October 2, 2022

Characteristics of Good Bible Translations

Passage: 2 Peter 1:16-21

Back in 1966, the US Congress proclaimed that Sept 30 of each year would be marked as World Bible Translation Day. Today is the Sunday closest to that date, so today we are observing Bible Translation Day.

As it stands today, over 700 people groups have received the entire Bible in their language, and over 1500 have received the NT in their language. An additional 1200 people groups have parts of the Bible in their native languages. That’s good, but it’s not enough. Millions of people still today have not one verse of the Bible translated into their heart language. Our goal should be that the Bible is available to everyone on the planet in a language they understand.

We’ve had Bible translations in English from about 1380, when John Wycliffe produced the first complete English translation of the Bible. Since that time, there have been hundreds of English Bible translations, some very good, some fairly good, and some not so good.

How do we decide whether a translation of the Bible is very good, fairly good, or not so good? What characteristics should a good translation have? That’s what I want to talk about today.

In a certain sense, we don’t really have to worry about whether the translation we are using is good. For the most part, the translation you brought today or the one you use at home is probably just fine. If you are using one of the conservative Bible translations available today, you have a good one. So it’s not something to be concerned about.

But let’s set that aside for a moment, and just consider the questions—what are the characteristics of a good Bible translation? How do we decide if a translation is good or not? That’s what we’ll be considering this morning.

And it’s good for us to consider these questions, because today, we have a multitude of versions and translations available, and we might wonder which of them is good, better, or best.

Before considering the marks of a good translation, let’s consider the purpose of a Bible translation. The purpose of a Bible translation is to convert the Bible into languages other than those in which it was originally written.[1] The OT was originally composed mostly in Hebrew, and the NT was written in Greek. Most of us don’t know how to read Hebrew and Greek, so we depend on English translations. The purpose of those translations is to convert the original documents into a form that we can read. Some translations do that very well, others do it fairly well, and some, unfortunately, do it quite poorly.

As we observe Bible Translation Day, let’s consider several characteristics of good Bible translations.

[1] Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Biblical Translation". Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 Jan. 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/biblical-translation. Accessed 23 September 2021.

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