God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

How Important is Accuracy?

“I like my Bible translation because it…” How would you complete that sentence?

I hear this sort of thing all the time — in comments on this blog, in discussions on similar blogs, via e-mail, in books, and from people who attend my lectures — and there are lots of reasons people like a particular translation.

But I’m surprised that the sentence almost never ends “…because it is accurate.”

Rather, I hear that people like a translation because it’s familiar, formal, chatty, accessible, entertaining, modern, gender-neutral, inclusive, etc.

I’ll post some more thoughts on this soon.

For now: Which translation do you prefer? And why?


July 6, 2010 - Posted by | Bible versions | , , ,


  1. I prefer the NLT for daily readings, devotionals, etc… and for communication. It is the bible in a language easily understood, and one which is easily communicated.

    I prefer the NASB for more formal settings and study.

    Comment by Joel | July 6, 2010

  2. Personally, I’m not sure that I would ever consider “it is accurate” to be the first thing to say about a translation, but I’d certainly never consider one that I knew to be inaccurate.

    Or, perhaps as much to the point, when I know a given passage within a translation is inaccurate, I chose another, but I don’t think any translation is “accurate” at all points. At best, some are more so than others.

    But, frankly, I’m not especially qualified to be an arbiter of accuracy over and above another (educated) Christian.

    Comment by Mark Baker-Wright | July 6, 2010

  3. I utilize the NLT and NET in different settings. I was attracted to the NET because of the considerable efforts to present an accurate, readable text while supplying the reasoning behind their translation decisions. The NLT is very comfortable to read.

    Comment by Eddie Gonzalez | July 6, 2010

  4. I like the KJV because I remember words and phrases in it
    I like the RSV for much the same reason
    I don’t like the NRSV because in its gender neutrality (good) it confuses singular and plural (bad)
    I don’t like the NLB because it interprets too much
    I don’t like the NIV variations for much the same reason

    In making things ‘clear’ or ‘accurate’ translators should avoid stuffing the word into the listener’s ear. Let God do the stuffing.

    Comment by Bob MacDonald | July 6, 2010

    • Bob said: “I don’t like the NRSV because in its gender neutrality (good) it confuses singular and plural (bad).”

      You know, Bob, there’s biblical justification for that, at least in the NT. Neuter plural nouns get singular verbs, and all that jazz. (tongue-in-cheek)

      Joel: I go with the NIV for familiarity, but I always like to cross-reference with ESV and other translations.

      Comment by Gary Simmons | July 7, 2010

  5. I prefer the NLT for the readability and the NET for both its accuracy and its open license. I will sometimes switch to God’s Word during the week just for poops and giggles.

    Comment by Formiko | July 8, 2010

  6. I only use Jewish translations. I think Isaac Leeser’s is my favoroite simply because it is one volume and is better than some other later translations. It gets a few things right that others do not. So it is perhaps the best one to start with.

    For the apocrypha I use the Oxford Annotated Apocrypha.

    Other, wilder things, I don’t read at all.

    Comment by SAMMY FINKELMAN | July 11, 2010

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  9. I’m in limbo about “favorites,” because I look first for accuracy and then for beauty of language…and they don’t appear consistently throughout any one translation.

    At present, for the Gospels, I tend to use The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version (the Jesus Seminar product), but haven’t found any equivalent for the Epistles.

    I like Robert Alter’s work in Psalms and The Five Books of Moses.

    I keep hunting.

    Thanks so much for your blog. It is very valuable to me.


    Comment by Michael | July 17, 2010

  10. I like to work with several different editions at hand. I usually use the most recent JPS as my default bilingual edition; I also often consult Torah: A Women’s Commentary (URJ Press), and sometimes Everett Fox’s chumash (for a d’var acher, as it were.)

    I tend to be looking for a translation which conveys my understanding of the Hebrew in a way that I can easily teach to non-Hebrew-speakers. Also for a translation which reads cleanly and comprehensibly. And because of my background in poetry, I like to see the poetry of the original preserved as best as possible, though obviously there are a variety of ways to do that…

    Comment by rbarenblat | July 18, 2010

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