[I modified the date on this post so that it immediately follows the episode “Know Your Heritage” in the order of the posts on this site.  This post was actually written on May 1, 2009, if it matters to anyone!]

In response to our episode called “Know Your Heritage”, a discussion of Bible translations arose. I attempted to post this as a comment, but either its length or its links are causing something to fail. So I’ll leave it as a post here. [Oddly, I had a lot of difficulty with it as a post, too, and ended up constructing this paragraph by paragraph until I found the problem. Except I really don’t know what the problem is! It’s working now, though, so…whatever! Here we go…]

I want to offer a little clarification on terminology. All of the categories Raborn mentioned are translations. “Transliteration” is when you actually convert the very letters into our alphabet. For example, the Greek word for heart is translated as “heart”, but is transliterated as “kardia”. So transliteration is not a form of translation.

A true “word-for-word” translation is virtually unreadable. Let’s use the well-known John 3:16 for comparison.

Here is Young’s Literal Translation: “for God did so love the world, that His Son — the only begotten — He gave, that every one who is believing in him may not perish, but may have life age-during.” Very wooden, very awkward, but very accurate from a literal standpoint. (Note that literal is not always a one-to-one correlation for each word, but often is.)

Here is the New American Standard, which is closer to literal, but also attempts to make things grammatically correct in English and a bit more readable: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Very close to what is known by so many in the King James, but without the Elizabethan “-eth” third-person verb endings (i.e., “believes” instead of “believeth”)

Here is the New International Version: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Very similar to the NASB in this particular verse, but notice the interpretation of the Greek “monogene” (I transliterated that!) as “one and only” versus the more traditional “only begotten”. This has caused some controversy, because John says that anyone who believes in Jesus is called a son of God, so “one and only” is misleading in this interpretation. But the point I’m making here is that the NIV made an interpretive decision here that goes beyond the strict meaning of “monogene”.

Now, the New Living Translation says, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” This translation also uses “one and only”, but they also make an interpretive decision to render “houtos” as “so much”. This is actually an error. (!!!) The word “houtos” (traditionally interpreted as “so”) has to do with method or effect, not quantity. So the sending of Jesus in John 3:16 is not simply a statement of how MUCH God loved the world, but rather the way in which God DEMONSTRATED his love.

In the discussion of translation types, what really happens is that there is a continuum between literal (not really readable if done strictly) and paraphrase (an attempt to get the meaning into our own idioms and language). Both are represented by extremes. I already demonstrated Young’s Literal Translation as sort of the extreme on the literal end. The extreme on the other end is represented by “The Message” (among others). The Message renders John 3:16 as such: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” (note that Eugene Peterson also used the “how much” concept, although I really don’t believe that is representative of the Greek) In this paraphrase, you get a hefty dose of the translator’s interpretation of things such as hell (“be destroyed”) and eternal life “whole and lasting”).

Actually, I will share one more example, one that tries to play both sides of the fence. That’s “The Amplified Bible”, which reads: “For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.” This version is extremely difficult to read aloud because of the constant parenthetical interruptions, but does give the benefit of showing possible meanings of words without forcing one interpretive decision on the reader.

A very good source for comparing translations online is Bible Gateway, which allows you to quickly change translations for any passage you’re viewing.

For checking the Greek words (lexical definitions, transliterations, and other uses within the New Testament), check out Crosswalk.com’s Interlinear Bible. Type in a passage, choose whether you want to use the King James or the New American Standard concordance, and you’ll see the passage in both English and Greek. Click on a Greek word and you’ll see the transliteration, lexicon definitions, ways in which it is translated, and links to that word’s usage in every other New Testament passage where it appears.

OK, sorry to bore you all with the lengthy comment, but I thought it might be helpful to those who want to go even further with these questions.