Point of Clarification on Bible Versions

The Dallas Morning News has a brief story on Bible translation titled “Christian consumer’s guide to the Bible(s),” and they mistakenly categorize The Living Bible as a translation. It is not.

When a Bible is rendered from one language into another, we call it translation. Translation happens anytime a scholar or a group of scholars reads the Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew originals and then translates them into a receptor language (like English in our case). There are two basic philosophies of Bible translation: (1) Formal Equivalence, which is a word-for-word approach to translating, and (2) Dynamic Equivalence, which is a thought-for-thought approach. All translations of the Scriptures fall somewhere on the spectrum between Formal Equivalence and Dynamic Equivalence.

But not all Bible versions are translations like the ones in the diagram above. Some versions are paraphrases, and they are off of the spectrum because they are not rendering the Bible from the original tongues into a receptor language. The Living Bible, for instance, is a paraphrase of another English version—the American Standard Version. Other paraphrases, like The Message, are so interpretive that the result sits very loose from the Greek and Hebrew that it renders.

So for those of you who may have read the piece in The Dallas Morning News and who might be looking for a Bible, remember that paraphrases like The Living Bible are not technically translations at all. Other paraphrases that do render the original text (like The Message and the New Living Translation) may have a place, but I would not recommend them for serious Bible study.

Further Reading:

Bruce Metzger, The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions (Grand Rapids : Baker, 2001). 208pp. $17.99.

Leland Ryken, Choosing a Bible: Understanding Bible Translation Differences (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005). 32pp. $3.99.


Formal Equivalence

NASB = New American Standard Bible

ESV = English Standard Version

KJV/NKJV = King James Version / New King James Version

RSV/NRSV = Revised Standard Version /New Revised Standard Version

Dynamic Equivalence

NIV = New International Version

TNIV = Today’s New International Version

NLT = New Living Translation

CEV = Contemporary English Version

GNB = Good News Bible


NTME = New Testament in Modern English

TLB = The Living Bible

TM = The Message

TSB = The Street Bible

22 Responses to Point of Clarification on Bible Versions

  1. Jesica October 18, 2007 at 1:52 am #


    Would you comment on your thoughts about the NLT? We are giving Bibles out for halloween, and this translation has some neat options for kids, but I’m not familiar with it.

    I wanted to go with an NASB, but there isn’t much to offer kids in an NASB that I can find.

    Thanks so much!

  2. Bryan L October 18, 2007 at 7:21 am #

    Personally I would never give an NASB to a child (much less many adults). It’s too literal and wooden.

    I think the NLT is a great Bible even for children. And the scholars behind it are top notch. It’s literally a who’s who of evangelical scholarship.

    Bryan L

  3. Denny Burk October 18, 2007 at 9:07 am #


    I would not prefer the NASB for a child either. It’s often very wooden and not the most readable version.

    The NIV and the NLT are both more readable and more understandable. The drawbacks are that what those translations gain in readability they lose in accuracy. This is more so the case with the NLT than the NIV.

    Nevertheless, I would prefer handing out NLT’s to handing out nothing! And if it’s for children, you would probably be better off with the NLT than the NASB.


  4. Ben October 18, 2007 at 9:42 am #

    I second the assertion that NLT, while on the far end of dynamic equivalence, is done by top-notch scholars. Many of my former professors among them.

    Denny – all of my material from grad school calls the basic categories of translation formal correspondance and dynamic equivalence. Am I showing my age with calling it formal correspondance, or is formal correspondance actually different from formal equivalence?

  5. Jim Peet October 18, 2007 at 10:04 am #

    What’s your take on the Net Bible


  6. Jim Skaggs October 18, 2007 at 12:18 pm #

    Mr. Burk,
    I’ve always enjoyed reading J.B. Phillips’s The New testament in Modern English. It’s described as a translation but reads like a paraphrase. Which is it and do you have an opinion of it?
    Jim Skaggs

  7. Jesica October 18, 2007 at 12:43 pm #

    Thanks for the feedback…

    I just want to make sure that we’re giving these kids the Word, and not a paraphrase.

    Where I live, many of the pastors have abandoned the Bible for “The Message” and that’s about all that they use from the pulpit anymore.

    I have huge issues with “The Message”, especially when it’s being used in substitution for the Word…so I want to make sure that the NLT isn’t akin to “The Message”….

    What are your thoughts on this?

    Thanks again, so much!

    Have a super day, all!

  8. jeff miller October 18, 2007 at 5:43 pm #


    Great post and dialog. Thank you very much.


  9. Jason October 19, 2007 at 8:27 am #

    I’m only commenting because I think celebrations are in order. Bryan L and Denny agree on something!



  10. Randy October 19, 2007 at 11:55 am #

    You might want to at the ESV Children’s Bible it uses the ESV but the notes and pictures are for children. The reviews for it has been extremely positive.

  11. Steve Grose October 19, 2007 at 6:00 pm #

    no trick question here, but which Greek text do u prefer? I remember asking one DTS lecturer and he said “after 40 years of studying the question I have come to the firm conclusion that I do not know.”
    I have read stuff keen on codex Bezae recently. I prefer NASB/ESV.
    Could you give a quick summary of why you hold one codex above another (at this time)?

  12. Denny Burk October 19, 2007 at 7:55 pm #


    I don’t hold one “codex” above another. I believe the best Greek texts have an eclectic basis. The best eclectic Greek text of the New Testament is Nestle-Aland’s 27th edition. You can purchase one here: Nestle-Aland 27th edition.


  13. Steve October 19, 2007 at 9:03 pm #

    I have 3 of those 🙂 and a NA26 for free on E-sword.. I use it most by preference..
    But .. in the final analysis, what arguments hold most water with you for using it?

  14. Steve October 19, 2007 at 9:11 pm #

    A friend wrote his PhD on the preeminence of Codex Bezae, (C.K.Barrett was one examiner)and he asked me before he died to revise it for publication. I partially did, but held off because I wasn’t too sure of his argumentation (he used some grammatical constructions (“ie” words) to organise his material around the concept of later additions to the texts,(he felt that the later codexes betrayed more additions than Bezae).
    I am very familiar with Bruce Metzger’s work, (I heard him lecture 25 years ago).
    So again, my question… what rguments hold most water for you?

  15. Denny Burk October 19, 2007 at 11:50 pm #

    I believe that the original words of the NT are preserved in the manuscript tradition, but no single manuscript copy preserves it perfectly. Thus, we examine the available copies, compare them, and deduce what the original text must have been. The best way to do that is through the established methods of textual criticism–those which have led to the eclectic texts of Westcott-Hort, Tischendorf, and Nestle-Aland.

    If you are interested in learning more, read my notes on Metzger & Ehrman: https://www.dennyburk.com/Teach/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/notes-on-textual-criticism.PDF.


  16. Jesica October 20, 2007 at 1:25 am #

    Is anyone going to venture a comment about “The Message” for me? 🙂


  17. Bryan L October 20, 2007 at 7:14 am #

    Sure Jesica, I’ll comment on it.

    I like it for what it is: A way to hear the Bible fresh as if it were written to us today in common language. Sure it’s a bit more than just a paraphrase after all Peterson is drawing out the implication of the text so that we can hear it loud and clear instead of having to guess. And this definitely involves many, many interpretive moves on his part (which all translations bring a measure of interpretation to the text anyway).

    It’s nice for reading alongside another translation. It’s almost like a commentary or a sermon built right into the text. Anyway I guess it needs to be asked if it succeeds at what it sets out to do: communicate the message(s) of the Bible. From the parts I’ve read I think it succeeds for the most part.

    Thats just my opinion.

    Bryan L

  18. mike October 20, 2007 at 9:22 am #

    I understand it’s aim, I just have a hard time replacing the text. There are points in the message where baseball referances replace argricultural metaphores. I have no issue with metaphores that are easier and more modern except when they replace the text. It’s very much a large book of sermon illustrations, which is fantastic, but it’s not marketed as such. Instead, many pastors use it as the text!

    Lastly, the message tends to cater to an ever growing intelectual laziness in Christianity. With the general “message” displayed AS THE TEXT it promotes lite reading, not study. In fact, if your first Bible is the Message, you’re almost prevented from study.

    So when you come to a dificult passage or you’re interested in just breezing the text for general story line, and you want the opinion of another Christian, Go for it!

  19. Steve October 20, 2007 at 5:44 pm #

    Thanks Denny,
    It reads like my first year Greek course…
    and yes that is the basic methodology behind the eclectic position,… I gather you would take the whole of the position rather than finding opne argument of greater significnace than another.
    Thank you for supplying the pdf file.
    Every Blessing,

  20. Jim Skaggs October 20, 2007 at 6:06 pm #

    I asked about J.B. Phillips. No opinions? His translation was a favorite of my father’s, and was my first introduction to an effort at modern English. I suppose it has the defects of a one-man translation?

  21. Don F October 20, 2007 at 7:52 pm #


    Like others have stated, I think the NLT is great for kids. I use it some myself, but mostly as a supplement to NASB, ESV, and NIV. You might also take a look at the NIRV, it is a kid freinldy version of the NIV. I have used it some in my work with childern’s ministry.

  22. Jeremy October 25, 2007 at 7:16 am #

    Denny (or anyone else wishing to comment):

    What are your thoughts on the HCSB, which seems to be gaining support from the SBC via LifeWay? I can’t find much about the translation outside of what the authors have written. Is this a translation of form or dynamic equivalence? Have trustworthy scholars found the translation to be misleading, or is it too fresh to have received such an examination?


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