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Why Translations Matter

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Can you imagine if your only option was the read the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek? I imagine we'd have far less engagement with the Bible then we do today! (Perhaps none!)

I've been asked many times why there are so many translations. There is lot to that question, but there are basically three types of approaches that translators take:

1) Formal Equivalence. This is a 'word-for-word' approach to Bible translation. Though these translations tend to follow the original words very carefully, they can be a little clunky in their word flow and are generally aged at a high school or college reading level, making it difficult for young children and those who struggle with reading to follow along. (Example: NASB)

2) Dynamic Equivalence. This is the most popular approach and is a 'thought-for-thought' translation which is still very accurate to the original text, but uses updated language and sentence structure to make it easier for students of the Scripture to understand it's original intent. (Example: NIV)

3) Paraphrase. This is similar to a though-for-thought approach, though it uses freer language that is the easiest to understand but can sometimes slightly remove the reader from the actual meaning of the original text. I generally recommend that these be treated like a commentary on the Bible since it contains so much of the translator giving meaning to words instead of just translating. (Example: The Message)

What I recommend is that you try one from each category so you can see how the language is translated differently. Here is one example today where the different translations help. Take a look at James 1:22, noting the underlined words.

NIV - Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

NASB - Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.

The Message - Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!

The NASB (a literal, word-for-word translation) gives us an accurate rendering of the text. In Greek, the underlined words are nouns, not verbs. In other words, the command to Christians is not just to hear, but to be hearers. It is not just to do, but to be doers!

That small difference is a huge difference. The command is not to go out and try to listen better and do better. It is a statement that we are to be people who do not just do and listen in certain circumstances, but are hearers and doers all the time.

It is who we are.


Scripture for this week's message in 3 translations! James 4:4-10
New American Standard Version (NASB)
New International Version (NIV)
The Message

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