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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, do 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!
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.
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