Chances are most people are going to bring a New International Version to our small groups. It’s the most popular version of the Bible in the world. So as a leader – be familiar with it. BUT – be familiar with a couple of other versions as well.
There are 2 major ways translations differ. The first way is the underlying text that is used for translation. For example, the NIV Bible uses Greek and Hebrew manuscripts but the old Good News Bible used an English translation to base its paraphrase on. The Today’s English Version now uses a Greek and Hebrew manuscripts as their basis. If the translation is of another translation, it will be weaker than one that uses Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. (See Hosea 4:7 as an example)
The second way translations differ is the theory of the translator. Notice our “line of translators.” On one end we have Word Correspondence Theory, the other Paraphrase.
If you want to go nuts with this stuff, check out this website. Otherwise, I’m gonna give you the quick version.
The Word Correspondence Theory’s goal is to maintain as close as possible to the grammatical relationship with the original language. These translations are closer to a word for word translation. They prefer literalness to readability. These are very strong translations but the danger is that Greek doesn’t always translate well word for word. The New American Standard and American Standard Version are examples of this theory.
At the opposite end of this line is a paraphrase. A paraphrase is concerned with meaning. It will use words that the original author would not use. There is a danger of writing theology into a paraphrase, especially if it clarifies the meaning. The Preface of the Living Bible gives an excellent definition of paraphrases. The Real English Bible and the Good News Bible are examples.
Somewhere in between these two is what is called Dynamic Equivalent. With DE, meaning is priority but grammar, syntax, and style play a part in how the words are translated. The New International Version is an example of the Dynamic Equivalent.
Most translations use committees to translate. The larger the committee, the better the translation. This is one reason why the NIV is as popular as it is. With larger committees, there are fewer opportunities to translate with a particular denomination’s viewpoint.
What translation should I use?
That’s part personal preference, part figuring out how you are using it.
Are you going to use it for preaching, teaching, devotional, deep study, or story telling? I love The Message translation by Eugene Peterson. I use it for devotions or when I am trying to feel the punch of a verse.
It is only going to help you to look at other translations. I’d encourage you to use them in your life group emphasize a point or bring out the emotion in a passage.