For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21
Today there are many translations of the Bible into English, and publishing companies have jumped on the commercial bandwagon with specialty Bibles for students, for business people, for married couples, for singles--for all kinds of people groups.
For almost 400 years there was one undisputed lion of English translations--the 1611 version of the King James Bible. It reigned supreme in beauty and lucidity. Then when the language changed and the Shakespearean English of the King James Bible was no longer used by ordinary people, new versions of the Bible found their way into the church.
In the 1940s J. B. Phillips began an expanded translation of Scripture into ordinary British English--something that was radically different from the authorized version of the King James text. A few years later as he took the daily train ride from his home to work at Moody Press in Chicago, Ken Taylor, taking the familiar King James text as a point of departure, wrote a paraphrase of Scripture, primarily for his children. His kids liked it; so did adults. Eventually it became the text of The Living Bible.
Today many people are confused by the plethora of editions and versions. I am often asked, "Do you recommend a Bible?" And I'm hard-pressed to give an answer without time for an explanation. Why? In as few words as possible, here's why. A paraphrase such as Phillips and Ken Taylor gave us is not a translation. It is a free interpretation of what the original language says. While both of them have helped people the world over, a paraphrase isn't a translation of what God gave through holy men long ago, and when you are committed to the integrity of what the Holy Spirit gave to the writers of Scripture, it's settling for less than the real thing.
Other translations attempt to make the Bible relevant to life today. The New International Version, for example, is called a dynamic translation, or a functional equivalent. In other words, the translators try to find the equivalent expression of what the text says in our culture. For example, David Henne, translating the Bible for the Bora tribe in Peru, translates Isaiah's text about your sins being as scarlet shall be white as snow, as "white as yucca" because the Indians in Peru are more familiar with freshly peeled, clean yucca than snow.
In my doctoral program I had the privilege of teaching Greek to three of the men who became translators of the NIV, but many feel modern translators have gone too far in their quest for relevance in a kind of cafeteria approach to what they think God is saying to us today.
In an article entitled, "We Really Do Need Another Bible Translation," Raymond C. Van Leeuwen makes the case that we need to go back to what God says rather than what translators think it says. Those who have a high view of Scripture, who believe God breathed upon the writers, making their words the words of the Holy Spirit, agree, myself included. The new English Standard Bible produced under the leadership of editor Dr. J. I. Packer, may well be the text that meets that challenge. The translation, which took three years to complete, was done by more than 100 scholars from the English-speaking world. A hasty review of key passages impresses me as a move towards the center, which I think is needed.
It is much better to find out what God is saying to us than to attempt to make God say what we understand in our culture and world today. As Van Leeuwen says, "For us moderns to understand the Bible, we have to learn a lot about the world of the Bible and the world in the Bible; otherwise it just doesn't make sense."
Resource reading: Joshua 1:7-9