Why You Need to Read Different Bible Translations

As I read through the Bible this year, I’m primarily using the New International Version. Since 2007, however, the English Standard Version (ESV) has been my primary translation of choice.

But at some point late last year, conviction hit me in the face and I felt I had become a Bible translation snob. The ESV had become the Bible. Other translations were less than. And that’s not a good disposition to have.

Here was my mistake: I had forgotten the point of a Bible translation: different Bible translations have different purposes.

All translations should try to make the Bible understandable to the receiver (i.e. the person reading). However, some try to translate thought behind the original text. Others try to translate what the original text essentially said. Still others offer a paraphrase.

This is important to remember. What’s more important is that no translation is perfect. No translation is word-for-word or literal. No translation is unbiased. Why? Because it’s a translation, produced by translators who are, by definition, flawed people who are imperfect and, yes, biased.

Translators make choices and those choices affect the way we see a particular text. It could be a rigid commitment to use an outdated word, using “he/him” when “mankind/people” is what the first readers would have understood, or even a particular preposition which changes the emphasis or insight of a sentence.

This shouldn’t cast doubt on whether or not you can trust the Bible. Most Bible translations are actually incredibly similar. And these choices translators make don’t affect our essential beliefs as Christians (the Trinity, sin, the gospel, salvation, etc.). But, without getting specific, these choices do influence some of our secondary or even peripheral beliefs. And if you only read one translation, you’ll be blind to it.

This is why reading several translations is valuable and, I would argue, necessary.

So if you’ve only been reading one Bible version for a year, or longer, what’s keeping you from picking up another one?