What makes for a good translation of the Bible?

Hi friends,

There are some questions that sound intellectual but are felt personally.

“What’s the best country in the world?” could be resolved if we knew how to rank them. If the answer is GDP, we have one answer. If it is the country with the most beautiful mountains, we might have another.

But most of us aren’t interested in that question. Rather, we are likely to say that our country is the best one in the world. I’m reminded of a quote I once read - but I forget the attribution - of someone who said, “My favorite place to be is wherever I am.”

We might feign interest in the data, but we’re liable to engage in motivated reasoning! Our patriotism overrides any ability to objectively consider if another country might be superior to our own.

In a similar way, at least for me, I am inclined to think the best Bible translation is the one I currently use! Or perhaps, for some of us, it is the translation we’ve always used.

Why is this? Perhaps it is because when a certain translation of the Bible is part of our experience of God, it is only natural that we become loyal to that attempt to translate the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts that compose the Scriptures.

I want to acknowledge those existential loyalties to our favorite translations of the Bible.

But I want to ask a different question: what makes for a good translation of the Bible? What criteria help us evaluate the different translations of the Bible?

Before you answer, I invite you to do some studying. What do experienced Bible translators say about this question? What do professors at seminaries think about it? How does Wycliffe approach this question as they create new translations into new languages?


Without trying to get too complicated, the most important thing about a Bible translation is that it must be understood in the vernacular of the intended audience.
In short, the plain reading of the gospel is sufficient to save and should not require any special training.
I have often wondered if God has an official language. Jews might argue for Hebrew, and Muslims would argue for Arabic, but I am convinced that God speaks “human” where every and whoever you are.
My thoughts.


Hi Carson, this has been something on my mind for some time as well. When I was in Seminary, even the professors had differing opinions on this as well.

When I was doing greek and hebrew, the professor would encourage us to learn the language to be able to understand the original meaning of the bible. It’s true that when it comes to translation, the language (eg. English) might not be fully able to embody the actual meaning of the original language, which is why many of my professors preferred to read it in their original languages just as you mentioned.
On the other hand, many professors also encourage cross referencing between different versions to get an overall better idea of what is written. I also had some friends who would only read the KJV, seeing it as more authentic to it’s original meaning.

At the end of the day and from what I’ve understood about Wycliffe as well, the purpose of translations is to get Gods word in the hands of every tribe around the world. For people to understand Gods word for themselves and no need a third party to have access to Gods message.
There will never be a best or perfect translation, but one that is able to closely convey the original meaning in the truest of context, without adding or taking away from it. It might not be perfect but it would be enough for one to know God personally for themselves.


I was given a new Bible from a friend at the weekend, and after reading your question here, I started reading the introductory pages to my new copy, just to see what the translators had to say for themselves on the topic. It’s a New Living Translation, which I’ve not used before, so I was curious. They, like what @jimmy and @kiko have already said, have the goal of making it as understandable to as many people as possible. They also wanted it to sound as natural as possible. Hence in the Psalms, they write ‘Interlude’ instead of ‘Selah’. I did, however, jar at this new translation . I had become comfortable with Selah in my other translations, and it was…change. I’m still not sure what I think about this :sweat_smile:.

Also, with the goal of making the Word of God accessible to people in this day and age, the Bible is actually a ‘filament Bible’, with pages that can be scanned in and linked to an app. Any page that I’m studying can now be waved in front of my phone, and it shows me all the study notes, cross references, characters, plot etc. I’m having a bit of fun with that at the moment. Practically, I think this opens up context and understanding a whole lot more to a wider audience, making the Bible more understandable. I’ll see how I get on with this though. It makes me realise the privilege we have in this era of studying the Bible.

So far, I’d say it meets the criteria of accessibility, especially for the use of public reading, but I do sometimes feel that we lose a sense of historical context when cultural idioms are replaced with modern equivalents. When considering the criteria of use in study, it gives an ease to the process, but obviously the study notes that ping up on the app are still compiled by one group of translators, and I may lose the richness of reading from different perspectives on a passage.