Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Which 'modern' (anything inclusive of King James Version to date) English translation of the Bible is considered the 'closest' or most accurate translation from the original Hebrew & Greek texts?

By accurate or closest, I'm referring to which one(s) is/are literal, which translate the Hebrew and Greek texts to the closest literal meaning possible in English.

share|improve this question
7  
It depends on how you define accurate. Do you mean most literal? Versions like ASV and ESV aim to be the most literal translations in their intent. Versions like the NIV aim to translate the meaning into something easy to read today. –  Cody C Oct 4 '11 at 20:00
3  
Some translations are intentionally much more literal than ASV or ESV –  Jack Douglas Oct 4 '11 at 20:10
7  
This question is way too subjective for this site. –  Lance Roberts Oct 4 '11 at 23:57
1  
@Lance Roberts: I don't think so. Often the translators themselves weigh in on how close their translation comes to being literal. The NASB and ESV aim for word-for-word translations and the NIV aims for idea-for-idea translations. Other translations are quite upfront about being paraphrases. –  Jon Ericson Oct 5 '11 at 19:10
3  
There is a difference between "literal" and "accurate". If the literal order of the Greek or Hebrew words doesn't yield a sensible sentence in English, or if the original language contains an idiomatic expression, a direct word-for-word translation is less accurate than a translation that captures the meaning but loses the structure of the original. –  Bruce Alderman Oct 6 '11 at 15:40
show 4 more comments

5 Answers 5

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Among popular translations, New American Standard Bible is one of the most literal translations from the original languages, attemping to preserve as much as possible of the original sentance structure and word order.

From more literal to less literal popular translations include: NASB, ESV, KJV, NKJV, NRSV, NIV, NLT, CEV, The Message. (list order courtesy of evangelicalbible.com)

However, an interlinear bible would far exceed the NASB as a more literal translation, as the english is not even arranged in the English word order, but is translated as a footnote or subtitle under the Hebrew or Greek, often with annotations about the part of speech.

share|improve this answer
    
I found the ESV version on Google books for free, but I can't seem to find the NASB version anywhere for free. Is there a free way to read the NASB version on Android? What are your thoughts on NASB vs ESV? –  trusktr Dec 4 '11 at 20:17
    
I found a pdf version of nasb here: onlinebible.wikia.com/wiki/File:NASB.pdf. It doesn't seem like the actual one, but rather a digitized copy. –  trusktr Dec 4 '11 at 20:34
1  
Ah cool, apparently the full NASB text is online here: biblegateway.com/versions/New-American-Standard-Bible-NASB –  trusktr Dec 4 '11 at 20:36
    
This seems to be a good place to get a wide variety of versions: biblegateway.com/versions –  trusktr Dec 4 '11 at 20:38
2  
Trusker...try bible by youversion. It will do offline nasb free. market.android.com/details?id=com.sirma.mobile.bible.android –  Jessica Brown Dec 10 '11 at 5:44
show 1 more comment

I agree wholeheartedly with Jessica Brown's answer, but there's another dimension to accuracy: the text a translation is based on. Before the Tyndale Bible, English translations were made from the Latin translation (the Vulgate) and not directly from the Greek. For obvious reasons, these translations are automatically less accurate to the original texts than more recent translations.

Until quite recently, English Bibles were translated from a version of the Greek New Testament called the Textus Receptus produced by Desiderius Erasmus. It was formed from just 6 Greek manuscripts and was supplemented by translations of Vulgate texts back into Greek. By contrast, modern Greek texts make use of over 5,800 Greek manuscripts including some found only within the last 100 years.

Modern translations of the Old Testament are also informed by the Dead Sea Scrolls, which strongly support the Masoretic Text. Older translations were unable to benefit from these sorts of discoveries.

Thankfully, English translators have a long tradition of including introductory notes to their work. If you look in the first few pages of a Bible, it's quite likely you will be able to read an impassioned argument for why that particular English version should be read and used. You can get a good idea of the translation philosophy represented in the subsequent pages and where the editors stood on controversial issues such as gender-inclusive language, archaic pronouns referring to God, translating the names of God, and so on.

share|improve this answer
5  
While this is true, at the same time, these manuscripts show how accurate the limited ones in centuries past were. Compare NASB (or any other recent translation) to KJV. Besides archaic word chioce, the translations are very similar. –  timw4mail Oct 14 '11 at 19:11
    
Hmm, I'm not sure what scholarly articles you've read, but from what I've read the Dead Sea Scrolls have often supported the LXX more than the MT. There certainly some places where the MT is more accurate, but in a majority it seems the LXX is the most reliable. –  user1985 Jan 19 '13 at 14:47
1  
@theosis: I'm mostly relying on Wikipedia and the impression I've received from reading introductions to various translations. See also my answer to "Why is the Septuagint (LXX) significant?" Can you point me to the articles you are thinking of? (And welcome to the site, by the way. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Jan 23 '13 at 18:54
    
This requires a long answer, question come soon –  user1985 Jan 23 '13 at 21:24
add comment

This is cross-posted and adapted from my answer here.

Accuracy and 'literalness' are only two of several factors in a translation, and I would argue that they are subjective factors at that. I would propose the following criteria for selecting an English Bible translation:

  • faithfulness to the original languages
  • translation philosophy (thought-for-thought, word-for-word, or paraphrase)
  • usage of the best texts/manuscripts available
  • readability

As I stated, these criteria are purely subjective, therefore some religious traditions will prefer various manuscripts or translation philosophies over others.

Faithfulness to the original languages

Is the translation based on the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts (or an attempt to reconstruct non-extant manuscripts in another language)? Or is it based on an existing translation? Is the translation consistent? Does it take recent scholarly linguistic and philological data into account? Does it allow the New Testament to inform how the Hebrew Bible is translated (and take into account differences between the Septuagint and Masoretic or other texts)? Are masculine pronouns translated as gender-neutral where grammar allows? Is there a clear bias (translations produced by sectarian groups or individuals often have a determined bias - and all translation involves bias if we're honest).

Translation philosophy

A thought-for-thought translation is known as dynamic equivalent, while a word-for-word translation is called formal equivalent. A paraphrase involves restating the meaning of a given passage in other words. Essentially this is a metric of how literal a translation is (does it follow form or meaning?). Remember that both form and meaning can be important; this is a subjective decision (just like all of the other criteria). 'Literal' is not always better, especially when the text refers to idioms or cultural/historical practices or events which are unfamiliar to modern readers.

This seems to be the main criteria you are using, but I hope to persuade you that the other factors are equally important. However, since this is the main criteria you asked about, here is an infographic prepared by Dave Croteau that illustrates where several major English Bible translations fall on this spectrum:

Translation Philosophy Comparison

Keep in mind, however, that this infographic does not take these other factors into account - which I believe are equally important (but highly subjective, and thus unable to be neatly graphed).

Usage of the best texts/manuscripts available

Some religious traditions have defined manuscripts/texts that are to be considered authoritative. Others tend to trust certain "families" of manuscripts more than others (Byzantine/Majority vs. Alexandrian, etc.), or they reject the 'family' theory altogether (e.g. CBGM). Others would prefer critical texts produced with the best quality scholarship that take early translations and manuscript variants into account.

Readability

This criteria is often overlooked. There is some truth to the old saying that "the best Bible translation is the one you read." Who cares how well it meets the other criteria if you can't comprehend what you're reading? Some translations are harder to read than others.

The best translation is a purely subjective choice that factors in these criteria. Some may consider certain criteria to be more important than others, while others may wish to balance all of them equally.

share|improve this answer
add comment

There are a few translations that are probably considered more literal than the NASB. These all have "literal" in the title. They tend to be less readable, but certainly more literal. Included are the following:

  • Young's Literal Translation (YLT), Robert Young - 1862

  • Green's Literal Translation (LITV), Jay P. Green - 1985

  • Analytical-Literal Translation (ALT), Gary Zeolla - 2001 (NT), 2012 (OT)

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your question asks two things together which are normally considered conflicting goals: "literalness" and the "closest meaning possible".

Translations such as the NASB and ESV are usually considered to be very "literal". They both attempt to mimic the morphosyntax of the original texts. The problem with this approach is that the Biblical languages have very different grammars than English. Greek for example has a very free word order, whereas English has a fairly fixed word order. The order of words in the NT is therefore determined on the basis of Information Structure - certain sentence positions are used to indicate that they are communicating new information, or important information. English also has Information Structure conventions, but they are different. Mimicking Greek's syntax therefore not only produces awkward English sentences, but can in fact put the emphasis on all the wrong words.

Another example where mimicking the morphosyntax is unhelpful is with multi word verbs. In translations like the NASB you will often see that someone "answered and said", whereas most translations recognise that this is an idiom and will just say "answered" or "replied". In Matthew 26:33 the ESV says "fall away" because the Greek uses two words, but the NLT says "desert" because its translators thought it conveyed the meaning better.

One final fact about Greek is that it normally doesn't explicitly use pronouns - they are used for emphasis. Matthew 26:33 is one of the times when a pronoun is used, which is something that most translations miss. One that doesn't miss it and does communicate the emphasis is the ISV which says "Even if everyone else turns against you, I certainly won’t!"

While many exegetes recommend syntax mimicking translations, most linguists would recommend one that doesn't attempt to do that, because it confuses the meaning too much, and doesn't actually give any substantial benefit to the reader. In my opinion the most accurate translations are ones like the NIV and NLT - the NLT is the translation which I feel is written in language and style most similar to the English I actually speak. The NIV11 is of special note for being the only translation I'm aware of which has commissioned a corpus study to inform the translators as to how English is actually spoken today. You can read that full report here.

(Several examples I gave here came from a blog post I wrote a few years ago.)

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.