How to Choose A Bible Translation Using the Expanded Bible


If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many different
translations to the Bible, you may also have wondered: which translation should I be reading? It’s a tough question to answer. The Bible was originally written in Hebrew (the Old Testament) and Greek (the New Testament), with parts in Aramaic. Translating these languages into the hundreds of other extant languages, including English, in a way that captures the intent of its authors, is a mammoth task.

Here are four reasons why that is:

  1. No two languages are equivalent in their vocabulary, sounds, rhythms, idioms, or underlying structure. Nor are any two cultures out of which languages arise equivalent in their way of understanding and expressing reality, their value systems, or their social and political organization, among other factors.
  2. The meaning of a text includes much more than its abstract thought. The sounds and rhythms of words, word play and puns, emotional overtones, metaphor, figurative language, and tone are just some of the other devices that carry meaning. No translation can transfer all these things from one language to another.
  3. All translation requires interpretation. One cannot convey meaning in a second language without first deciding what it means in the original. This step of interpretation in translation is unavoidable and imperfect; equally skilled and well-meaning scholars will interpret differently.
  4. A traditional translation requires one to choose a single possibility—whether of a word or an interpretation—when in fact two or more may be plausible.

This fourth complication is the one that The Expanded Bible (Thomas Nelson, 2011) sets out to ameliorate by allowing the reader to see multiple translating possibilities for words, phrases, and passages. The translation can be found on Bible Gateway, and you can see it in action here in Genesis 1.

Worth noting is that the base text is a modified version of the New Century Version, a clear and accurate, meaning-based (or thought-for-thought instead of word-for-word) Bible version. This base text appears in the standard black type. Alternate interpretations of words, phrases, or idioms (and other information) are placed in brackets in lighter type. For more information on how to use The Expanded Bible see this information page.

You may notice pretty quickly that having parenthetical options available in each verse slows your reading way down—having to ponder the implications of each option—and it may even produce a stumbling block to comprehension at times. But The Expanded Bible does offer an approach to translation that makes the difficulties of translation (into English, at least) more transparent, and it can be helpful to you in understanding the primary translation you already prefer.

On Bible Gateway, you may be familiar with the side-by-side translation feature. This is a handy tool already for comparing translations, but The Expanded Bible ads a layer of what you may discover is a useful method of comparison.

Let’s say you typically read the New International Version (this is just an example. Feel free to use your preferred translation for this exercise). If you open The Expanded Bible beside the New International Version, you’ll immediately start gaining insight into what word choices makes this translation appealing (or unappealing) to you. Let’s open this link to take a look at Genesis.

In Genesis 1:2b of The Expanded Bible, we’re given two options for what the darkness covered: “Darkness covered the ·ocean [or, deep].” Many of the most common translations (NIV, NKJV, ESV) opt for the more literal word “deep,” while the New Century Version takes a more meaning-based track, which renders “ocean.” Curiously enough, the New Living Translation chooses a third path and compromises between these two options by translating it as “deep waters.”

Not at all to infer that any of the above-mentioned translations are
incorrect, but you might begin to see how studying other translations alongside The Expanded Bible may inform your decisions on which one(s) you gravitate toward. It helps to be somewhat of a word nerd if you’re to find this interesting, but we at Bible Gateway will always happily promote this sort of behavior—that is, taking a closer look at a variety of Bible translations to gain a deeper understanding of Scripture.

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