- Accuracy of English Translations
- What Does Accuracy Mean?
- Biases Exhibited in Bible Translations
- Best Translation of the New Testament
- Best Widely Used Translations
- Best Version Not Under Copyright Restrictions
- Other Select Versions with an Accuracy Threshold >80%
- The King James Version (KJV) i
- Best Unitarian Versions
- Old Testament Translations from Other Languages
- Improve Accuracy of Comprehension with Additional Resources
- How to Level Up with Original Language Resources
Why it matters…
The Bible is the foundation for the Christian faith
It is our source for understanding the truth of what we should believe and how we should live
We don’t want to be in error or perpetuate what is false
Our life and hope in the Gospel depend on it
Accuracy of English Translations
Below is a chart of English translations of decreasing accuracy, with respect to ot he Critical Text (NA27) from left to right. This data is taken from the Comprehensive New Testament, © Cornerstone Publications, 2008.
What Does Accuracy Mean?
The Critical Edition of the New Testament is the text in the original Koine Greek of the New Testament based on textural criticism and modern scholarship.
The Critical Text is known as Novum Testamentum Graece, Wikipedia Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novum_Testamentum_Graece
There are two identical versions Nestle-Aland, Currently 28th Edition (NA28) and United Bible Societies, Currently 5th edition (UBS5)
This text forms the bases of most modern Bible translations
However, modern bible translations deviate from the critical text to one degree or another
They choose to use variants of the critical text based on considerations including better alignment with “orthodox” theology and in maintaining the textural English tradition
Accuracy is a measured by of how consistent a translation is to the critical edition.
Accuracy, as measured above, pertains to the choice between variant texts that is selected to be translated rather than how literal the translation is.
- The procedure for calculating accuracy as used by COM is as follows:
- Translate textural differences in ancient manuscripts into English
- Compare the base text in each translation to the variants and determine which variation is closer to the translation.
- Divide the total number of times each translation is mapped to a variant (in reference to NA27 critial text) by the total number of verses with varients, and subtract the result from 100%.
Readability is also an important consideration. It is the ease with which a reader can understand a written text. In natural language, the readability of text depends on its content (the complexity of its vocabulary and syntax). Data for readability is taken from the Comprehensive New Testament (COM) © Cornerstone Publications 2008 which utilized Readability Studio version 184.108.40.206 ©2007 to calculate the reading level of the COM compared to twenty translations in their comparison study calculated according to the Coleman-Liau scoring system. Several translations are shown below with diminishing readability from left to right.
Biases Exhibited in Bible Translations
All English translations exhibit some bias. These are the ways in which bias is introduced into a translation:
- Inaccuracy with the source text (use of variants)
- Text base equivalence (substituting text)
- Not translating words literally
- Functional Equivalence – abandoning strict adherence to the grammatical structure of the original text in favor of a more natural rendering in the target language
- Bias in translation of individual words and phrases
- Eisegesis – The process of interpreting text in such a way as to introduce one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases – commonly referred to as reading into the text
- Suggestive section headings that leads the reader into certain presuppositions
- Capitalization, punctuation, and other editorial choices including red letter Bibles
- Footnotes, commentary and selective cross-references
Best Translation of the New Testament
Comprehensive New Testament (COM)
Cornerstone Publications (2008)
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/38PDy6Q
The Comprehensive New Testament (COM) represents the textual choices of the Critical Greek Text (Nestle-Aland 27th edition) in a readable English format. This New Testament was created especially for Bible studies and has the highest accuracy as compared to the critical Greek text. Over 15,000 variations in ancient manuscripts are translated in the footnotes. Variants of the Greek texts and are generally classified in two groups: The “Alexandrian” group represents the oldest surviving manuscripts, and the “Byzantine” group represents the majority of manuscripts. Uncertain readings are clearly marked in brackets. At the bottom of each page is a parallel textual apparatus that presents the textual choices of 20 English Bible versions for each verse of the New Testament. This is the largest parallel textual apparatus for Bible versions available when published. The COM also offers superior readability as compared to ESV and NASB translations below. The COM is translated with a traditional Trinitarian theological perspective.
Best Widely Used Translations
English Standard Version (ESV)
Crossway (2001, 2007, 2011, & 2016)
About ESV Website: https://www.esv.org/translation
Online ESV Bible: https://www.esv.org/Luke+1
ESV Print Editions: https://www.crossway.org/bibles
The ESV (2001) streams from historical English translations beginning with Tyndale (1526) and continuing with KJV (1611), ASV (1901) and RSV (1952, 1971). The 1971 RSV was the starting point for the ESV translation. The ESV is an “essentially literal” translation, and its emphasis is on “word-for-word” correspondence as opposed to some Bible versions that have followed a “thought-for-thought” emphasizing “dynamic equivalence” rather than the “essentially literal” meaning of the original. This is better than “thought-for-thought” translation as “word for word” is more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator. The ESV does incur biases in the translation which correspond to a team that “shares a common commitment … to Christian orthodoxy.” Additionally, editorial liberty is taken in rendering repetitious word in the Greek corresponding to “and,” but,” and “for” as well is the addition of interpretive section headings. The most obvious biases are toward Trinitarian theology which is also attested by the dedication which reads, “So to our triune God and to his people we offer what we have done.”
The ESV Old Testament is based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (5th ed., 1997), and the New Testament on the Greek text in the 2014 editions of the Greek New Testament (5th corrected ed.), published by the United Bible Societies (UBS), and Novum Testamentum Graece (28th ed., 2012), edited by Nestle and Aland. In some cases, the ESV follows a Greek text different from the critical text (UBS5/NA28) and is thus lower in accuracy to the critical text as compared to COM. The ESV offers a good balance between literal meaning and readability. The ESV is slightly less literal than NASB but has noticeably improved readability.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
The Lockman Foundation (1971, 1977, 1995, & 2020)
The claim by the publisher is that the NASB does not attempt to interpret Scripture through translation and that NASB adheres to the principles of a formal equivalence translation. They aimed at “a most exacting and demanding method of translation” striving for word-for-word translation that is both accurate and clear. This method more closely follows the word and sentence patterns of the biblical authors in order to enable the reader to study Scripture in its most literal format. In some cases, changes were made in the main text in the direction of a more current English idiom with the more literal rendering indicated in the footnotes. Although the translation is highly readable, the score for readability is not as high as for COM or ESV. and the reading is more woody. Although the NASB is highly literal translation it is translated with a traditional Trinitarian bias and includes excessive capitalization as well as suggestive section headings that further biases the reader.
Best Version Not Under Copyright Restrictions
American Standard Version (ASV)
Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1901
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/30Qg25o
The ASV, published in 1901 as the “American Revision,” is rooted in the work begun in 1870 to revise the 1611 King James Version (KJV). The ASV, a product of both British and American scholarship, has been highly regarded for its scholarship and accuracy. The ASV text exhibits what some perceived as excessive literalism and, correspondingly, it scores low on readability. ASV uses many words that are unfamiliar to modern ears and incorporates difficult sentence structure. The ASV is one of the oldest English translations that has a high level of accuracy compared to the Greek critical text based on modern textual criticism. The ASV improved some verses in the KJV and in other places it omitted the dubious verses from the main text that were erroneously included in the KJV. These variants were then relegated to footnotes. Although the ASV had Unitarian representation on the translation committee, it reflects the typical orthodox Trinitarian biases since translational decisions were made based on committee majority. The ASV has been used for many years by Jehovah’s Witnesses as it uses “Jehovah” as the Divine Name. The ASV has been the basis of six subsequent English versions including the Revised Standard Version (RSV), first published in 1952 and then updated in 1971, and the Revised English Version (REV) 2013-2021 used by Biblical Unitarians.
Other Select Versions with an Accuracy Threshold >80%
Revised Standard Version (RSV), 1952 & 1971
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), 1989
New American Bible (NAB), 1970
New English Translation (NET), 2006 & 2019
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), 1999- 2003, & 2009
Revised English Version (REV), 2013-2021
The King James Version (KJV) i
A number of verses in the King James Version of the New Testament are not found in modern Bible translations. Scholars generally regard these now omitted verses as verses that were added to the Greek texts. The criterion for the editorial decision for excluding these passages was based on whether the tangible evidence indicated the passage was likely in the original New Testament text or was a later addition. This is in keeping with the principle of critical editing, as articulated by what Rev. Samuel T. Bloomfield wrote in 1832, “Surely, nothing dubious ought to be admitted into ‘the sure word’ of ‘The Book of Life’.” The KJV contains 26 verses and passages that are omitted or boxed in modern translations which are not likely original. These verses include Matthew 17:21, 18:11, 20:16(b), 23:14, Mark 6:11(b), 7:16, 9:44, 9:46, 11,26, 15:28, 15:28, 16:9-20, Luke 4:8(b), 9:55-56 17:36, 23:17, John 5:3-4, John 7:53-8:11, Acts 8:37, 9:5-6, 13:42, 15:34, 23:9(b), 24:6-8, 28:29, Rom 16:24, and the Comma Johanneum of 1 John 5:7-8. With respect to the long ending of Mark (16:9-20), there is strong reason to doubt that the words were part of the original text of the Gospels, as Philip Shaff stated, “According to the judgement of the best critics, these two important sections are additions to the original text from the apostolic tradition.” The KJV also exhibits orthodox corruptions in which verses were changed in support of Trinitarian theological suppositions. Twelve examples of theologically motivated corruptions in the KJV include Matthew 24:36, Mark 1:1, John 6:69, Acts 7:59, Acts 20:28, Colossians 2:2, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 2:16, Jude 1:25, 1 John 5:7-8, Revelation 1:8, and Revelation 1:10-11.
The source New Testament Greek texts used to produce the KJV were mainly dependent on manuscripts of the late Byzantine text-type. With the later identification of much earlier manuscripts, most modern textual scholars value the evidence of manuscripts which belong to the Alexandrian family as better witnesses to the original text of the biblical authors, without giving it automatic preference. The 16th Century Greek text Novum Instrumentum omne compiled by Desiderius Erasmus, later known as the Textus Receptus, was a major influence over the King James Version. Erasmus was a Catholic priest, who remained a member of the Catholic Church all his life. He also enjoyed the nickname “Prince of the Humanists.” His third edition of 1522 was based on less than a dozen Greek manuscripts dating from the 12th to 16th centuries yet served as the source text of the KJV translation. The later manuscripts of the Textus Receptus exhibited the cumulative effect of scribal changes over at least a millennium and vary widely with the earliest manuscripts dated within the first five centuries after Christ.
Best Unitarian Versions
Revised English Version (REV)
Spirit & Truth Fellowship International, 2013-2021
Online REV Bible with Commentary: https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/Luke/1
The REV began with the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901 as the starting text. The REV is designed to be a more literal translation whenever the literal rendering can be accurately reflected and understood in modern English vernacular. The REV sometimes departs from a strict literal translation in order to improve readability and comprehension in English. Strictly literal translations can be more difficult than helpful at times because the mechanics of Greek and Hebrew differ dramatically from English. Their approach is to employ a functionally equivalent expression if a literal translation obstructs this goal to communicate the meaning of the original language. Readability of REV is comparable to ESV and RSV.
The goals of the translators were theological accuracy in addition to textural accuracy. They recognize that the theology of the translator always influences the way the Greek or Hebrew is translated into English, the degree to which the Bible is accurately translated “is dependent upon the degree to which the translator accurately understands what the Bible means,” and “every translation reflects the theology of the translator.” They believe that readers of the Bible are “better served by reading a version that is accurate theology instead of having to make mental corrections or skirt around verses that are translated with an alternative theology in mind.” The goal with the REV is thus to unburden the reader of having to cope with the inaccurate theological biases of most translators. REV is a translation from a Biblical Unitarian perspective and attempts to be free of traditional Trinitarian bias. The online version of REV also includes commentary that is provided when clicking on specific verses.
The One God, The Father, One Man Messiah NT Translation (OGF)
Restoration Fellowship, 2015 & 2020
Online Link: https://onegodtranslation.com
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/3vEUpn0
The OGF New Testament translation of Sir Anthony Buzzard is not a literal “word for word” translation but rather a highly explanatory translation from a Biblical Unitarian perspective, as quoted in the introduction, “We offer this version of the New Testament with a view to restoring the truth that God is one Person, that Jesus is the Messiah, Son of God by miracle and that the saving Gospel is about the Kingdom of God, as Jesus preached it, and about all that Jesus said and did to instruct in the way that leads to indestructible life in the future Kingdom of God.” The unique value of this translation is in the contextual analysis provided in the introduction and extensive footnotes throughout. It is designed to correct widespread misunderstandings caused by post-biblical unexamined tradition.
Old Testament Translations from Other Languages
The Hebrew Text that has served as the basis for most translations of the Old Testament into English is a Masoretic recension based almost entirely on the Leningrad Codex, which dates from 1008 A.D. In comparison to the textual evidence that we have for the New Testament Greek text, this is a very late manuscript. This is well after the Greek Septuagint was translated (3rd century before Christ), the Aramaic Peshitta (1st and 2nd Centuries A.D.), or the Latin Vulgate (4th Century A.D.). According to Christian tradition, the non-Christian Jews began making changes in the Old Testament text to undercut the Christian use of Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of Christ.
The Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament writings used during New Testament times and in the early church, should be trusted more than the Masoretic Hebrew Tests that most English Translations are based on. This is for the following reasons:
- The citations of the Old Testament and found in the New Testament mainly use the Septuagint text.
- The Septuagint is based upon Hebrew texts at least twelve centuries older than the texts upon which the Masoretic version is based.
- The Septuagint predates the first appearance of the Masoretic text by almost ten centuries.
- Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we also know that the Septuagint is based on an older Hebrew text than the Masoretic text.
Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) notes in Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church:
…the basis of the Old Testament text in the Orthodox tradition is the Septuagint, a Greek translation by the “seventy interpreters” made in the third to second centuries BCE for the Alexandrian Hebrews and the Jewish diaspora. The authority of the Septuagint is based on three factors. First of all, though the Greek text is not the original language of the Old Testament books, the Septuagint does reflect the state of the original text as it would have been found in the third to second centuries BCE, while the current Hebrew text of the Bible, which is called the “Masoretic,” was edited up until the eighth century CE. Second, some of the citations taken from the Old Testament and found in the New mainly use the Septuagint text. Third, the Septuagint was used by both the Greek Fathers of the Church, and Orthodox liturgical services (in other words, this text became part of the Orthodox church Tradition). Taking into account the three factors enumerated above, St. Philaret of Moscow considers it possible to maintain that “in the Orthodox teaching of Holy Scripture it is necessary to attribute a dogmatic merit to the Translation … in some cases placing it on equal level with the original and even elevating it above the Hebrew text, as is generally accepted in the most recent editions (Orthodox Christianity, Volume II: Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church, (New York: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 2012) p. 34).
New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS)
Oxford University Press (2007)
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/312ZrM0
The New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) is a modern translation of the Septuagint (LXX), that is the scriptures used by Greek-speaking Christians and Jews of antiquity. The NETS translators selected the best critical editions of the Septuagint, primarily the larger Göttingen Septuagint and used the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) as the base text. NETS translators sought to retain the NRSV to the extent that the Greek text directs or permits while also removing gender-inclusive language that was not warranted by the underlying source texts. It was hoped the relationship between the NETS and the NRSV would mirror the relationship between the LXX and its underlying Hebrew text, making it easy for readers to study the discrepancies between the two textual traditions without extensive study of the original languages.
The Lexham English Septuagint (LES)
Lexham Press (2020)
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/3vNWT2r
The Lexham English Septuagint (LES) is a newer translation of the Septuagint beautifully typeset in a comfortable, single-column format. The LES provides a literal, readable, and transparent English edition for modern readers. Retaining the familiar forms of personal names and places, the LES gives readers the ability to read it alongside their favored English Bible. The LES maintains the meaning of the original text (Swete’s edition), making the Septuagint accessible to readers today.
Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern Text of the Aramaic Peshitta (Lamsa Bible)
Harper One (1933 & 1985)
Wikipedia Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamsa_Bible
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/3tAfEnM
Online Lamsa Bible: https://www.studylight.org/bible/eng/glt
The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts (the Lamsa Bible) was published by George M. Lamsa in 1933. It was derived from the Syriac Peshitta, the Bible used by the Assyrian Church of the East and other Syriac Christian traditions. Lamsa, following the tradition of his church, claimed that the Aramaic New Testament was written before the Greek version. This contrasts with the academic consensus that the language of the New Testament was Greek. While Lamsa’s claims of Aramaic primacy are rejected by the academic community, his translation remains the best known of Aramaic to English translations of the New Testament and is a valuable reference for comparison of the Aramaic tradition to translations from other soruces. The Lamsa Bible is especially useful as a witness of the Aramaic Old Testament tradation. The Lamsa Old Testament is based on Codex Ambrosianus which has been identifed as fifth century AD and predates any existing OT text in Hebrew (Leningrad Codex) by about 500 years.
Improve Accuracy of Comprehension with Additional Resources
Although the chart below is a qualitative approximation rather than quantitative, it gives a general idea of how the “accuracy” of comprehending the original meaning of a verse can be improved by incorporating Bible study tools for evaluating the text of the earliest manuscripts and studying the meaning of words in reference to their use in in the original language. This also gives a qualitative representation of more literal vs less literal.
How to Level Up with Original Language Resources
Understanding of the text can be improved by using Bible study tools for studying the original Language. These tools can be found in printed form, on free websites or incorporated into various Bible study software apps.
The purpose of Strong’s Concordance is to provide an index to the Bible. This allows the reader to find words where they appear in the Bible. This index allows a student of the Bible to re-find a phrase or passage previously studied. It also lets the reader directly compare how the same word may be used elsewhere in the Bible. Each original-language word is given an entry number in the dictionary of those original language words listed in the back of the concordance. These have become known as the “Strong’s numbers”. The main concordance lists each word that appears in the KJV Bible in alphabetical order with each verse in which it appears listed in order of its appearance in the Bible, with a snippet of the surrounding text (including the word in italics). Appearing to the right of the scripture reference is the Strong’s number. This allows the user of the concordance to look up the meaning of the original language word in the associated dictionary in the back,
An Interlinear is an original language Bible combined with an English translation and often includes additional information in the form of a grid under the manuscript words e.g lemma, Strong’s number, morphological tagging (parsing).
Lexicon / Dictionary
A lexicon is the vocabulary of a language or subject. Lexicons are really dictionaries, though a lexicon usually covers an ancient language or the special vocabulary of a particular author or field of study. In linguistics, the lexicon is the total stock of words and word elements that carry meaning. Lexicon is from Greek lexikon (biblion) meaning “word (book).”
Morphological Tagging (Parsing)
Morophological Tagging maps, not only the lemma (base form of a word), but certain grammatical information about the word such as part of speech, root, stem, tense, person, etc.
Critical Text (Critical Edition)
The Critical Text is a Greek text of the New Testament that draws from a group of ancient Greek manuscripts and their variants in an attempt to preserve the most accurate wording possible through the process of modern textural criticism. With the discovery of new manuscript evidence, the Critical Text has been revised many times. Currently, Novum Testamentum Graece, the Nestle-Aland text (now in its 28th edition) is the critical text in common use, along with the Greek New Testament published by the United Bible Societies (UBS5). See more at the wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novum_Testamentum_Graece
A critical apparatus in textual criticism of primary source material, is an organized system of notations to represent, in a single text, the complex history and variant readings of that text in a concise form useful to diligent readers and scholars. The apparatus typically includes footnotes, standardized abbreviations for the source manuscripts, and symbols for denoting recurring problems (one symbol for each type of scribal error).
For More on Recommended Bible Study resources see the page ‘Bible Study Resources’ under ‘Resources’