As mentioned before, the first reason for the differences of the versions of the bible is the legacy or basis behind the different types of translations available in the market. Each translation addresses a certain need. We need to keep this in mind in order to utilize the full value of a certain version.
Roughly the different translations can be classified under five types. 1. The Direct (word-for-word) translation, 2. The Dynamic (thought-for-thought) translation, 3. The Paraphrase, 4. Translation with a preconceived purpose, and 5. Translations for specific groups.
1. Direct or word for word translation. Translators try to adhere as close as possible to the specific words of the Greek, trying to translate every word directly. The problem is that every language has its own grammatical structure, sequence of words, meaning of words and synonyms. Words also do not cover the same semantic fields. To try to adhere too closely to the source language, can cause phrases not easily understood, or even misunderstood.
Look at the following examples: *In 2 Peter 2:4-10 we find a very long sentence which is clearly understood in Greek, but if you translate it directly into English, you can easily get lost. The problem is that vs.4 is a conditional sentence that contains the premise: “For if God did not spare sinning angels…” This premise is then elaborated with exemplar clauses, all being part of the same sentence. At last, in vs.9 follows the clause containing the consequence: ” …the Lord knows how to deliver the godly…”
We should also bear in mind that originally no punctuation marks like the comma, semicolon or full stop were used in Greek. Writing was done in scriptua continua, meaning that there were no spaces between words or sentences. The division into chapters and verses were first added in 1551.
In a direct translation, the translators adhere as closely as possible to the original. In a dynamic translation or a paraphrase the focus is on the understandability of the sentence, even if extra words or manipulation of the structure of the sentence could assist that outcome.
Do compare this phrase an notice the differences between the KJV and the NIV.
The NIV alters the syntax in favor of understandability in several places:
- “if” is added to vs. 5,6 and 7, the clauses that elaborate the premise.
- Vs.8 is put in brackets because it is an elaboration on vs. 7 only.
- In vs. 9 the words:”…if this is so, then…” are added to bind that clause, containing the consequence of the premise of vs.4, directly to vs.4.
Note also the deviations in the translation, again to assist understandability:
- In verse 4, “Tartarus” is translated rather than transliterated.
- In vs.5, “Noah the eighth one” an Aramaic expression, is translated to its English equivalent: “Noah…and seven others…”
- Note also the deviation in the second half of vs.10 to aid understanding. When listening to someone reading the MKJV, one could easily misunderstand it as though “…those who walk after the flesh…” refuse to tremble at the “glories”, or even that it is the “glories” who are speaking evil!
The Contemporary English Version (CEV) solves the problem of 2 Peter 2:4-10 by adding in vs.9: ”This shows that the Lord knows how to rescue godly people…”
Eph.1:3-14 and 1Pet.1:3-5 are further examples of long sentences not easily understood in a direct translation.
The KJV, MKJV and RSV are examples of direct translations.