Reader Q & A

I was asked recently which Bible translation I use and why. Here’s my answer!

If you had asked me three years ago which translation of the Bible I use, I would’ve said the New International Version. And if you’d asked me what I thought of The Message by Eugene Peterson, I would’ve said, “Don’t even go there. Avoid it at all costs.” Now, three years down the (seminary) road, my answers to both of those questions have changed.

Let me say right up front: I am not trying to persuade you to read the same translation I read. Far from it. What I am trying to encourage you to do is this: Educate yourself about the translation (or paraphrase) you’re using because there are significant differences among them. I would even argue that there are different translations that work better at different stages of your Christian walk.

For example, when I was 12 years old I put away my King James Version, and for the next few years I read nothing but the Good News Bible. Why did I do that? Well, let’s take a closer look at both.

The KJV is a “verbal equivalence” translation completed in 1611 by those who spoke Elizabethan English. Verbal equivalence means that the translators started with the ancient languages (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic) and translated them using the best English-equivalent words while keeping the sentences in the same ancient language word order (which isn’t always how we would word things in modern English). The KJV is written on a 12th grade reading level.

On the other hand, the GNB is a “dynamic equivalence” translation completed in 1976 by those who spoke Modern American English. Dynamic equivalence means that the translators—just like the KJV translators—worked from the ancient languages; however, rather than writing a word-for-word translation in the same word order, the GNB translators were more interested in getting the general meaning across to the reader in modern English — even if that meant rearranging the word order and adding additional words. The real selling point to 12-year-old me? The GNB is written on a 6th grade reading level.

It was easier for me to read, and that made it easier for me to meet Jesus.

So, what translation do I use these days? Generally speaking, I lean toward any version that is a verbal equivalence translation. I’m a more developed reader than I was at 12 (thank goodness!) and the closer I can get to the ancient language word order, the closer—in my opinion—I am to the original meaning, keeping in mind that there are some Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words that just don’t translate easily into English.

I rely on the NRSV when I’m doing any type of academic work for seminary. For personal Bible study, I use a mixture of NRSV, ESV, and sometimes NIV or Amplified Bible. And, The Message? The one I used to avoid at all cost?

I’ve found I really like the devotional version.

Yes, it’s pastor Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible as he understood it, and I definitely wouldn’t rely on it for academic writing… but… it, too, has it’s place. The primary text is on a 6th grade level, very easy to read and comprehend. And while I do disagree with some of his paraphrasing, I have other versions for comparison and study. Not to mention, I can see where someone–child or adult–might more easily find Jesus in the pages of The Message, so it definitely serves a purpose.

Bottom line: Study scripture—all of it—in all its many versions. And don’t be afraid to learn a little Hebrew or Greek to further enhance your Bible study.

Father, guide our hearts and our minds when we read your story. Help us find insights into your will for our lives and give us the patience to listen for your voice when we study Holy Scripture. Amen.  


Got a question you’d like me to tackle? I definitely don’t have all the answers (no surprise there!), but I love the discussion and Bible study that questioning leads to. Let me know in the comments.