual scholars are able to compare the ancient manuscripts, and by analyzing the merit of the variants, they can ascertain to a high degree of confidence what the originals most likely said. Part of this process of comparing the manuscripts involves grouping them into what are called “families.” Manuscript families are collections of manuscripts that may not read exactly the same, but tend to be similar in their readings. Different textual scholars recognize different numbers of families, giving them names such as Byzantine, Alexandrian, Western, etc. While the Byzantine family is the largest by count, most scholars consider the Alexandrian the oldest. Most older English translations were based on the Byzantine manuscripts, because the older ones were not discovered until their later. Today the only popular translations based on these manuscripts (also called the Majority Text) are the King James Version and the New King James Version. Virtually all the other English translations are based upon Alexandrian texts, as the preponderance of textual scholars considers them closer to the originals. But even if we all agreed on the best manuscript basis, we still have the other issue of translation method. By that I mean “what is the best way to translate from one language to another?” I little background is helpful here. Linguists divide all languages into two main elements. One element is the thoughts, ideas or concepts that can be expressed in the language. The second element is the forms or structures that communicate the ideas. Such forms are the alphabet (if the language has one), the words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and larger segments. The forms are the vehicles for delivering the concepts. Some think the best translations will focus mainly on the forms of the originals. They try to stick to the original structures as much as possible, while still being acceptable English. They think that by translating the forms, they will also translate the ideas. Such translations are called Formal, literal or word-for-word translations. The New American Standard is an example of a very Formal translation. But others, recognizing that structures are only vehicles for carrying the ideas, and that ideas are the important thing that God wants to communicate, focus on putting the ideas of the original into the clearest English as possible, regardless of what forms are used. Their translations read in much smoother English, for it is natural English rather than English words in Hebrew or Greek sentence structures. They recognize that forms in one language may have significance that is lost in another language. For example, word order may suggest one thing in Greek, but not in English, so literal translations would lose meaning. But conceptual translations, called Dynamic or thought-for-thought translations, use whatever forms in the receptor language that best communicate the ideas of the source language. The New International Version is the most popular of the Dynamic translations. This is why even learned scholars disagree on which translations are the best. Some measure by adherence to forms and others by clarity of ideas.
While God's Word to man is infallible, it was mentioned that for reasons provided, any linguististic translation cannot fully propagate the original infallibility. Consequently, a suggestion of reading, no - studying multiple translations will serve to empower the seeker with a better academic understanding of both literal and figurative conveyances of Holy Scripture. During this process the seeker (either "saved" or as yet "unsaved") is also inherently posturing himself/herself to be open to the working (enlightenment, conviction, incentive, etc.) of the Holy Spirit - the SOURCE of the communication of the original Word to man. Jesus came as the physical embodiment (or, manifestation) of that Word ("Word made Flesh"). In this state of sincere pursuit of the Truth, the Holy Spirit is well able to work intimately with each person to convey an intended, designed application of Scripture. God's primary desire is to simply restore to us the relationship He had with Adam before the fall. Time spent seeking Him will help to accomplish just that. "Study to show yourself approved" can be applied to every step, every situation, every calling, and every level of spiritual maturity. As our recovered relationship with the Almighty God develops, we grow to understand His heart, His nature, His intentions all the more. Any translation in and of itself - regardless of accuracy - requires the continuing inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make the written Word alive and applicable to us - personally and corporately. It is in this context that I firmly believe that if there be any fallibility in any translation (regardless of how miniscule), a sincere seeker will have the safety and correction of the Holy Spirit to stay true to original, direct communication of and with the Word. Scripture was never intended to be given as a complete extent of knowledge about God, but rather a common Foundation in the form of Jesus - the manifest Son of God, from which to encourage each of us into a personal adventure with our Creator and the very Love of our lives!
Since all original scripture is inspired by GOD and profitable, I would say the living GOD is not unable to crush any bad translations, nor can I believe he would be unwilling to do so. Therefore I would surmise that all the major translations are good in that they will convey to the reader exactly what GOD intended. It is we, humans, who have the ability to 'hear' what we like and interpret or wrest the scriptures to fit our own personal interpretations, no matter how exactly they may or may not be translated. It is not in hearing the word that there is any real problem; it is in the 'doing' of it. Pick the best translation you know how and go with it. If you find any good reason that one is better than another- then go with it. Most all the modern popular ones are good and have been scrutinized very well. In fact, if you compare them, you will see, as I have, that they are not really very different in the least.
The Modern Literal Version at http://www.modernliteralversion.com has a chart that uses math to compare 5 bible translations. The MLV is free in PDF, e-Sword, MyBible & MySword programs. It is the only translation where 1 million possible (downloads) proofreaders could have always submitted "Thus saith NOT the Greek" if they could ever find one. The MLV is not made for profit that is why it can do this. The email address is inside. No other bible translation appears to want to be fixed. To help make this all happen they even made books and those module to help the proofreaders proofread the actual translation.
The KJV is the word of God.. Many of the newer translations change words. Many later bibles have whole verses left out. They change the wording to agree with what they believe. When the bible says believe, and they change that word to obey, that implies salvation is by works instead of grace. Sometimes words are left out. We have study bibles with a mans name on the front. The Holy Bible KJV does not have a mans name on it. It is the word of God. God has protected his written word I believe through the KJV, and it is the only one I can accept. If it is not perfect, how can a rewritten bible be better? The KJV is the bible to me.
My opinion is that the KJV is not "The Word of God" any more than, for example, the NASB, HCSB, or ESV. When it is said that Bibles other than KJV "change the wording" that shows a lack of knowledge about how the KJV came to be. Actually, there were other English Bibles at the time: The Geneva Bible, the Great Bible, commissioned in the reign of King Henry VIII (1535), and the Bishops' Bible, commissioned in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1568). So why did King James commission a new Bible? The Geneva Bible was translated from much better original Greek texts. It was the best at the time. But the Geneva Bible had "notes". King James wanted a Bible without "notes" so as to bias readers. But, part of that is because King James wanted his translation to be biased in it's own way. For example: When the King James translators rendered Acts 2:47 with the words, “such as should be saved,” they ignored the Greek present tense form, “are being saved.” The KJV thus yields a sense that accommodates the denominational notion of predestination. Hebrews 10:38 as a similar example. Instead of granting a pure translation to the Greek verb baptizo which signifies “immerse,” the KJV translators (and most others since) have sought to conceal the original meaning of the term in order to placate those who believe that “sprinkling” and “pouring” are acceptable substitutes for immersion. There is simply no question that bias was involved in this procedure. Another example: The Greek term for “believe” is pisteuo. To assert the opposite idea, the Greeks simply added an “a” (a negative prefix) to the front of the word. Hence, apistia is “unbelief” (Heb. 3:12), and apistos is rendered “unbelievers” (1 Cor. 6:6) or “faithless” (Mt. 17:17). On the other hand, there is another Greek word, apeitheo, which is found sixteen times in the New Testament. It literally means to “not obey,” or, to say the same thing in another way, to “disobey.” In spite of this clear difference in meaning, the KJV translators rendered apeitheo by “believe not” (or a similar equivalent) some nine times out of the sixteen. They were inconsistent - for a biased reason. Compare the KJV with the ASV in John 3:36. The former renders apeitheo by “believeth not,” while the ASV translators correctly render the term as “obeyeth not.” The KJV OBSCURES THE TRUTH that belief is more than a mere mental process; rather, it entails obedience. Professor J. Carl Laney has written: “This text indicates clearly that belief is not a matter of passive opinion, but decisive and obedient action” (John: Moody Gospel Commentary, Chicago: Moody, 1992, p. 87). But such a rendition is not consistent with the “faith-only” position of the Church of England. Hence, some scholars believe that the KJV translators revealed something of their “faith-only” bias by translating apeitheo as “believeth not,” instead of “obeyeth not.” It makes no difference whether or not the translators "faith-only" bias is correct. What matters is a faithful and true translation of the Scriptures - which the King James is not. Arndt and Gingrich, in their Greek-English Lexicon (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1967), expose their own bias by preferring “disbelieve” as a translation of apeitheo, though they concede that this rendition is “greatly disputed” and “is not found outside our lit[erature]” (p. 82). I show no disrespect to the overall integrity of the KJV when I concede that it has its weaknesses, just as any translation may. But please - it is grossly incorrect to say that the KJV is THE "Word of God." Only the original writings in Greek or Hebrew are so.
I grew up being told that the KJV was the only bible to use. I listened to a Focus on the Family program by James Dobson on the top ten bible versions out there and KJV wasn't even mentioned. That got me thinking because I did respect that program a lot, and this was something worth looking into. I have learned some things since then. One thing is that no matter how much people change things, God said His word will be there till the end of time. So why am I trying to do what God says He will do? Another thing is, don't pick apart verses, or words, that will take you in whichever direction you want it to, but rather try and catch what the writer is trying to say. I heard a well respected bible teacher once say that a good message is not backed up by scripture, but rather a good message comes out of scripture. Every religion out there backs up there views and traditions with scripture. The one thing that I've learned over the years which explains it the best, is that our Heavenly Father cares way more about one drug addict out on the street than any version of the bible. It must be heart breaking for our Father to see his people arguing over which version is the best while there are so many that need to just hear his word.
For the New Testament, the older the source the less likely it is to have been altered. The exception to this is books that were known to be fraudulent when written. Early Church leaders made lists of accurate books as far back as the second century. The canon was formalized in the third century, although the Catholics continued to add books till the 1600's. The oldest complete New Testament I know of is the Codex Sinaiticus:http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/ This version is linked to Eusibus, an associate and mentor of Emperor Constantine, who started the Holy Roman Empire. Some believe this is one of 50 bibles Constantine ordered sent by chariot throughout the Roman Empire. It does date to that era. I find it beneficial to look at multiple translations, the meanings of the words that were translated, and even where those same words were used elsewhere in the Bible. For the Old Testament I believe the Jewish versions to be largely accurate owing to a tradition of rigorous quality and a multitude of copies worldwide. However, the oldest complete version is a Greek translation, the Septuagent (which contains apocryphal books not generally accepted): https://www.biblestudytools.com/apocrypha/lxx/ The Codex I mentioned early also has large parts of the Old Testament.
When we think about the various bible translations it is very important to have an awareness of the philosophy of the scholars who contributed to the translation and the principles they followed. For instance, the NASB version prefaced its philosophy with a fourfold purpose: (1). The printed publications must be true to the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. (2) It must be grammatically correct. (3). It must be understandable. (4). It should give the Lord Jesus Christ His proper place, the place which the Word gives Him; therefore, no work will ever be personalized. They are supported by the Lockman Foundation and committed to the integrity of scholarship and scriptural authenticity. They have revised their translations two times and a 2020 version will soon be completed. As a student and pastor, I have invested significantly in a very thorough Bible Study software program that provide substantial resources to do Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, historical, contextual and comparative analysis on biblical words and passages, Seminary trained us to go underneath the words in the printed texts to find God in Christ with the Holy Spirit leading and guiding us to capture the original meaning-- literal, figurative and metaphorical and to be able to apply it to our current cultural context. What God has revealed to me is a process for gaining knowledge, understanding and wisdom of God's biblical truths. I have found so many inconsistencies in interpretation of various passages which have only made me dig deeper into my exegesis so that I am true to 1Peter 3:15. One major textual differentiation for my faith community is explaining why some versions eliminate the doxology in the model prayer in Matthew 6:13. "For thine is the Kingdom, the Power and Glory forever Amen" is not present in many translations. For my community the doxology is the power point in the prayer! Some might say we have a problem Houston! After over 18 years of studying the Word, my process has evolved to the place where I totally depend on the Holy Spirit to guide my study of the sacred texts. In recent times, I find myself using the NIV, Amplified, NASB, NKJV, NLT, Passion Translation, and CEV. After reading at least 7 versions of the text, I am ready to ask the questions and begin my journey with God for meaning. My seminary thesis was "Faith Seeking Understanding" and what I wrote 14 years ago is very relevant to my walk today. Now there are some interpretations that are out of the realm of authentic scholarship such as the Jehovah Witness's "The New Translation of the Holy Bible" which was written with a specific "personalized" agenda. When considering any of the authentic biblical interpretations, I believe we should not ask the question of whether one version is more accurate than another. We should ask the question what is the best process for rightly dividing the Word truth, drawing closer to God, and provides the greatest opportunity to receive the constant flowing of living water that flows through our souls with the revelation of Jesus Christ.
There is no way to name one translation as more accurate than any other because there are too many variables, nor is the actual translation anywhere near as important as the interpretation of the individual reader. Naturally the translation problems impact that individual interpretation so they must be considered. I have found many good things, and many bad things in every translation I have examined. I have personal opinions as to which is more accurate than others, but that also is one of those personal interpretation things and should have little or no influence on anyone else's study. You must examine these things for yourself under the guidance of the Holy Spirit or the study has no real validity. That does not mean you cannot seek the guidance of other godly people, but you must then recognize that each of us has our own idols of the heart (Eze 14:1-11) which causes our own blind spots, and which force our own personal opinions on scriptural interpretation unless we are willing to fully surrender those interpretations to God and cast down any idol of preconceived ideas, or incorrectly taught and believed doctrine. The biblical rule is question everything (see especially Dt 13, but there are many other texts in both testaments) but most Christians are taught to question nothing if it is stated by the appropriate denominational officials. If you take the question everything attitude and look for proper confirmation of everything it becomes easy to cast down the idols you have been taught to worship in your past, no matter how poorly translated a particular version of scripture is. In my opinion, the most accurate English translation in existence is the New American Bible (NAB). This is translated by the Roman Catholic Church. Since every word spoken through a prophet is symbolism (Num 12:6-9) and usually is not even understood properly by the prophet (Mt 13:17) interpretation of the symbols in more important than proper translation of the words. All translations contain the seed of the word of God, and this is usually enough for any student who seeks proper interpretation of the symbols rather than an actual literal reading of the words. It takes digging and a type of study that is very rare these days but is still in existence. The truth cannot be found with the kind of superficial or ultra literal interpretation that has always been very common. God intentionally used the symbols to hide his truth from those who care more about supporting their own beliefs than seeking out his truth. (Dt 13, Mt 13)
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