ACCURACY OF BIBLE TRANSLATIONS (BY MARK OVERTON)
Copyright © 2019 by Mark Overton.
For each verse in the Bible, an accurate translation will reliably convey both the gist and nuances of what the original author wrote. In this article, 22 Bible translations are graded based on the number of pressure-verses they translated correctly (out of 47 possible), which is an objective measure of their accuracy. A pressure-verse is a verse that translators are pressured to mistranslate for any of several reasons.
The NKJV and KJV are significantly more accurate than all other popular translations. The NASB, CSB, and ESV are mediocre. The GNT, NLT, and NIV are poor, failing nearly every pressure-verse.
When you read the Bible, you would like to be confident that what you’re reading closely reflects what the original language says. The degree of such closeness is referred to as “accuracy”. A translation is accurate if it conveys the meaning of the Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, including subtle nuances and implications, without adding or removing meanings or connotations. Translating accurately is challenging.
Why is accuracy important? The obvious reason is that you want to know what the original authors wrote. But there is a second and more subtle reason that we need accuracy: The Bible contains mysteries. Because these mysteries are spiritual, they make no sense to the unspiritual mind, as you can see in the following examples:
Luke 11:41 “Give alms from what is within you.” John 14:30 “The ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in me.” Rev 2:23 “I will kill her children with death.”
Every verse above makes no sense to a natural human mind, but a spiritual mind will perceive an important truth in each of them. Therefore, a translation must be fairly literal, meaning that most words and phrases in the original are carried into the English translation without change. A common mistake is to alter the meaning based on human reasoning. For example, Luke 11:41 (above) is often mistakenly changed to say, “Give alms from what you have.” To translate such mysteries correctly, a translator must treasure God’s word and be careful to preserve nuances in the original languages.
This article rates the accuracy of 22 Bible translations, including all the popular translations that appear to be suitable for study. This criterion excludes paraphrased translations, but I included a couple anyway due to their popularity. The ratings were done by selecting 47 verses in the New Testament whose meanings translators are pressured to alter. This is a large enough number to confidently assess the faithfulness of each translation to the underlying Greek. Why only the New Testament? Two reasons: (1) I am aware of more mistranslations in the New Testament than in the Old, and (2) including verses from the Old Testament would prevent me from grading New Testament-only translations. A translation team uses the same philosophy for translating both testaments, so if a translation’s New Testament is accurate, its Old Testament will probably be accurate too.
For each verse in each translation, a pass/fail was assigned based on whether the translation conveys the meaning of the Greek text reasonably closely. The failures were tallied for each translation, and these total failure-counts are presented in the bar-graph below. Lower failures (and shorter bars) are better.
|Traits||Failures||Bar of Failures|
|Traits||Failures||Bar of Failures|
47 is the worst possible number of failures, as that’s how many verses were employed for scoring. Versions in the “Other Translations” section above either use King James English, or are 100% literal, or both. The “Traits” column shows any unusual traits of each translation. In this article, trait ‘I’ is called ‘I-trait’, trait ‘M’ is called ‘M-trait’, etc. Here are the meanings of those trait-letters:
K - King James English. The translation uses King James pronouns, such as thee, thou, and ye.
I - Interpolations are italicized. A translation with the I-trait italicizes (or brackets) words added by translators. All translators add words that are absent from the original language in order to make the English read smoothly or to provide missing information. Scholars refer to such added words as “interpolated” words, and most of them are articles and prepositions. This I-trait means the translation team wanted you to know exactly what is present and absent in the underlying original text.
F - Textual variants are footnoted. There are three Greek texts of the New Testament available to translators, called the Majority Text (MT), Textus Receptus (TR), and Critical Text (CT). A translation uses one of these. When it differs substantially from one of the other two, a translator cannot know which text is a more accurate copy of the original. Therefore, it’s helpful to footnote the difference. An “F” indicates that such footnotes are present. Note that the differences among textual variants don’t affect the verses used for this article.
M - Majority Text (MT). The translation’s New Testament is based on the Majority Text, which represents an approximate (or weighted) majority of all available manuscripts for each verse.
T - Textus Receptus (TR). The translation’s New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus, which is what the King James Version (KJV) used. The TR is a majority text based on manuscripts available in the 1500s. Except for Revelation, it’s very close to today’s Majority Text. If a translation has neither M-trait nor T-trait, then it’s based on the Critical Text (CT), which was first assembled in the 1800s and is the basis of most modern translations.
J - Jehovah. The Old Testament of this translation renders the tetragrammaton YHWH as “Jehovah” instead of the more common “LORD”. So the Old Testament is full of Jehovahs, which some find irritating. Most scholars have believed for decades that “Yahweh” is the correct pronunciation of YHWH, but one rarely sees this rendition in Protestant Bibles (the HCSB has a few).
Y - Yahweh. YHWH in the Old Testament is translated as “Yahweh”. See description of J-trait for details. According to the foreword in the EBR, the only Bibles to employ Yahweh are the EBR, Jerusalem Bible, and the New Jerusalem Bible.
G - Gender-neutral language. The translation avoids the word “man” and the male third-person pronouns of “he”, “him”, and “his”, unless its antecedent is known to be male.
L - Literal. A literal translation is word-for-word, described below.
Italicizing interpolated words is an important trait. Such added words are the translators’ best guesses of what the text should say, and sometimes they are wrong. The resulting alteration of the meaning could mislead readers who will think the erroneous words came from God. To avoid this problem, interpolated words should be identified. A good example of the problem translators face is 1 Cor 7:9, which says in the Greek, “It is better to marry than to burn.” Many translators add, “with passion.” Those two interpolated words are not in the Greek, and they constrain the meaning of the verse. Though unlikely in my opinion, the true meaning might be burning as a result of God’s punishment. Italicizing such interpolated words alerts readers that the true meaning might differ from the translator’s guess. If interpolated words are not italicized (or bracketed), the translation is falsely claiming that the added words came from God.
Therefore, I suggest that you (1) only use an I-trait translation, and (2) give less credence to italicized words.
A translation is said to be “literal” if it translates every Greek or Hebrew word into English, usually keeping the same tense, with little regard for making the English smooth. However, word-order in Greek and Hebrew differs from English, so most literal translations re-order the words for you. They will even interpolate words for you (always in italics). Literal translations are often more wordy because they add words to accurately express tenses. So although reading literal translations is a slow and bumpy ride, they are not as rough as you would think, and are excellent for careful study. Some popular translations, such as the NKJV, KJV, and NASB, are regarded as literal, but that means they are mostly literal; none of them is 100% literal like those with the L-trait.
The NKJV (New King James Version) is the most accurate popular modern translation. It is significantly more accurate than the next-best translation (the NASB), so the translators of the NKJV clearly valued accuracy highly.
Accuracy plunges below the NKJV. The NASB, HCSB, CSB, and ESV which are clumped below the NKJV, have about twice as many failures as the NKJV. From there, accuracy rapidly declines even more, bottoming out with the GNT, NLT, and NIV, which mistranslated nearly every verse in this test. To put these poor results in perspective, I have observed that most Christians don’t desire great precision in the Bible, so some changes in meaning won’t bother them. For them, I suppose any popular translation at or above the ESV will be good enough.
But for Christians who value truth more, I recommend the NKJV. In addition to being accurate, the NKJV italicizes interpolated words and thoroughly footnotes differences in other Greek texts (I- and F-trait).
If you don’t mind old-style English, the KJV (King James Version) is as accurate as the NKJV. In fact, if you know the old meanings of several words, the failure-bars of both become shorter, because such old meanings were regarded as mistranslations in the scoring. And the KJV and NKJV are already the best-scoring popular translations by a wide margin, and removing the penalties of those old words will improve their scores even more.
I want to recommend the WEB due to its good accuracy, but it doesn’t italicize interpolated words, which is a serious flaw because when you read the WEB (or any non-I translation), you don’t know which words came from God and which came from man. As I mentioned above, you should avoid any non-I translation. The purpose of reading your Bible is to learn what God said. An I-trait translation separates man’s writings from what you want to know: God’s word.
The NASB is reputed and advertised as being accurate, so I’m surprised that it failed about twice as many verses as the NKJV (and KJV). It italicizes interpolated words, so I would have recommended it had its score been better.
There are some interesting relationships between traits and accuracy:
- All translations having two or more trait-letters are accurate.
- All M- and T-trait translations are accurate. These translations don’t use the Critical Text.
- With the exception of the NASB, all I-trait translations are accurate. If the manager of a translation project is forthright about his teams’ interpolations (the I-trait), then I suspect that he values truth highly and thus will demand a more accurate translation, creating a high correlation between the I-trait and accuracy.
- All of the worst translations have the G-trait. But none of the verses in this test are affected by the G-trait, so why do you suppose that translations avoiding the pronouns he/him/his would be the least accurate?
If you are familiar with the concepts of “formal equivalence” and “dynamic equivalence”, you will notice that the best translations used formal equivalence and the worst used dynamic equivalence. But there are surprises in the bar-graph. The NASB is reputed to have used formal equivalence, but it didn’t end up among those top translations. I suspect its translators were not consistent in the degree to which they adhered to formal equivalence. The NIV matched the poor performance of the GNT and NLT, which used only dynamic equivalence, revealing that the NIV did not use a balance of the two, despite beliefs otherwise. In practice, dynamic equivalence means translating the gist and ignoring the details. I suggest that you read through the section in this article describing why each verse was selected. You will see how much harm neglecting details can cause.
In summary, based on the accuracy scores of the popular translations, only the NKJV and KJV reliably tell you what the Bible actually says. If you want to be confident that what you’re reading is what was originally written, the NKJV and KJV are your only choices.
Pressure-Verses: The Basis of this Grading System
Fundamentally, my grading system is designed to measure the willingness of translators to alter original meanings when pressured to do so. Therefore, I selected verses which put such pressure on translators. Translators are pressured to alter a meaning for several reasons:
- The Greek might contradict modern doctrine.
- They are subject to scholarly peer-pressure when most other translations have rendered the text a certain way.
- An altered meaning might be easier to express gracefully in English than the true meaning.
- A word or phrase might seem unimportant, tempting the translator to omit it.
- The translator might not understand the meaning, and thus might wish to interpret it. If a verse makes no sense to the translator, the correct response is to translate what it says and let the Holy Spirit explain the mystery to readers. However, many translators appear to lack confidence that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the scriptures, so they are tempted to do His job for Him. The result will be a suspect interpretation and not a translation.
The question arises: Does the accuracy of such pressure-verses correlate with the accuracy of the rest of the translation? I believe so, for these reasons:
- I graded the NKJV and NIV using a different method (described below), and got the same assessments of their accuracy.
- Literal translations are known to be exceptionally accurate, and my method’s close agreement with those translations (i.e., their low failure-counts) indicates that my evaluation of the selected verses is correct.
- If translators accurately translated pressure-verses, then we know they value accuracy highly, giving us confidence that the rest of the translation is also accurate. Likewise, if translators altered many pressure-verses, then we know that accuracy was not paramount to them, making it likely that they altered many other verses.
The conclusion is that this method of scoring translations provides a good measure of their accuracy.
The Raw Data
Before discussing the various Bible translations, I’ll give you the raw table of failures below. A “+” signifies passing and “F” signifies failing.
E Y D M A K K N A W D M N R N E H C N N G N B L L L L J J K S E a E A S R S C S I I N L R T N V T 3 V J V B r V S V S V S B V V T T T 3 V b B 5 V B 8 y 2 4 Matt 4:17 + + + + + + + + + + + + + + F + F F F F F F Matt 5:18 + + F F F F + + F F + + + + + + F F F F F F Matt 6:27 + + + + + + + + + F + + F + F F + F F F F F Matt 10:6 + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F F Matt 16:27 + F + + F F F F + + + + + + + + F F F F F F Matt 17:3 + + + + + + + + + + + F + + F + F F F F F F Mark 6:51 + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F F F F F F F F Mark 8:12 + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F + Mark 10:32 + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F F F Mark 12:33 + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F F F F Luke 8:15 + F + + + + F F + + F F + + + + + + F F F + Luke 11:41 + F + + + + F F + + F + + + + + + + F F F F Luke 12:46 + + + F + + + + + + + F F F F F F F F F F F Luke 17:1 + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F F F F F F F F John 6:57 F F F F F + + F F F F F F F F F F F F F F F John 14:2 + F + + + + F F F + + + + + + + + + F F + F John 14:30 + + + + + + + + + + + F + F F F F F F F F F John 15:6 + F + + + + + + + F + F + + + + F F F F F F Acts 3:18 + + + + + + + + + + + F + + F + + F F F F F Acts 5:12 + + + + + + + + + + + F + F F F F F F F F F Acts 11:2 + + + + + + + + + + + F F + F + F + F F F F Rom 1:17 + + + + + + + + + + F + + F F F + + F F F F Rom 2:1,3 + + + + + + + + + + + + F + F + F F F F F F 1 Cor 7:25 + + + + + + + + + + + + + F + F + + + + F F 1 Cor 7:36 + + F + + + + + F + F F F F F F + F F F F F 2 Cor 4:16 + + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F + + F F F F 2 Cor 5:10a + + F F F F F F + + + F F F F F F F F F F F 2 Cor 5:10b + + + + + + + + + F + + F F F F F F F F F F Gal 1:16 + + + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F F F F F F Gal 4:17 + + + + + + F + F F + F F + + + + F F F F F Eph 2:11 + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F F Eph 3:15 + + + + + + + + + + + + F + + + + + F F + F Phil 3:11 + F + + + + F F F F + F F F F F + + F F F F Phil 3:12 + + + + + F + + + + F + + F F F F F + + F F Col 1:25 + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F F F F F F F F Col 2:18 + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F F F F + + + F 2 Thess 2:13 + + F + + + + + + + + F + + F F + + + F F F James 2:3 + + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F F F F F F F James 2:11 + + + + + + + + + + + F + + + + F F F F F + James 4:13 + + + + F + + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F F 1 Pet 1:13 + + + + + + + + + F + F F F F F F F F F F F 1 Pet 4:6 + + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F F F + F F F Rev 2:23 + + + + + + + + + + + F F F F F F F F F F F Rev 10:11 + F F + F + + F + + + F F F F F F F F F F F Rev 11:9 + + + + + + + + + + + + + F F F + + F F + + Rev 12:5 + F + + + + F F + + + F + F + F + + + + F F Rev 22:12 F F + F + F F F F F F F F + F + F F F F F F E Y D M A K K N A W D M N R N E H C N N G N B L L L L J J K S E a E A S R S C S I I N L R T N V T 3 V J V B r V S V S V S B V V T T T 3 V b B 5 V B 8 y 2 4
In a later section in this article, I devote a paragraph to each verse, first literally translating its Greek, and then explaining why translators are tempted to mistranslate it.
Discussion of “Modern” Bible Translations
The Bible translations in the “Modern” group in the bar-graph are discussed in more detail below in score-order, starting with the best.
WEB - World English Bible. The WEB is about as accurate as the NKJV, so it’s quite accurate. It is based on the Majority Text (MT), and was created by many volunteers. Unlike the MLV, the WEB consists of the entire Bible. The goal of its leaders is to provide an accurate Bible translation in modern English that is not copyrighted. They succeeded. However, this translation needs proofing due to the high frequency of little mistakes I noticed. But I am more sensitive to correct English than most people, and you will probably find the WEB to be fine. But a substantial flaw in the WEB is that it does not indicate which which words were added (interpolated) by the translators. The WEB is an update of the ASV which italicizes interpolations, and I don’t know why the WEB removed those italics. Also, its phrasing is abstruse in places, a flaw it inherited from the ASV. You can download it for free in a variety of formats from here: https://ebible.org. If you type this URL by hand, note that it’s ebible.org and not ebible.com. The WEB has great potential. If you can volunteer some time to help rectify its flaws, it could become a great blessing for many people.
NKJV - New King James Version. The NKJV is quite accurate. It is an update of the King James Version, but using modern English (unlike the ASV). Its only important weakness is what is advertised as a strength: The NKJV retains wording from the KJV when such is understandable in modern English. But the translators did so excessively in my opinion, retaining some words and phrases whose meanings have changed enough over the centuries to be inaccurate today. There are not many such words, and two that I included in my pressure-verses are “mansions” and “reward”. You should remember that “mansions” in John 14:2 should be “abodes” and that “reward” in a few places should be “recompense”. A few archaic phrases were also carried over, such as “a certain place” (which means “somewhere”) occurring in Hebrews. But mistaken carry-overs are minor and uncommon, and its English is modern enough and pleasant, so the NKJV is my favorite translation.
NASB - New American Standard Bible. The advertising for the NASB claims that it’s the most literal popular translation, but that claim is wrong because the NKJV is significantly more accurate. The NASB is an update and a (supposed) improvement of the ASV. But the NASB scored much worse than the ASV, having about twice as many failures as the ASV. The table of raw failures above shows that the translators for the NASB altered some verses to be less accurate. A typical example is Acts 11:2, where “they that were of the circumcision” (ASV) was changed to “those who were circumcised”, which is an interpretation and not a translation. I am reluctant to recommend the NASB due to its mediocre accuracy.
RSV - Revised Standard Version. Like the NASB, this 1952 translation was based on the ASV, but it was controversial because most of its translators were liberals (in the religious sense), which biased the translations of some verses in ways conservative Christians disapproved of. I am fond of this translation because I used it in college when I was a new Christian. I still have that Bible. My scoring shows that its accuracy is mediocre.
MEV - Modern English Version. I’m reluctant to include this translation in the grading (and it’s not on the bar graph) because it needs a round of careful proofing and correction. I tried to make the MEV my main Bible, and though I found it pleasant to read, I gave up after encountering a very high rate of mistakes. For example, I saw five mistakes in six chapters of Deuteronomy and eight in 12 chapters of Acts. I logged 33 mistakes during roughly six hours of reading. The MEV’s mistakes fall into three categories: irritating mistranslations, bad grammar, and remnants of King James English. The goal of the MEV was to update the KJV into modern English while maintaining the beauty of the KJV. Strangely, it italicizes some (but not all) interpolations in the Old Testament and none in the New that I saw. The MEV is about as accurate as the NASB, but its many mistakes show that it’s not ready for publication.
ESV - English Standard Bible. This popular translation is easy and pleasant to read, but its accuracy is mediocre. And it has problems with women. It incorrectly translates 1 Cor 11:5 as “wife”, unlike almost all other translations. It also mistranslated 1 Cor 7:25. A good review of the ESV, including insights into its unusual problem with women, can be found here: http://www.bible-researcher.com/esv.html.
HCSB - Holman Christian Standard Bible. Unlike most translations, the HCSB was translated from scratch, and is not an update of an existing translation. Its approach is fairly literal. The committee was cautious, even continuing the dying tradition of capitalizing pronouns referring to God. They also translate a small fraction of the tetragrammatons (YHWH) in the Old Testament as “Yahweh”, which I and others believe is more accurate than “LORD” as most other Protestant translations render it. The CSB is an update of the HCSB, and is intended to supersede it. The HCSB’s accuracy is mediocre.
NRSV - New Revised Standard Version. The NRSV is an update of the RSV. Their changes made it less accurate than the 1952 RSV, putting it near the bottom of the mediocre group of translations.
CSB - Christian Standard Bible. The CSB is an update of the HCSB based on feedback from pastors and readers. Some of them objected to even the small number of Yahwehs in the Old Testament, so the CSB reverted to the usual practice of translating YHWH as “LORD”. Like most modern translations, the CSB does not capitalize pronouns referring to divinity. Like the HCSB, its accuracy is mediocre.
NIV-84 - New International Version, 1984. This translation sold very well over many years, so millions of people grew up using it, making it influential. It’s a little more accurate than today’s NIV, but is still unacceptably poor.
GNT - Good News Translation. I included this semi-paraphrase due to its popularity. Unsurprisingly, its accuracy is very low. Surprisingly, its accuracy is about the same as the NIV.
NLT - New Living Translation. This translation started as an update of the Living Bible, which I remember from the 1970s, but it drifted far enough from the LB to be regarded as a distinct translation. Its literature states that it’s a “thought-for-thought” translation, making it more of a paraphrase (like the LB), but I included it due to its popularity. Unfortunately, its accuracy is very low.
NIV - New International Version. I first blamed myself for the poor score of the NIV. It failed almost every verse in the test, and I thought the NIV could not be that bad, so I questioned the accuracy of my scoring method. To check that score, I decided to gauge the NIV (and NKJV) using another method described below. The upshot is that the NIV is indeed as inaccurate as its score indicates.
Discussion of “Other” Bible Translations
EBR - Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible. Not only is this a good literal translation of the entire Bible, but it also includes markings indicating which words are emphasized in the original languages, which can substantially affect meanings. Here’s an example from Ps 11:7:
“The upright shall behold his face.” (most translations)
“||The upright|| shall behold his face.” (EBR reveals the emphasis on “The upright”)
Read that verse again, but pronouncing “The upright” louder to emphasize it. Stressing “the upright” shifts our attention to the nature of those people, thus underscoring the necessity of righteous behavior. Otherwise, we might have paid more attention to seeing God’s face, changing the message conveyed by this verse. We see that emphasis can be important. Note that the EBR employs King James pronouns. Also, YHWH in its Old Testament is translated as “Yahweh” (which I prefer) instead of the much more common “LORD”.
However, I have a serious complaint about the EBR: When a Greek word has multiple meanings, this translation often selects an inappropriate meaning. And significant words can be added. Here are three examples from a brief reading:
Phil 3:11 - The word “earlier” was inserted, which seems to be absent in the Greek.
Phil 3:20 - hyparchei is translated as “has its rise” instead of the usual “exists”.
Phil 4:8 - logizesthe is translated as “be taking into account” instead of the usual “think on”.
You can obtain the EBR from:
- ChristianBook.com; search for “rotherham's emphasized bible”.
- On amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=rotherham%27s+emphasized+bible.
- A free searchable pdf can be downloaded from https://emphasizedbible.000webhostapp.com/index.html.
- It can be purchased used from abebooks.com and amazon.com.
MLV - Modern Literal Version. (New Testament only). This literal version of the New Testament claims to be “the world’s most accurate English translation,” and that’s almost true (the EBR is more accurate). This free New Testament was created and is maintained by volunteers. Anyone can submit error reports, so I plan to submit the failures I found. The MLV is based on the Majority Text (MT). Here is Matthew 3:6-7 in the MLV:
And they were being immersed by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But after he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his immersion, he said to them, Offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the future wrath?
Note the helpful interpolated word, after. Also note that italicized (interpolated) prepositions in the DLNT are not italicized in the MLV, making it appear that the DLNT pays more attention to detail. The English text in all literal translations is slightly bumpy, but still comfortable for me to read. The MLV can be found here: http://www.modernliteralversion.org/, and you can download it into your computer, Kindle, or smartphone.
KJ3 - KJ3 Literal Translation. This little-known translation by Jay P. Green is actually the contents of the side margins of his better-known interlinear Bible. Unlike the other literal translations graded in this article, the KJ3 consists of the entire Bible, and not only the New Testament. Interpolated words are italicized, and the New Testament is based on the TR. You can buy this Bible from amazon.com or from the publisher here and here. Take care not to accidentally order the New Testament-only version — unless that’s what you want. You can read a chapter at a time online here. Here’s a sample from Matt 10:28-29:
And you should not fear the ones killing the body, but not being able to kill the soul. But rather fear Him, the One being able to destroy both soul and body in Hell. Are not two sparrows sold for an assarion? Yet not one of them shall fall to the ground without your Father.
For comparison, here’s the same passage in the NKJV:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.
In the two passages above, I observe that the extra words in the KJ3 provide more accuracy, but reduce impact compared with the NKJV. This impact/accuracy trade-off is true of all literal translations.
I have some complaints about this translation (from reading it online): (1) YHWH is rendered as “Jehovah” everywhere in the Old Testament, (2) I encountered two spelling errors in about five minutes of reading, and (3) the verse number for Rom 2:18 is mispositioned and the number for verse 19 is missing. I believe the KJ3 needs another pass of proofing.
ALT3 - Analytical-Literal Translation. (New Testament only). The complete title of this literal translation is Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament of the Holy Bible, translated by Gary F. Zeolla. The ALT3 is based on the Majority Text (MT). The ALTD is a variant of the ALT3 that footnotes explanatory information instead of placing them in-line, making for easier devotional reading (the “D” in its name stands for “devotional”). I was disturbed by seeing some substantial interpolated words in it that were not bracketed.
The ALT3 can be purchased here: https://www.zeolla.org/christian/books/preview/alt.htm
The ALTD can be purchased here: https://www.zeolla.org/christian/books/preview/altd.htm
From these links, you can purchase the ALT3/ALTD as either a paperback book or as a DRM-free pdf. To find the ALT3 at ChristianBook.com, search for “Analytical-Literal Translation”, and be sure to select the third edition, labeled “Edition 0003”. Here is Matthew 3:6-7 in the ALTD:
and they were being baptized in the Jordan by him, confessing their sins. But having seen many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you* to flee from the coming wrath?
DLNT - Disciples’ Literal New Testament. (New Testament only). Despite its very high accuracy, the DLNT suffers from a minor deficiency: Its translation of 2Thess 2:13 and 1Tim 2:15 differ from the Greek, which I suspect was done to avoid contradicting the author’s beliefs. You can buy the DLNT from ChristianBook.com or Amazon.com. At ChristianBook.com, you must search for “Disciples’ Literal New Testament” and not “DLNT”. The author, Michael Magill, was a careful scholar who first published this translation through Zondervan as the New Testament Transline, which contained much explanation. He then removed much of his explanatory material, and republished it as the DLNT. Here is Matthew 3:6-7 in the DLNT:
And they were being baptized in the Jordan River by him while confessing-out their sins. But having seen many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers— who showed you to flee from the coming wrath?”
ASV - American Standard Version. The word “New” in the popular “New American Standard” indicates that there was a prior American Standard Version. That was the ASV. The ASV is a minor alteration of the ERV (English Revised Version) translated in the 1880s, which was intended to be an update of the KJV (King James Version). Although exceptionally accurate, the ASV and ERV appear to have sold poorly, and the KJV continued its reign despite this attempt to dislodge it. The ASV was the first major translation to be based on the Westcott-Hort Greek text, which was an early version of the CT. The ASV translates YHWH as “Jehovah”. I find the ASV’s English to be abstruse in places, and its Old Testament is full of Jehovahs, making me reluctant to recommend the ASV despite its high accuracy.
Darby. Many people are aware that J. N. Darby promoted the doctrine of dispensationalism in the 1800s (which I disagree with). Fewer are aware that he also translated the Bible. And it’s a good translation. His footnotes show careful adherence to the Greek, with explanations of alternative meanings and such. Darby was clearly a scholar of high integrity, so it’s no surprise that his translation has a high score (low number). One flaw is that Darby translates YHWH in the Old Testament as “Jehovah” instead of “LORD”. If you like the KJV, and don’t mind seeing Jehovahs in the Old Testament, consider reading Darby’s translation instead, as it appears to be a little more accurate than the KJV.
KJV - King James Version. Some people claim that the venerable KJV has no mistakes, but a look at the table of failures shows that belief to be wrong. Nonetheless, the KJV remains a good translation, even though its score worsened due to words changing meaning over the centuries. If you are comfortable with King James English, and if you know the old meanings of words, the KJV will serve you well, as it’s significantly more accurate than all popular translations except the NKJV (which it matched).
YLT - Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible. Among the literal translations, Young’s is the most well-known. Note that it employs King James pronouns and other antiquated words. Also, it translates YHWH as “Jehovah”, so its Old Testament is full of Jehovahs. I am surprised that the YLT’s score matched that of the NKJV. All other literal translations are much more accurate. Rather than read the YLT, I recommend the NKJV or KJV, as they are equally accurate. If you want a literal translation that includes the Old Testament (like the YLT), the EBR (Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible) is much more accurate and it also reveals emphases in the original manuscripts.
NIV and NKJV Graded Another WayAs I mentioned above, I wanted another method of assessing the accuracy of the NIV because I was skeptical of the poor score my method gave it. I decided to measure its accuracy directly by selecting passages at random and comparing suspicious-looking verses in them to the underlying Greek. This method directly measures the frequency of errors in the NIV. But I might have missed some mistranslations in the NIV because they didn’t look suspicious to me, so this technique is biased in favor of the NIV, making it look better than it is. To my surprise, I was always able to spot a substantial error after only a few minutes of reading. Here are the mistranslations I found:
- Matt 18:31 - This verse contains two Greek words meaning “grieved greatly” or “very distressed”. All translations convey this meaning correctly, except the NIV which renders it as “outraged”. Grief/distress, and outrage are different feelings, so the NIV’s translation is wrong.
- Luke 18:5 - All translations render this verse similar to “I will give her justice so she won’t endlessly come and wear me out.” But the NIV mistranslates it as, “I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!” While the Greek word for “wear” can also mean “strike under the eye”, that clearly is not the meaning here because her endlessly coming does not constitute an attack, but it will wear him out, so the NIV failed. Also, the NIV omitted the phrase regarding endlessly coming, representing a second failure.
- Acts 26:11 - All translations render the Greek word emmainomenos as “furious” or similar. But the NIV changed it to “obsessed”. That’s a different meaning, because you can be obsessed with something (such as a hobby) without being furious at it.
- Col 2:14 - The literal DLNT translates the phrase of interest as:
having wiped-out the written-document against us with its decrees, which was opposed to us.
The NIV renders it as:
having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us;
The NIV omitted the two central concepts of document and decrees, which obviously refer to the Law of Moses. In fact, Paul lists some such laws in verse 16. In the place of these two concepts is a vague “charge” that is meaningless to most readers, thus concealing (instead of revealing) the reference to the Law of Moses. The NIV also gratuitously added “and condemned us”, which is not in the Greek.
- 1 John 4:17 - Almost all translations are similar to “as He is, so are we in this world.” The phrase “as He is” establishes a clear standard of righteous behavior, which we are expected to match. But the NIV renders this as “In this world we are like Jesus,” which badly weakens the standard of behavior required of us because it’s easy for somebody to claim he’s like Jesus in some way that doesn’t even involve behavior, whereas “as He is” implies we must be like Him in all our behavior.
- Jude 1:4 - The phrase of interest literally reads “those long-ago written-beforehand into/unto this condemnation”, which strongly implies that God predestined some people to fail. Almost all translations render this phrase faithfully by implying predestined failure. But the NIV renders it as “individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago,” which removes the implication of predestination, instead implying that God merely predicted these people would fail, instead of planning their failure as God did to Pharaoh. This verse clearly contradicts a cherished doctrine, and the NIV gave us the doctrine instead of the translation.
- Rev 2:10 - I discovered this mistranslation while reading the NIV some time ago, and I’m including it in this list as it’s appropriate. This verse ends with the literal phrase “crown/wreath of life”. The reward is a crown. And “of life” is a mystery which could refer to ruling over life itself, perhaps including the power to create life. But the NIV renders this phrase as “life as your victor’s crown,” which says the reward is life. The NIV changed the reward. And the word “victor” is not in the Greek. As an aside, the identical Greek phrase (stephanon tēs zōēs) occurs in James 1:12, but the NIV translated that one correctly.
The pattern I see in these randomly-discovered failures is that the NIV freely alters meanings to agree with the translators’ interpretations and beliefs, including adding and removing concepts. The NIV mistranslated 90% of the pressure-verses in this test. And the test only contains verses that are mistranslated in multiple Bible versions; it does not include any of the mistranslations discovered above.
Some of the above mistranslations are serious, affecting theology and how we live. The NIV clearly has little regard for accuracy, and we can only conclude that the NIV contains many serious mistranslations. The NIV is easy to read — so easy that it’s suitable for non-native readers of English. But most people will not know where they are being misled by the many deliberate mistranslations. The NIV’s tendency to change important meanings has made it very misleading.
For comparison, I performed the same experiment on the NKJV, and discovered the following inaccuracies:
- Eph 3:8 - “Very least” is rendered as “less than the least”.
- Heb 4:4 - “Somewhere” is rendered as “a certain place”.
- Heb 4:9 - “Sabbath rest” is rendered as “rest”.
- 1 Pet 2:6 - “Cornerstone” is rendered as “chief cornerstone”.
In every case above, the NKJV used the KJV’s wording of the phrase. There’s a reason they call it the “New KJV”: The NKJV uses the KJV’s words when they are suitable for modern ears. The resulting differences from the Greek are insignificant, unlike the NIV’s seriously misleading differences.
The conclusion is this: The scoring method described in this article agrees with scoring based on randomly-selected passages, and is thus a good measure of the accuracy of translations.
The following links contain detailed reviews of many Bible translations:
Rationale for the Selected Verses
The verses used for grading the accuracy of Bible translations were selected because they tempt translators to alter the meaning that’s given in the Greek. Thus, these pressure-verses gauge the commitment of the translators to accuracy. Here are the criteria I used to select the verses used in the grading:
- I selected only verses that fail in at least three translations. In fact, with one exception, every verse fails in at least four translations. I was not selectively attacking (“picking on”) any translation.
- I selected only verses that are not affected by any trait (referring to the trait-letters above). In particular, some translations are gender-neutral (G-trait), and to avoid mixing the issue of gender with accuracy, I selected no verses affected by this trait.
- I selected only verses that are not affected by the underlying Greek text (MT, TR, CT). I did not want to mix the issue of textual basis with accuracy.
- I selected only verses whose phrase of interest is not an idiom. For example, the Greek phrase eis ton aiona literally means “to the age.” That means little in English, but scholars know this is an idiomatic expression that means “indefinitely” or “forever” or “for eternity”, so such a translation is acceptable.
Here are the criteria I used for deciding whether a translation passed or failed a given verse:
- I failed a verse only for translating the Greek substantially incorrectly.
- I did not fail a verse if an alternative meaning of a Greek word agreed with the translation, unless its context clearly excluded that meaning.
- I did not fail a verse for changing tense. For example, many events in the Greek New Testament are described in the present tense, but are rendered in English in the past tense.
The next section contains detailed explanations of all verses used in the scoring. You might disagree with my assessment of a few of these verses, but due to the large number of verses used in the scoring, such disagreements for a few verses will not significantly change the ranking of accuracies.
Explanations of the Selected Verses
Matt 4:17 The pertinent phrase is literally, “From then onward, Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent…” (MLV). But “preach” and “say” seem redundant, tempting a translator to combine them into one word. I suspect Matthew is telling us that Jesus’ general action was to preach, and the “say” provides details of His preaching. So a good translation containing both words would be, “From then on, Jesus began to preach, saying, Repent…”. Keeping the words separate will correctly imply that Jesus could have preached about other things, but combining the two words would wrongly imply that Jesus preached about only repentance. A verse was regarded as failing if it combined the two words into one.
Matt 5:18 This verse ends with literally “from the Law until all happen/occur/fulfilled.” But this phrase is a mystery, and translators try to make sense of it by changing “all” or adding the word “things” after “all”. Either is regarded as a failure because doing so narrows the range of possible meanings, perhaps excluding the true meaning.
Matt 6:27 The Greek literally says, “…can add one cubit to his life-span/stature?” Jesus is speaking metaphorically here, and translators are tempted to change the metaphoric word “cubit” into a unit of time such as “hour”. But Jesus said “cubit” instead of “hour” for a reason, so we would be wise not to change it.
Matt 10:6 The Greek contains the phrase “house of”, an unusual expression translators are tempted to omit due to its apparent unimportance.
Matt 16:27 The Greek word apodidómi in this verse means “give back” or “return” or “repay”. It does not mean “reward” which has the false connotation of there being no punishments, which is a major theological implication.
Matt 17:3 This verse starts with the exclamation, “Behold” or “Look”. The Greek word for this, idou, has no connotation of time. But for some reason, some translations use a temporal word such as “then” or “suddenly”, which are mistranslations.
Mark 6:51 This verse contains the Greek phrase, en heautois, which literally means “in/within/among themselves”. Translators are tempted to omit this phrase.
Mark 8:12 This verse contains the phrase, “in his spirit”, which some translations omit. This verse is an example of a mystery which reveals that it’s possible to sigh in one’s spirit, making this verse a comfort to those who are sighing in their spirits — but only if the translation included it.
Mark 10:32 The pertinent phrase in this verse literally says, “Now they were on the road, going-up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was leading them and they were being amazed, and following, were afraid” (MLV). Neither this verse nor its context identifies who was amazed and afraid, so a translation failed this verse if it specifies either as being the disciples.
Mark 12:33 The Greek in this verse contains the phrases, “the heart”, “the understanding”, and “the strength”. Perhaps to make the English sound less formal, translators are tempted to change the definite article “the” in these phrases to a pronoun such as “your” or “my”. But doing so not only alters what the scribe said, but also reduces the generality of his statement, which could have theological implications.
Luke 8:15 The Greek word katechó means “hold fast” or “cling”, not “keep” in the sense of obeying. Clinging to His word is deeper than merely keeping (obeying) it, as it implies treasuring it. Also, the word “retain” is too weak as it says His word wasn’t lost, losing the primary meaning of clinging to it.
Luke 11:41 The Greek says “give what is within you” and not “give what you have.” In the context, Jesus is contrasting outward actions with the heart, so He is probably saying that we need to have a generous heart. The inaccurate translation destroys this contrast of the outward and heart.
Luke 12:46 The Greek word dichotomeó gives us the word “dichotomy”, which means “two parts”. Its prefix is the Greek word dis, which means “twice”, and is the source of the English prefix “di”, which means “two”. Dichotomeó literally means “cut in two”, and translators are pressured to change “cut him in two” in this verse into something that is less mysterious or is at least obviously figurative, such as “cut him in pieces”. But any such change would be an interpretation and not a translation. I passed any rendition that was similar to cutting in two, such as “cut him asunder” or “cut him off”, but I failed the more adventuresome renditions, including “cut him in pieces”.
Luke 17:1 The literal phrase, “It is impossible for the stumbling blocks not to come” contains a double negative, which is clumsy in English, tempting translators to remove both negatives. But will doing so change the meaning in a subtle way that might be important to some readers? I doubt it, but it’s possible. To be safe, a translation should retain the double negative. The clearest translation I can think of is, “It is impossible for snares not to come”.
John 6:57 This verse is important because it describes the relationship we are to have with Jesus. The Greek word diá can mean “through” or “by means of” or “because of”. To decide which to use, we note that Jesus is saying He lives in close dependence on the Father, partaking of His life, and that likewise we are to live in close dependence on Him (Jesus), partaking of His life by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Thus, Jesus is close to the Father, and we are to be close to Jesus and constantly partaking of Him. But the phrase “because of” connotes distance, not closeness and certainly not close reliance, because it makes us think of what Christ did for us 2000 years ago and suggests that we imitate His example. So “because of” would be a mistranslation. But “through” or “by means of” correctly connotes the close reliance and constant interaction that Jesus had in mind. With this better rendering of diá, this verse reads:
As the living Father sent me, and I live through the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live through Me.
- or -
As the living Father sent me, and I live by means of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live by means of Me.
As an aside, Rev 12:11 also employs diá twice, and it faces the same issue, which can be resolved by noting that the blood of the Lamb helped them to overcome, so the blood was active, suggesting that the correct translation is “through” and not “because of”.
John 14:2 The Greek word monaì should not be translated “mansions”, despite
our traditions. It should be “homes” or “rooms” or “abodes” or similar. I prefer
“abodes” because it is concordant with the same root Greek word used in John 14:23, “…we
will make our abode with him.” Because the root Greek word is the same in these two verses, and is probably
referring to the same thing (a home in God), I recommend that the same English word be used for both of these verses.
Also, Jesus states that He is going. Some translations add the word “there” to this verse, implying that Jesus is going to heaven. But Jesus said minutes later in verse 28 that He is “going to the Father.” There is no reference to heaven in the context of this passage, so “there” is misleading because Jesus has the Father in mind, not heaven. This is an example of how our preconceptions can cause us to read something into the Scripture that is absent, altering its actual meaning. A translation failed this verse if it used the word “mansions” or added “there”, even if in italics.
John 14:30 Regarding Satan, Jesus literally said “he has nothing in me.” Instead of translating this verse correctly, translators often alter it to say “he has no power over me.” That’s not what the Greek says, and furthermore, this interpretation is wrong because Jesus is saying that there is nothing of Satan’s nature in His heart. This is deeper than merely saying that Satan has no power over Him. Also, when a Christian reads this verse, the Spirit might impress on him to “make sure Satan has nothing in you.” These are two reasons why translators should translate and not interpret.
John 15:6 The phrase of interest is “If anyone not stay in me”. The fourth word is menē in Greek, which can mean “stay”, “abide”, “remain”, and “live”. We must select one of these based on an important connotation: Is our staying active or passive? Are we to be active in staying in Him, or are we to passively hold onto our ticket to salvation while not interacting with Jesus? The immediate context answers this question, because Jesus just said, “Abide in me, and I in you” (verse 4, NKJV). The key is, “and I in you”, which is repeated in verse 5, making this key important. The verb we select must accurately describe both what Jesus does in us and what we do in Him. The verb must apply in both directions. Jesus is active in us, not passive. He dines with us (Rev 3:20). His Spirit teaches us (Titus 2:11). He speaks to us because His sheep know His voice (John 10:27). Since He is active in us, we must be active in Him. So the correct translation is “If anyone not abide/live in me” because both “abide” and “live” connote active presence. A translation failed if it used the passive word “remain”.
Acts 3:18 The phrase of interest says literally, “by the mouth of all the prophets.” But some translations omit the word “mouth”, which affects theology regarding the divine inspiration of the scriptures, as well as possibly concealing a mystery.
Acts 5:12 Homothymadon means “unison” or “one accord” or “one mind”. It does not mean “together”, as this verse is often mistranslated. A group can be together without being in one accord. “One accord” connotes singleness of purpose that “together” lacks.
Acts 11:2 The Greek says “those of the circumcision”, which should not be rendered as “those who were circumcised” because it’s possible that all Jews in the area were circumcised and that “those of the circumcision” signifies a group of Jews who believed that circumcision was required for salvation. This mistake would be to inject an interpretation into the translation instead of saying what the Greek says.
Rom 1:17 The pertinent phrase is literally “from faith to faith” or “out of faith into faith”. This cryptic phrase is a mystery, and any non-literal rendition of it will be an interpretation and not a translation.
Rom 2:1, 3 The phrase of interest in these two verses is “O man/person”. This phrase in each verse identifies the broad subject of interest. Furthermore, the concordant action of both phrases together gives this passage a poetic quality that reinforces its message. Omitting either is regarded as a failure.
1 Cor 7:25 The Greek word parthenos means “maiden” or “virgin”, but several translations mistranslate it as “betrothed” or similar. The ESV fails to correctly translate this word in multiple places, and it also changes “women” to “wives” in another verse.
1 Cor 7:36 This passage starts by literally saying, “If however one thinks [he] is behaving-dishonorably to the virgin of him…” This sentence makes no sense to modern minds, tempting translators to alter it, and the wide variety of contradictory translations reveals that (1) scholars don’t understand this passage, and that (2) their so-called translations of it are actually speculations. The honest approach is to translate it literally, and let the Holy Spirit interpret it to readers.
2 Cor 4:16 The translation is required to render the Greek word anthrópos as either “man” or “person”; anything else is an interpretation or an unjustified liberty. The English rendition of the phrase in question must be “outer/outward man/person”.
2 Cor 5:10a Paul wrote, “For we must all appear…” The word “appear” here is a common mistranslation of phaneroó, which actually means “to make manifest” or “to make visible”. “Appear” falsely implies that we will merely show up in that court, whereas “For we must all be manifested/revealed…” is the intended meaning of the Greek: everything about our heart and actions will be exposed. Unlike simply showing up in His courtroom, this deeper rendering is consistent with Jesus’ statement that “there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.”
2 Cor 5:10b This verse continues by literally saying, “…that each one might receive-back the things done in the body…” (DLNT). This verse does not say that each will receive what is due based on what he did, but rather he will receive the actual things he did. He will receive the things themselves. For example, a cruel person will receive cruelty. In the Greek, Col 3:25 says the same thing: “the one doing-wrong will receive-back what he did-wrong” (DLNT). The literal rendering of 2 Cor 5:10 is also consistent with Jesus’ statements that each will reap what he sows. Removing the farming metaphor, Jesus said that each will receive what he did. Thus, the voice of the scriptures say that each will receive what he has done, so 2 Cor 5:10 means precisely what it says and is not speaking allegorically. It thus should be translated literally, and not altered to agree with fleshly reasoning.
Gal 1:16 Paul wrote literally, “I did not confer with flesh and blood,” but some translators change it to “with anyone” or “with any human being.” The problem with these changes is that they neglect Paul’s implications. The phrase “flesh and blood” implies (1) that people lack wisdom, and (2) that Paul conferred with God instead. Those crude changes to this verse diminish both important implications.
Gal 4:17 This verse employs the root Greek word zéloó twice, each in a similar fashion to mean “eagerly pursue” or similar. The English should reflect this parallel usage by using the same expression twice. This verse tests whether a translation carries concordant Greek expressions into English.
Eph 2:11 The DLNT translates the phrase of interest as “by the one being called ‘the circumcised’”. Translations sometimes mistranslate this phrase as “those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’”, but this is incorrect because the Greek says that others called them by that moniker, not they themselves. And the GNT changed this concept of naming to that of pride.
Eph 3:15 The Greek does not contain the word “derive”, nor that concept, so it should not be present in the English. Inserting “derive” represents an interpretation and not a translation.
Phil 3:11 The Greek word rendered as “resurrection” is exanastasis. The prefix ex indicates that this out-resurrection, as it is literally rendered, is out from among the dead. That is, only some people are raised and the remainder remain dead. Paul’s words here are consistent with Jesus’ referral to “those who are counted worthy to attain … the resurrection” (Luke 20:35-36). Paul is also consistent with the description of the “first resurrection” in Revelation 20:5. In Philippians 3:11, Paul was striving to attain this resurrection, which is also consistent with those verses. So the translation of this passage should reflect the Greek ex.
Phil 3:12 This verse contains the phrase, “that I may grasp that for which I have been grasped,” which is clumsy in English. So translators are tempted to change its meaning to smooth the English.
Col 1:25 Literally, this verse ends with “fulfill/complete the word of God.” Because the meaning of that phrase is not obvious, translators are tempted to interpret it as “make the word of God fully known” or “fully preach the word of God” or “fulfill the word spoken to me by God.” All of these are interpretations; none is a translation.
Col 2:18 The middle of this verse literally says, “delighting/desiring in humility and worship/religion of angels.” Verse 23 uses the same word in a similar manner. This phrase is contradictory to modern minds because we regard humility as always desirable, so translators are tempted to interpret it. Some translations change “humility” into “asceticism”, but note that a few verses later, Col 3:12 tells us to put on humility, using the same Greek word! Nonetheless, I suspect that “asceticism” or “self-abasement” is the correct interpretation, but either one is an interpretation and not a translation. The translation of this word must be “humility” or its definition such as “lowliness of mind”.
2 Thess 2:13 This verse contradicts the doctrine of some organizations regarding free will, pressuring some translators to distort its meaning. Fortunately, only a few translations fail this verse, but surprisingly, the literal DLNT is among them.
James 2:3 The Greek says “be sitting under/by/at my footstool”. Translators are tempted to alter or embellish this humiliation. James might have been employing some humorous hyperbole in the form of the extreme command, “sit under my footstool”. But he might not have, because the Greek preposition can also be translated “by” or “at”. A translation failed this verse if it added another noun, such as “floor” or “feet”, which are not in the Greek, or if it omitted the word “footstool”.
James 2:11 This verse ends with literally, “a transgressor of the Law” (DLNT). But some translations change this to “a lawbreaker” or similar. But the word “Law” refers to the Law of Moses (seen earlier in the context), and “lawbreaker” loses that reference.
James 4:13 This verse begins literally with “Go to now”, which is an obvious idiom which gently scolds the reader by suggesting that he is being foolish. Modern equivalents include “Come now”, “Oh come on”, and if we wish to be casual, “Get real!” A translation failed this verse for not gently chiding the reader. The phrase “Now listen” is regarded as a failure because it would have a chiding tone only for those who heard it in childhood (from upset parents or teachers), and because it commands the reader to listen, which the Greek does not.
1 Pet 1:13 Many translations change the literal phrase “gird up the loins of your mind” to something like “prepare your minds for action.” Yes, that is probably what Peter meant, but that is an interpretation and not a translation. Peter could have written “prepare your minds for action,” but he didn’t. There was a reason he wrote this colorful allusion to the oriental practice of pulling up and tucking in their robes in preparation for running. In fact, it’s possible that the Holy Spirit had Peter employ this expression because robes being a hindrance to running can be applied to other things that hinder a Christian, such as social ties, devotion to a hobby, a financial entanglement, etc. When a Christian reads this verse, the Spirit can apply it to such a hindrance — but only if the translators translated it properly.
1 Pet 4:6 The literal DLNT translates the phrase of interest as “that they might be judged according-to people in the flesh, but be living according to God in the spirit.” The meaning of this phrase is not obvious, tempting translators to interpret it and then modify it according to their interpretation.
Rev 2:23 The Greek literally says “I will kill her children with death.” But some translations omit the mysterious words, “with death.” It’s a deeper kind of killing than with the sword, and it’s probably not physical. In fact, I think it’s possible that some of the spiritual death we see in our churches is due to God killing such children among us “with death.” Learning about this from the Scripture requires that this verse be translated accurately.
Rev 10:11 We must be careful to correctly translate the preposition epi in “you must prophesy again epi many peoples…” A powerful prophesy is given a few verses later (Rev 11:3) directed to all peoples, so the context suggests the preposition should be “to”. Suitable translations for epi would be “before”, “over”, or “against”. Given the destructive nature of the prophesy, I think “against” is the best choice, and that is how Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible (EBR) translated it. But “about” or “concerning” violate the context, causing a translation to fail this verse. I suspect that translators are pressured to ignore the context and mistranslate epi due to today’s speculations about the two witnesses, as all but one of the translations (that I graded) created before 1900 translate epi correctly.
Rev 11:9 In the Greek, the phrase “for 3-1/2 days” is between “gaze” and “put in a tomb”. Therefore, the 3-1/2 days cannot apply to both actions, and a translation failed this verse if it implies that the 3-1/2 days applies to putting in a tomb. As an interesting aside, the first occurrence of “body” and the word “tomb” are singular in the Greek, but rendering either or both as a plural did not cause a translation to fail this verse.
Rev 12:5 The literal MLV translates this verse as “And she bore a Son, a male…”. Because son and male are redundant (all sons are male), translators are tempted to render them as one word. But doing so reduces the emphasis the Greek places on his maleness and rulership (in the context), so the English rendition should contain two male words.
Rev 22:12 The Greek word often mistranslated as “reward” is misthos, which means “wages” or “salary” or “recompense”. Translating it as “reward” is misleading because it implies that the recompense is always positive. So another word should be used that covers both rewards and punishments. If a translator wishes to avoid the word “recompense”, there’s nothing wrong with rendering misthos as “rewards and punishments”.
A couple of verses reliably separated translations that sufficiently value accuracy from those that don’t. In the ranking (bar graph), the NKJV and above all passed these verses, and all below the NKJV failed. The verses are:
1 Pet 1:13 “gird up the loins of your mind.” Rev 2:23 “I will kill her children with death.”
If you want to quickly determine whether a translation values accuracy, these verses should tell you.
Advice to Translators
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned mysteries in the Bible, and provided some examples. Regarding those mysteries, the fleshly mind will say, “Let’s change it so it will make sense.” But a translator who treasures God’s word will never say “Let’s change it.”
2 Cor 4:16 is a typical example of a verse that translators are tempted to alter. The NKJV renders the pertinent phrase as “Even though our outward man is perishing,” and the NIV renders it as “Though outwardly we are wasting away”. The NIV is easier to read due to the word “outwardly”. But the NKJV agrees with the Greek. The fleshly mind says that these two renditions have the same meaning, so the NIV is to be preferred. But the important question is: Has God buried a mystery within the Greek wording? We don’t know. So to avoid clobbering hidden mysteries, our translations must closely follow the Greek. So the rule is:
Hug the Greek.
In the Old Testament, the rule is “hug the Hebrew” and “hug the Aramaic.” Follow the original language closely. Remember that Gal 3:16 makes an important distinction between the singular and plural of “seed”. Details matter; don’t neglect them.
I am aware of word-for-word and thought-for-thought translation philosophies, which are called “formal equivalence” and “dynamic equivalence” respectively. Only formal equivalence will reliably convey important details into the English. I recommend the following procedure for translating:
- Translate each word of a section of text into English, keeping the same tenses as the original. When a word can have multiple meanings, you will need to select the closest match, which is where translation requires some interpretation based on immediate context.
- Rearrange the words into proper order for English. You now have a literal translation that reads roughly.
- Smooth the English, being careful not to change any meanings.
Be careful with tenses when smoothing. In particular, don’t change a present-progressive tense (such as “be praying”) into the simple present tense (“pray”) because the latter implies the action should be done once, rather than continuously or repetitively. Be cautious with tenses, but not overcautious due to the following problem: A literal translation adds words to maintain correct tenses. But such verbosity dilutes God’s word, weakening its impact on readers. So I favor changing tenses when the meaning is unaffected in order to use fewer words.
The result of this procedure will be a translation that says what the Bible says. It will be literal (accurate) while also being easy to read.
I mentioned that a word can convey multiple meanings concurrently. In such a case, you should list the meanings in order of importance, and try to cover the top two meanings well. If that’s not possible, the main meaning should be covered. For example, diá means “through” and “because of”. But in John 6:57, the importances of these two meanings are (1) “through” and (2) “because of”. Because “through” is the main meaning of this word in this passage, that’s the appropriate word to use. But most translations made the mistake of using the minor meaning in this particular verse.
As mentioned above, an exception to the rule of hugging the original language is well-known idioms.
While translating, you might catch yourself thinking, “We all know that X,” where X is some belief. At this point, you are under pressure to let that belief pollute your translation. You must force yourself to lay aside your belief and translate what it says, even if it contradicts your belief. Such devotion to truth requires integrity. Do you have integrity? When belief and Bible contradict each other, change your belief, not the Bible.
The book of Revelation is bound with a curse on you if you add or subtract any words to or from it (Rev 22:18-19). So I suggest that you be very careful with Revelation. And I suggest that you be equally careful with the rest of the Bible. You will be judged.
(“Accuracy of Bible Translations”, 4355, 20190811)