How Much Paraphrase?

December 4, 2008 at 10:52 am | Posted in English Bible Translations, Questions for Pastor Glenn | Leave a comment

The following is a letter I sent to my nephews and nieces after a fun discussion of Bible translations:


Here is a chart I made a few years ago concerning how much paraphrase and how much word-for-word literalness was used by various translations.  I considered the Cotton Patch version as the most liberal paraphrase of all and assigned it a score of 100; and I considered an interlinear NT (a book where the English equivalents are typed between the lines of the Greek, with no concern for English sentence structure or word order) as a score of zero.  Everything else would fall between those.  Of course, this was a very subjective process, and I, in all my depravity, was the subject!  Other readers might assign the scores in a completely different way than I did, and I might do the numbers different today, but this will give you an idea of where I place various versions of the Bible.  Even if I changed the numbers, I would still keep the versions in the same order.

A couple of notes to remember:  First, we must consider what a translation team was trying to accomplish, whether they came near to accomplishing that goal, and whether that goal is legitimate for our purposes.  In that light, I find the NASB (1995 edition) and NIV as the ones that best accomplished their stated goals.  Whether those goals are legitimate depends on one’s perspective about translation theories and one’s purpose.  Here your pastor and I might not fully agree; that’s why I preach out of the NIV and he out of the NASB.  Though I like the NASB for study, I find the NIV captured our modern language better, is more widely read, and is thus preferred for preaching (another very subjective judgment).  And even though I read out of it, I usually begin my study with the Greek, and I’m not afraid to state when I disagree with the NIV.

Second, remember that more literal does not necessarily mean more accurate.  Every “translation” has to have some “paraphrase” in it due to literary context, social context,  figures of speech, etc.  We talked about this on Sunday.  At the same time remember that we believe in “verbal-plenary inspiration.”  That means all the words of the original are inspired.

And third, the fact that we can even consider such things makes us a very blessed people indeed!  Christians in the majority of languages and through most eras of church history would consider themselves fortunate to have one copy of the Bible in their native tongue.  Yet I have fifty different versions of the NT in English – and multiple copies of some of those!  Let’s not forget the price people like William Tyndale paid to allow us that privilege!

Blessings to all,

Uncle Glenn


Anyway, for what it’s worth after all those qualifications, here’s that subjective chart:



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