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Bible Translations Unpacked

Bible Translations Unpacked

As an unchurched child of the 70’s and 80’s I thought the only Bible translation was The King James version.  I can remember coming across a Bible and trying to read it. It almost seemed as if it were in another language.  The thees and thous and shalt nots, who talks like that, I remember thinking.  I had no idea that there were other translations out there that were easier to read until college.  This has prompted me to do a little research and see why there are so many English translations of the Bible.


From Handel’s Messiah to Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” the King James Bible has inspired a wide swath of cultural expression across the English-speaking world over generations.

At the time King James took the throne, many people in England were hearing one version of the Bible when they went to church but were reading from another when they were at home. While one version of Christianity’s holy texts—the so-called Bishops’ Bible—was read in churches, the most popular version among Protestant reformers in England at the time was the Geneva Bible.

According to, the story behind the creation of the King James Bible translation “reveals an amazing interplay of faith and politics, church and state.”  Queen Elizabeth’s rule provided a great sense of security for the country and James wanted to make sure that sense of security continued through his reign as king.  The people of England were very skeptical of James and his heavy Scottish accent did not lend him any credibility.  As he made his trek from Scotland to England for the coronation as king, he was presented with a petition from the Puritans outlining their grievances.  There were over one thousand clergy signature which represented ten percent of the clergy of England.  King James took the petition serious and called for a conference, the Hampton Court Conference. One of the very few accepted proposals from the conference was a new Bible translation to replace the Geneva Bible.  James emphasis was on one translation for the whole nation to read that was a more readable Bible with familiar words and names.

Over the next seven years, 47 scholars and theologians worked to translate the different books of the Bible: The Old Testament from Hebrew, the New Testament from Greek and the Apocrypha from Greek and Latin.

Published in 1611, the King James Bible spread quickly throughout Europe. Because of the wealth of resources devoted to the project, it was the most faithful and scholarly translation to date—not to mention the most accessible.


There are three main Bible translation categories or continuums.  Word-for-Word, Thought-for-Thought and Paraphrase.  See the graphic below to where each of the most common translations fall.


 Word-for-Word (literal) translation

Word for word translation or literal translation is the rendering of text from one language to another one word at a time with or without conveying the sense of the original text.

 Thought-for-Thought translation

The translator evaluates a series of words in the original language that comprise a thought, and then expresses that thought in the target language –which in this case is English.

Thought-for-thought translation is also known as Dynamic Equivalence. It is easier to read this kind of translation than the typical word-for-word translation.

Paraphrase Translation

A paraphrase translation of the Bible seeks to make the Bible more understandable to the reader.

It may elaborate more on the context in a way designed to help the reader understand the passage better.

A paraphrase often uses a lot more words in an effort to more fully describe the meaning of the words coming from the original language.


Not sure which Bible is right for you?  Technology can help you out here.  There are numerous Bible apps that you can download, and they have all of the most common translations right there for you to click between.  I read the verse in my physical Bible but often will go to my Bible app and pull it up in another translation to see what it says.  Sometimes just the changing of a couple of words from one translation to another is clarifying.  The app I used to look at different Bible translations is You Version. 

Let’s look at one scripture in the different translation categories:

Number 6:24-26

King James Version:

The Lord bless thee; and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord life up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace.

New King James Version (word-for-word translation):

The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance up on you and give you peace.

New Living Translation (thought for thought translation):

May the Lord bless you and protect you.  May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.

Message (paraphrase translation):

God bless you and keep you, God smile on you and gift you, God look you full in the face and make you prosper.

I love Bibles and especially Study Bibles.  One of my favorite activities is go to the used bookstore and look to see what Bibles they have in stock, and if it has highlighted portions cool, but handwritten notes…SOLD!  What a great way to learn what the previous owner thought was important.  I would urge you to write in your Bibles, highlight and make notes, go back, and read your notes.  If you date your notes, it might give you a clue later to what was going on in your life.  But how precious would be for a spouse, child, sibling, or good friend to find that Bible later and be able to see your actual handwriting and see what was important to you.  If I get excited to see complete stranger’s notes, just think how excited I would be to come across a Bible that was highlighted, written, and notated by someone I love.  Absolutely priceless!

Do your research, download an app and start comparing.  What I have found is as I look at the scripture in other translations it becomes more clear.  The redundancy of a common thought and the use of different key words all solidify the ultimate understanding of what the scripture means.  Use a paraphrase translation when you are having a hard time understanding concepts.  Then go to a thought for thought to get a deeper meaning and follow up with a word for word translations.  I believe God sees your diligence in trying to understand His Word and rewards it with a clear understanding of the message He is trying to relay to you.

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I am so glad you are here.  Welcome to The Flock!  My name is Challis.  My dream for Flock of Sparrows is to walk alongside you with encouragement, as you to step out in faith and courage to find your authentic self.  I hope you will join me, as we actively grow our faith, pursue our calling and spread the love of Jesus.   

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