Bible Translations to Avoid

January 12, 2023

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What Bible translations should we avoid? In this episode, Elizabeth Urbanowicz looks at translations that we may want to consider avoiding, especially when reading with our children. Listen as she shares tips and insights into translations and why certain translations should be avoided.

Mike Winger's Passion Translation Review

Webinar: Equipping Our Kids to Read, Interpret, and Apply Scripture


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Elizabeth Urbanowicz:
Hello friends and welcome to the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the kids God has placed in your care, to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you joined me for another episode today.

Today's question is short and sweet, but we'll see if the answer is short and sweet. The question today is, What Bible translations should we avoid and why? That's a great question, and I think that it stems from a recent webinar I did on actually equipping our kids to read, interpret, and apply scripture. I mentioned that most Bible translations are great, but there are certain ones we should avoid. And so this is a question, Should we specifically avoid any translations?

I know that most of us probably have our favorite translation or our translation of choice, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It can be a good thing to have our go-to translation that we've really enjoy, the way that it's worded and find it easy to read. But one thing that I would recommend is just having a variety of Bible translations around your home, or if you're in a classroom setting, around your classroom. Because having a variety of Bible translations, looking up the same verse in a variety of translations can really help those of us who do not know the original Hebrew, or Greek, or Aramaic to understand at a deeper level what the original meaning of the text is. So I highly recommend just having a variety of translations around.

The other thing that I recommend especially for those of us who are working with children, is to be charitable towards any translation that is a genuine translation of God's Word. And what I mean by charitable is I know that just in certain camps, there are certain groups that just say, "This is the only English translation that anybody should be using."

And now while it isn't bad to have a favorite translation or it isn't even wrong to make an argument for why you believe that one translation is more accurate in certain ways than other translations, if we just put our stake in the ground and say, "This is the only biblical translation or the only biblically faithful translation," what we're doing is we're setting our kids up really for failure in the future. Because if they grow up thinking, "I just have to read this one translation, and anything outside of this translation is heresy." Well, that's not really accurate. And then when they grow up and they learn that translation committees work really hard and that there are many faithful translations out there, they're going to start to question other things that we've told them. We don't want to be uncharitable towards other translations that are genuine translations.

Now if you have a preferred translation, again, and you do believe that this translation has been more faithfully translated than other translations, tell your kids why. Explain to them why you think that this is the best translation to use, but don't hold back from letting them use other translations. I would encourage even you to use different translations at time. I do have a favorite or preferred translation, and that's most of the time when I'm reading the Bible just on my own, for my own personal and devotional growth. I usually use one specific translation. However, this year I've specifically switched it out just for a year to use a different translation just to hear the same familiar passages of scripture in different language because different things will stand out. And then when I compare them and see the differences in the translation, it helps me gain a better and clearer understanding of what is the meaning of this text.

Now another thing as we're choosing Bible translations and even thinking through if there are any Bible translations that we should avoid, one thing that we have to understand is the translation philosophy. Any team of translators that comes together has a certain philosophy for how they're going to translate the Bible from the original languages into English or into whatever language they're translating it into. Now translations usually fall along a spectrum towards two different ends. On one end of the spectrum is the dynamic equivalence translations, and that is a thought for thought translation. So what translators will do is the translation team will read a certain portion of scripture, and rather than just translating each word, what they'll do is they'll say, "Okay, in this sentence, what is the idea communicated in this sentence?" And then they will translate that idea from the original language into English.

This is more like your NLT falls more in line with that. And then on the other end of the spectrum, we have what's called a formal equivalence translation. And this is where translation teams don't spend so much time thinking about what is the thought that's communicated, but they actually more closely focus on what is the word for word translation? So sometimes the formal equivalence might be a little bit harder for us to read because some of the sentences that are constructed aren't necessarily the way that we would say the most easily in English, or whatever language we're reading the translation in, but it's really more word for word. So your NASB would fall more on this end of the spectrum.

And then translations fall all different places along the spectrum. Some of them try to be a good blend of this the dynamic equivalence where it's a thought for thought, and then the formal equivalence with the word for word. And so we just need to know that this is the continuum along which the Bible is translated from the original languages into English.

When we're thinking about Bibles for our kids and what versions we're going to want to use with our children, we want a translation for them and for us as well that is both accurate. It sticks closely to the original text and it's readable, that we are able to understand it. Now most modern English translations are both a fairly accurate and fairly readable. The NASB is going to be harder for younger children to understand than something like the NIV, or the NLT, or the CSB, but it's still possible for them to understand it. Now one thing I'm going to say this, and I know I'm going to step on some toes here, but I'm just trying to get us to think through this.

I usually don't recommend using the KJV, the King James version with children because of its readability. Because the Bible was not breathed out by God in old English. It was breathed out in Hebrew, and Aramaic, and Greek. The language in the King James version is beautiful. So if we're working with a high schooler or someone older than high school, reading the King James version with its beautiful language is not a bad thing. With little kids it would be akin to giving little kids the original works of William Shakespeare, that they're very hard for kids to understand. So if you do prefer the King James version, I would recommend going with the New King James version just because it's a lot more readable, and the language has been somewhat updated to language that we actually use now in the 21st century.

Okay, now getting into the actual question, What are translations that I do not recommend? I do not recommend using The Message because it is not a translation. It's a paraphrase of the Bible. Now there's definitely certain context in which reading The Message might be helpful just to get us thinking about what is this passage of scripture saying? However, The Message is a paraphrase of God's Word. It's not actually God's Word. And so when we're in this phase of training our kids to read, interpret, and apply scripture, we don't want them to get used to using The Message because it's not actually what scripture says. It's a paraphrase of it. Now I don't think that reading it every once in a while is a bad thing. I'm not saying it's heretical, avoid it at all costs. I'm just saying this is not what we want to train our children in. We want to make sure that we're training them to actually read translations, not paraphrases.

If you really like the language of The Message, I would recommend then go with the New Living Translation, the NLT, because that is very far down on the dynamic equivalent spectrum, and it is still a translation, but it's in very, very, very, very, very readable language. So that's the first thing that I would encourage you with. The Message is not heretical. At least I haven't read the entire message. So I guess I can't say that with absolute certainty. But from what I've heard and the parts of The Message that I've read, I haven't seen anything that has gone against sound Christian doctrine. However, it's a paraphrase. It's not a translation.

Now one of the very popular translations these days that I would very much encourage you to avoid is The Passion Translation. In this short podcast, I do not have the time to go into depth about why you should avoid it. I'll give you a brief overview in a minute. But in the show notes, we're going to have links to the entire series that Mike Winger did on the Passion Translation. And in that series, he has a couple of overview videos. And then he has a number of videos where he has actually hired Bible scholars who are experts in certain books of the Bible to critically evaluate The Passion Translation, and to evaluate whether or not it's a sound translation.

If you or your church is currently using The Passion Translation, listen to what I'm going to say for the next few minutes. But then I would encourage you to really, really dive deep into the work that Mike Winger has done because he's done such fabulous work and gone so much deeper than I'm going to be able to go in a few minutes.

And so the reason that I would encourage you just as a basic overview of avoiding The Passion Translation is just because of what it is, what it's not, and how it's come to be. The Passion Translation is very different than most translations, because most of the translations that we have, have actually come about from a team of translators, that a number of Bible scholars come together and they actually work together to translate the Bible. And there's a couple of reasons why this is a really good thing.

Number one, in order to be able to make it on a translation team, someone actually has to be an expert in the biblical languages and also has to be an expert in understanding theology. And so having these people who are experts is helpful. Because if somebody asks me to be in a translation team, I don't have the qualifications because I do not understand. I can't even read Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. So I would not be qualified to be on a translation team. And so it's really good to have these experts.

The second reason that it's really good is because there's a team of people. They're able to balance one another out and to make sure that the translation is not being biased in a certain way. Now if I were fluent in Hebrew, and Greek, and Aramaic, and I set out to do a translation, now I could potentially do a sound translation if I were experts in those languages. But the weakness is that I am coming to the text already with certain presuppositions and beliefs about scripture. And so when I come to a passage that might not be incredibly clear as to what it's saying, I with my bias and probably going to translate it in a way that looks like it supports my already held belief. Where if there is a whole team of people, we're going to have somewhat different beliefs about things.

So when I go and suggest that a passage is translated in a certain way, there are going to be other people who come and say, "You know what? I don't actually think that's accurate," and they're going to be able to make an argument for it. And then we're going to hash through, "What is the most faithful rendering of this text?" Now does it mean that translation teams are completely free of bias? No. I'm sure in some ways little biases slip in here and there. However, there's much more accountability when it's an entire team of people. So that's why translation committees, translation teams are so beneficial.

And most of the translations that we have nowadays have been translated by an entire team of people. The Passion Translation is very different. The Passion Translation was begun by a man named Brian Simmons. He began the translation on his own. I don't know if he has other people helping him now with the continued work of the translation, but he started it on his own. And when you research how this came to be, is Brian Simmons claims that he has been visited by an angel, and this angel gave him secrets that had been lost in Hebrew, and Greek, and Aramaic.

Anytime we hear a claim like this where someone says they've been visited by an angel and we do know there's supernatural being, scripture is clear about that. Is it possible for someone to be visited by an angel? According to scripture, yes. So we don't automatically discount someone who's saying that they had a vision or that they've been visited by an angel. But when we hear something like, they've been giving secrets that have been lost through the centuries, that should set off some alarm bells for us. Because God is in the business of faithfully preserving the truth.

Now there have been periods in history where many people in leadership in Christianity have veered from the truth. When you think back to the Protestant reformation in the 1500s. Martin Luther and other reformers were calling people back, and they were showing how the church at large had very much veered from biblical faithfulness. But Martin Luther and the other reformers, they weren't saying that they had been given some secret that had been lost for years. They were like, "Look at the scriptures. The scriptures are clear." And so they were calling people back to biblical faithfulness. They were not calling them to something new.

Martin Luther or the other reformers didn't claim that they had been given some new revelation, but that they were calling people back to biblical faithfulness. So hearing someone say that they've been visited by some sort of supernatural being and that they've been given some secrets, some new revelation, should set off alarm bells in our minds. Even in the opening chapter of Galatians, Paul says very clearly, "Even if we," as I'm not saying myself, but him and the other apostles, so "We, the apostles or an angel from heaven should come and preach another Gospel, let him be accursed."

I'm not saying that Brian Simmons is preaching another gospel. I have not read the entire Passion Translation, but I do know that to claim that you've been given some secret revelation that has been lost for years is not what we see modeled in scripture. And this is very dangerous because any time we see a counterfeit religion emerging straight from Christianity, it's usually because the person has claimed to have been visited by some sort of angelic being with a new message. Think about Islam. Muhammad was in the desert when the angel Gabriel supposedly came to him and gave him these new revelations. Joseph Smith was by himself in New York when he was supposedly visited by an angel and told these new revelations.

And so that is not what we find in scripture. And then even throughout church history, like the example that I gave with the Protestant Reformation, it was not that Martin Luther was coming up with some new idea, it's that he was calling people back to biblical faithfulness.

The two things I mentioned before with translation teams that I said why they were really good is number one, because of the credentials of those who are on them. And number two, because of the accountability. If you watch the Mike Winger series, one thing that he highlights is Mike Winger did some real digging and found out that Brian Simmons does not have any of the credentials that he claims to have that would make him qualified to do Bible translation, that he is not an expert in any of these original languages. That yes, he claims that an angel came and gave him this download of information, but he doesn't have any training that he would need to qualify him to actually be a translator.

The second thing that I mentioned before is the team of people for accountability to make sure that no biases creep in. Brian Simmons started this translation on his own. And when you read through it, if you're familiar at all with the hypercharismatic movement, you'll notice that so much of the language that's used in The Passion Translation, so many of the words and phrases that have been added to it have very little to do, if not nothing to do with the original text, and are words and ideas brought in from that very specific movement into the text. Anyone who has certain theological leanings, myself included, if we were to do a translation on our own of the Bible, we would be tempted to put those theological leanings into the text. And that's exactly what we see with The Passion Translation. The Passion Translation is not a true translation. I know I've given you a very brief overview of this. And if you are a fan of that translation, again, I would encourage you to check out the Mike Winger series because he goes into hours and hours of study on The Passion Translation.

So the conclusion to this episode, the answer to the question is, I encourage us to use any sound translation, to not just stick to one translation. Yes, it's fine to have a favorite. It's even fine to be able to provide good reasons for why we think one translation might be more accurate, more closely held to the original intent of the authors and the language, but would really encourage us to immerse our kids in a number of different sound Bible translations. Then to just understand the translation philosophy so that we know if we're exposed to The Message, that can be interesting for us to read, but it's not actually scripture. It's a paraphrase of scripture.

And then anytime a new translation comes on the scene, like The Passion Translation, that we should be able to ask good questions. Okay, who is this translated by? What are their credentials? Do they have the right credentials to translate scripture? And then was it done by just one person? Was it done by a team of people? These are really important questions for us to ask.

Well, that's a wrap for this episode. If you found this content helpful or beneficial, would just really ask you to consider liking or subscribing to our content and also sharing it with others who you think God could use this content to help them as they disciple their children.

As always my prayer as we leave our time together is that God would richly bless you as you continue to faithfully disciple the children that He's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.

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