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What is best, a translation or paraphrase of the Bible?

Updated on June 8, 2008

What is best, a translation or paraphrase of the Bible?

What is the difference between a translation of the Bible and a paraphrase of the Bible? A good translation is taken from the Koine Greek which is the most common written language used during the time the New Testament. A paraphrase is taking from a translation, usually The King James Bible, and putting it into the local vernacular for better understanding. While easier to read, especially for new Christians and younger people, a paraphrase will outdate itself in a few years after it was written. For example, when I was a youth director in the late 60's, the most popular Bible for the teens in our church youth group was, "The Good News for Modern Man". However, a person reading it today would not totally understand it because some of the words used then would be non-understandable today. Here is a quick example: a few days ago I was giving a description of a car I had in High School to a 20 year old man. I told him, the car was lowered, leaded, had a split manifold, dual carbs, Hollywood mufflers, tear drops, cats eyes, skirts, and half moons. The twenty year old I was talking to was completely baffled by what I said.

For easy reading, a paraphrase may be more desirable than a translation, but for a person who really wants in-depth Bible study, you need a good translation. How can you tell the difference? Normally, the type of Bible will be noted before you get to the table of contents. My favorite translation is the, "New American Standard Bible". This particular translation is taken from the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic languages.


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    • Ray P Burriss profile imageAUTHOR

      Ray P Burriss 

      9 years ago from Chattanooga

      To Chris a PS: Now that I have a little more time, let me point out something.

      A little background about me before continuing. For 50 years, I've either been in selling or promotion, both in the secular sector and the Christian sector. Based on this 50 years of practical experience and my education that includes 4 Christian colleges, universities, and 2 seminarys, here is additional input.

      1. Know what "market" you want to appeal too. In the case of this hub, I was appealing to the new Christian. My objective was simply to point out that a translation was better than a parapharse.

      2. Once you decide on your "Market", narrow it down to what you want to present. Present too much in you simply confuse the situation. In my hub, I suggested the "New American Standard Bible" because, in my opinion, it's the best translation.

      3. If more information is needed, let them ask.

      While I own most of the Bibles you mentioned, plus have a dictionary that goes from English to Greek, another one that goes from English to Hebrew, Bible Dictionaries, etc. But, to list them would not be in the best interest of my "market"

      Your information is good but too detailed for my hub on this subject.If you are attending a Christian college and writting a paper on the subject of various translations and paraphrases or a Christian who wants more depth in Bible studies, etc., then you have a good outline.

    • profile image

      Ray P Burriss 

      9 years ago

      To Chris: What you said is mostly accurate. You sure went into more detail than I did, but then I'm what is called, "A bottom line person", based on the personal profile I have given seminars concerning. One of the little sayings of my father was, "If you can't say it in one breath, don't waste my time." I'm trying to break that habit.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      THE Bible was originally written in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. So most people who desire to read it must rely on a translation.

      Today, the Bible is the world’s most widely translated book—parts of it being available in over 2,400 languages. Some languages have not just one translation but scores of them. If you have a choice in your language, you surely want to use the very best translation you can find.

      To make an informed choice, you need to know the answers to the following questions: What different types of translations are available? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each type of translation? And why should you be cautious when reading some translations of the Bible?

      From One Extreme to the Other

      Bible translations cover a broad spectrum of styles, but they fall into three basic categories. Interlinear translations are at one end of the spectrum. These translations contain the original-language text along with a word-for-word rendering into the target language.

      Paraphrase translations fall at the other end of the spectrum. Translators of these versions freely restate the message of the Bible as they understand it in a way that they feel will appeal to their audience.

      A third category embraces translations that endeavor to strike a balance between these two extremes. These versions of the Bible strive to convey the meaning and flavor of the original-language expressions while also making the text easy to read.

      Are Word-for-Word Translations Best?

      A strictly word-for-word translation is often not the best possible way to capture the meaning of each Bible verse. Why not? There are a number of reasons. Here are two:

      1. No two languages are exactly alike in grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure. Professor of Hebrew S. R. Driver says that languages “differ not only in grammar and roots, but also . . . in the manner in which ideas are built up into a sentence.” People who speak different languages think differently. “Consequently,” continues Professor Driver, “the forms taken by the sentence in different languages are not the same.”

      Since no language exactly mirrors the vocabulary and grammar of Biblical Hebrew and Greek, a word-for-word translation of the Bible would be unclear or might even convey the wrong meaning. Consider the following examples.

      In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul used an expression that is literally translated “in the (dice) cube of the men.” (Ephesians 4:14, The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures)* This expression refers to the practice of cheating others when using dice. In most languages, however, a literal rendering of this allusion makes little sense. Translating this expression as “the trickery of men” is a clearer way to convey the meaning.

      When writing to the Romans, Paul used a Greek expression that literally means “to the spirit boiling.” (Romans 12:11, Kingdom Interlinear) Does this wording make sense in your language? The expression actually means to be “aglow with the spirit.”

      During one of his most famous speeches, Jesus used an expression that is often translated: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Matthew 5:3) But a literal rendering of this expression is obscure in many languages. In some cases, a strictly literal translation even implies that “the poor in spirit” are mentally unbalanced or lacking in vitality and determination. However, Jesus was here teaching people that their happiness depended, not on satisfying their physical needs, but on recognizing their need for God’s guidance. (Luke 6:20) So such renderings as “those conscious of their spiritual need” or “those who know their need for God” convey more accurately the meaning of this expression.—Matthew 5:3; The New Testament in Modern English.

      2. The meaning of a word or an expression may change depending on the context in which it is used. For instance, the Hebrew expression that normally refers to the human hand may have a wide variety of meanings. Depending on the context, this word may, for example, be rendered “control,” “openhandedness,” or “power.” (2 Samuel 8:3; 1 Kings 10:13; Proverbs 18:21) In fact, this particular word is translated in over 40 different ways in the English edition of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.

      Because the context can affect the way a word is translated, the New World Translation uses nearly 16,000 English expressions to translate some 5,500 Biblical Greek terms, and it uses over 27,000 English expressions to translate about 8,500 Hebrew terms.# Why this variety in the way words are translated? The translation committee judged that to render the best sense of these words according to the context was more important than to produce a strictly literal translation. Even so, the New World Translation is as consistent as possible in rendering Hebrew and Greek words into the target language.

      Clearly, Bible translation involves more than simply rendering an original-language word the same way each time it occurs. Translators must use good judgment in order to select words that present the ideas of the original-language text accurately and understandably. In addition, they need to assemble the words and sentences in their translation in a way that conforms to the rules of grammar of the target language.

      What About Free Translations?

      Translators who produce what are frequently referred to as paraphrase Bibles, or free translations, take liberties with the text as presented in the original languages. How so? They either insert their opinion of what the original text could mean or omit some of the information contained in the original text. Paraphrase translations may be appealing because they are easy to read. However, their very freeness at times obscures or changes the meaning of the original text.

      Consider the way that one paraphrase Bible translates Jesus’ famous model prayer: “Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are.” (Matthew 6:9, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language) A more accurate translation of Jesus’ words renders this passage: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.” Note, too, the way that John 17:26 is rendered in some Bibles. According to one free translation, on the night of his arrest, Jesus said to his Father in prayer: “I made you known to them.” (Today’s English Version) However, a more faithful rendering of Jesus’ prayer reads: “I have made your name known to them.” Can you see how some translators actually hide the fact that God has a name that should be used and honored?

      Why the Need for Caution?

      Some free translations obscure the moral standards conveyed in the original text. For example, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language says at 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10: “Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.”

      Compare that version with the more accurate rendering found in the New World Translation: “What! Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom.” Notice that the details outlined by the apostle Paul on exactly what kind of conduct we should avoid are not even mentioned in the free translation.

      Doctrinal bias can also color a translator’s work. For example, Today’s English

    • Ray P Burriss profile imageAUTHOR

      Ray P Burriss 

      10 years ago from Chattanooga

      Hello R.D. Eldered: Sorry my quick example didn't make sense to you. Since I don't own any paraphase copies of the Bible, will use the King James and compare it to The New American Standard Bible - which is my favorite. In the King James Bible, Christ states, "Suffer the little children ...." "Suffer" for most of us, means pain and/or discomfort. But, in todays use it means, "let". By the way, the King James is a translation, but this was the best I could do since I have no paraphase copies. Look at Matthew chapter 19 verse 14. The New American Standard Bible was use to the the word, "Let". You must not be in your 70's like me not to understand my example.


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