Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Translation vs. Paraphrase

Up until about four years ago, I studied primarily out of the New Living Translation. It was simple to read and I was comfortable with it. However, I did notice through out my studying in that specific translation, that passages just weren't making any sense. My husband preferred the King James Version and studied out of that, our studying together almost always ended out of the KJV version for the simple fact that the NLT was not adequate in conveying some of the principles of the Word. My husband, at that time worked for Tyndale House Publishing (which publishes the NLT version) gave me a Bible published by them called "The People's Parallel Edition". This edition had the KJV and NLT side by side. It was only then I began to see a true difference between translations.

Romans 8:1 in both of these versions comes out different.

Romans 8:1 KJV says "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit"

Romans 8:1 NLT says "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong in Christ Jesus."

The NLT does not have the rest of that passage! The chapter of Romans 8 speaks specifically about walking in the flesh vs walking in the spirit. It was upon realization that I may have been missing out on vital concepts and truths that I switched completely to the KJV. However, up until a few months ago, my decision to switch to KJV was validated by an eye-opening discovery.

As, I mentioned earlier, my husband worked at Tyndale House Publishers for quite a while, during that time we have amassed Bibles, and various christian books. One of those books we received was a bible study resource called "Eight Translation New Testament" It wasn't until a few months ago I decided to read the prefaces and forewords on each translation. "The Living Bible" now known as "The New Living Translation" is a paraphrased Bible.


To paraphrase: a restatement of a text or passage giving the meaning in another form, as for clearness; rewording. 2. the act or process of restating or rewording http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/paraphrase

I don't know about you, but I found this deeply disturbing. Maybe some of you know this and I'm just the last to catch on, but for those of you who don't let this be of warning to you! It is not my intention to single out the NLT or Tyndale House Publishers or criticize them. My husband was acquainted with Kenneth Taylor, the founder of Tyndale, and knew him to be a God-fearing man. My only reason of focus on this version of Bible study simply stems from the fact that it was my sole source of studying for the longest time! To his credit he does state that the NLT is a paraphrase of the Bible in the "Note to Readers" in the "People's Parallel Edition" and in the Preface of "The Living Bible". In the Preface of The Living Bible it says:

"There are dangers in paraphrases, as well as values. For whenever the author's exact words are not translated from the original languages, there is a possibility that the translator, however honest, may be giving the English reader something that the original writer did not mean to say."

Read more about Dr. Kenneth Taylor.

Translate: A translation is a word for word and idea for idea rendering of a document from one language to another. I retrieved this explanation from a site called Bible Study Methods. I'm not necessarily endorsing this site, I haven't spent enough time to do just that, however I do agree to a certain extent to what it is saying and I DO agree we should all do our homework when it comes to Bible translations, whether they are paraphrased or not! Our studying and understanding of the Word is at stake! My whole objective in this post is not to promote one translation, or should I say version, over the other, but to exhort the serious bible student, diligently seeking God's wisdom and heart to be cautious of the translation he/she chooses to study from. I will express this, a paraphrased bible should NOT be your sole source of studying! A properly translated Bible should be your primary study Bible supplemented by a paraphrased Bible.

Here are some suggestions on my part(non expert suggestions :))

1. PRAY for guidance of the Holy Spirit

2. Read the Preface, Introduction and or Foreword of the Bible.

3. Research the Translator of the Bible.

4. The belief of the translator.

5. The history of the translator.

6. The motive of the translator.

7. The affiliation of the translator.

8. The belief, history, affiliation of the publishing company.

May God bless you and your endeavors in HIM!

"Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" 1 John 5:5


  1. VERY interesting! I did not know that. I don't know of many people that read the preface or introduction to their bibles. We might read them in other books we pick up, but how sad for us that we don't do the same to the very book that is to be our life's instruction manual for holy living??? Thank you for this eye opening post! Blessings to you, my PPF

  2. All in a day's work in the Lord. Gotta look out for my Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Lord knows that the devil is always on the prowl!

    Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
    1Peter 5:8

    (not to insinuate that certain translations are evil, but he (the devil) IS the Author of Confusion and Division! So lets be on our guard!)

  3. Hannah, I loved this post. I confess, I'm extremely fond of The Message because it a very poetic adaptation of scripture and that speaks to my literature loving soul. However, I won't sit down with The Message without the NKJ or NIV translation. In my opinion, we should use different translations to compliment each other and round out our understanding of the Word. I think we have a very human tendency to pick the version that tells us what we want to hear (I believe that warning is in the Bible, too LOL), but we have to dig deeper than ourselves and pray for His message to be revealed to us.

    As you know from seeing things transformed in different ways (movies, languages, ASL, music, etc) it's very easy for something to get lost in translation, we just need to use all the tools at our disposal to even come close to understanding the vastness of His Word.

    Again, I LOVED this post, Hannah! May your devotion to the Truth be pleasing to Him.

  4. My dad has always been very serious about this topic. He's brought me up making sure I see and know the difference between various versions of the Bible. There is a difference between a translation and interpretation/paraphrase and those versions that paraphrase or interpret often are inaccurate or miss key central points. I don't care if they're easier to read, it does not seem right. Many are misled by such versions. I see no hurt in reading these interpretations, but I think it's important to compare them and check them with more accurate translations. My favorite is the KJV, although right now I'm using a NKJV. Before this I used NIV. The point is, I am using more than one version. You are so right on in this post and I thank you for posting it.

  5. As a professional translator I have mixed feelings on the subject. There are varying schools of thought, but personally, I do not think a translation is "accurate" unless it conveys the meaning of a text.

    For example, in Japanese you can say "sit on a rock for 3 years" and Japanese people will understand you to be encouraging perseverance, because "even a daunting task can be accomplished when performed with enough persistence and dedication."

    If this was translated word-for-word into English, the English speaker would have no idea what it meant. The example I have given is an idiom, but there are differences in the way literal phrases are expressed in different languages as well. For example, in Japanese they say they "drink" soup, whereas in English we say we "eat" soup.

    By now you're wondering what my point is. My point is simply that "paraphrased" translations are not always inferior. There are shortcomings in both styles. The example you have provided is an example of a poorly rendered translation in the Living version, but I'm certain we can find passages in the Living that make sense which do not in the King James.

    That said, my favorite version is the King James simply because of the beauty of the language used. Anyway, that's my two cents. Sorry to ramble. :)

  6. Casey,
    Thank you for your comment! I do understand your point. By this post, I'm hoping to bring awareness of the need to understand what is being studied and/or read, or... as your blog suggests "critical thinking" :)

    As Vixious suggests us to "use all of our tools at our disposal". Most important tool, by far, of course being the Holy Spirit! Thanks again Casey!

  7. My introduction to the term paraphrasing came around 6th grade when I realized that just rephrasing what the encyclopedia said didn't make for honest research. On the other hand, I found in my condensing that I often missed the intent of the original.

    I really think the way to deal with idioms is through the use of footnotes. Representing one particular interpretation of the idiom as the words of the Author is misleading, but not dealing with it is just as misleading.

    Another problem with paraphrases is that the original often has layers of meaning that my interpretation can obscure or obliterate. With those layers stripped out, the Holy Spirit can't speak to us on those levels.

    paraphrase literally means, to take someone else's words and put it into my own words. Strictly speaking, then, the paraphrases are not Bibles. Paraphrases don't belong in the Bibles section of the bookstore; they belong with the commentaries.

    1. "Paraphrases don't belong in the Bibles section of the bookstore; they belong with the commentaries."

      I agree

  8. PhD,

    Thank you for your comment and sentiments. You make a good point in your last paragraph. I certainly would like to see more accoutability on the part of those who publish/author these versions as far as the making the difference clear, between pharaphrasing and translating.

    However, I have to add that the Holy Spirit is not limited by the errors/deception of man. As I mentioned in my post, I studied (solely) out of the NLT for years and I can testify of His presence in my life during those times. :) The prompting of the spirit was the reason I switched!

    The Holy Spirit is only received by genuine belief and heartfelt confession. Romans 10:8-9

    Not necessarily by the reading by the Word. (I'm not saying that it can't, but the distinction between belief/"hearing" of the Word needs to be clarified)

    This is where we come in! When we share the good news as commanded by Christ, we will overcome the stumbling blocks that the devil has place in our path!

    Who is he that overcometh the world, but he who believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" 1 John 5:5

    "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

    15And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! " Romans 10:14-15

  9. While quoting from Romans 10, did you look at verse 17? Some go to the extreme that without the inclusion of scripture, the presentation of the gospel can't lead to saving faith. Obviously, that crosses into sacramentalism. We have the privilege of interpreting the gospel message to the unsaved world; perhaps versions like NLT do just that. Mature believers, however, should move on from pre-chewed pablem to meat, as the posters in this thread have done.

    As for limiting the Spirit, we do limit God when we walk in the flesh rather than in the spirit; when we waste our life on excessive entertainment rather than studying to make our minds into sharper tools; and to an extreme, when we choose certain sins that disqualify us from certain ministries in the church. I don't think, then, that it stretches the truth to say that we limit God's ability to communicate with us when we rely on pseudo-bibles.

    While I might be a pain in the neck about this subject, I don't mean to judge. God has a unique mission for each person, and I would not judge someone just because God has put them on a different path than the one I'm on.

  10. PhD,

    Just because I don't agree with you 100% doesn't mean that I'm judging you!

    I stand firm by my belief that the Holy Spirit (God Himself) is NOT limited by the errors of men. This is the same God that poured out His Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2 and of course many other demonstrative powers!) the difference, which should be noted carefully, is the condition of HEARTS then and now.

    The only way we limit (or grieve) the spirit is when we do not LISTEN or FOLLOW through the direction of the Spirit. This is a PERSONAL limitation in which we limit God to do great things through us!

    When I speak of "the errors of men" I'm speaking in reference to those who either intentionally or unintentionally misconstrue the Word of God. God is NOT limited by these evils. I FULLY and FIRMLY believe in the power of my God. Although many who profess belief seem "swallowed" up by various manifestations of unbelief, I KNOW God's Spirit reigns supreme and CAN prompt amd direct His children to the truth, even through a NLT as He did for me...the key here is actually listening and following through.

    Phd, I apologize if my previous comment seemed judgmental of you in any aspect. I have to state I do not know what path God has placed you on and, therefore, could not BE in a position to make any determination of sorts if I inclinations to do so.

    Simply put, My comment was directed in response to your comment before that and in reference of this post.

    Having said this, I wish you peace and blessings from the Most High :)

  11. Hi all,

    This has been a very interesting thread. I was doing Bible study with my children recently, and I was asking my son to read a verse from his Bible. I was looking on in mine as he was reading and I thought he had looked in the wrong chapter or something. The verse in his NIV was so mangled that it wasn't even the same verse!

    I'm not talking about leaving out a word or mistranslating one word, I'm talking about a completely different verse! I've begun to do some research and I'm finding more and more that doctrinal verses are being tampered with in modern translations.

    I totally agree that we should use _all_ the tools available. I love the NLT and the Message. I read one or the other almost daily. But for study and exegesis, I have been moving from my NAS to the KJV. At least the NAS 2nd Ed. has made some improvements. TNIV is totally out. The Amplified has some great notes in it.

    Every point I read has been great. You folks all seem to be serious, and balanced. Many christians lack balance.

    The comment about paraphrases needing to be in the commentary section is quite interesting. I'm still chewing on that one. Very good!

    Take care all.

  12. Xiz,
    Thanks for your comment! I'm blessed that this post and it's comments continues to be thought-provoking.

    I would like to add another point. If you research the history of the KJV, you will find those who translated it were tortured unto the death. They did not make any money off translating/publishing the KJV, instead paid with their lives, a FAR cry from MANY translations today which are published by for profit companies!

    We all know that there are various politics and policies that govern these economic enterprises, there is absolutely no question in my mind that this has an impact on the quality (truth) of the translation.

    Not to imply that all religious publishing companies have ill will, but the Word states that you cannot serve both God and Mammon.

    "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
    Matthew 6:24

    October 16, 2007 9:28 PM

  13. Hi Hannah,
    I'm glad to see that you're checking into your comments. I wanted to add something that I just learned the other day. I don't know if you are aware of it or not, but it really caused me to question the validity of the NIV. Did you know that the person that holds the copyright to the NIV version (actually owns the publishing house- Zondervan) also own the copyright to Hustler magazine? That's right! Pornography! Makes you stop and think about some things. And also causes me to stop and reconsider when I want to use the NIV now, for sure. I'm more apt to go with those that are not affiliated with something so ungodly. Blessings to you, my PPF!

  14. Shalene,

    THANK YOU so much for that information! I most certainly did not know that, but I can't say that I'm surprised!

    I bet if we take a closer look at some of these for profit bible/religious pubishing companies we'll find a lot more than we bargained for!

    God bless you PPF!

  15. Having used the NIV as my primary Bible, I just read an NLT for the first time this week. I was particularly disturbed by the difference in the translation of the Beatitudes. The NLT just doesn't convey the same meaning as the NIV. I've used a single volume of Commentary on the Whole Bible by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown as a commentary for years, and the NIV agrees with JFB were the NLT wording does not convey the same meaning.

  16. Hannah, you may want to check your information. The Living Bible was indeed a paraphrase. NLT is not a paraphrase. It is a translation in the thought-for-thought discipline. If you are looking for a word-for-word approach, NASB and KJV are the most staunch in their approach to a word-for-word translation. NRSV is word-for-word but less staunch in a literal word-for-word where it hinders understanding. NIV is a thought-for-thought translation as is NLT, and The Living Bible and The Message are paraphrases. I appreciate your concern about making sure you're using an accurate translation (and I have some issues with NIV and NLT in this arena because a thought-for-thought inherently involves interpretation), but NLT is NOT in the same category as The Message or The Living Bible.

  17. G-Man,

    Thanks for stopping past. You will find my response to your comment at this post:


  18. Very interesting post and thread. In my understanding, whilst the NLT was based on the Living Bible, the translators went back to the greek source and checked / re-translated from the source to bring the English text into todays language. Because of this I don't believe you can call the NLT a full paraphrase because it is directly translated. If anything you could say that it's 50/50.

    Personally I really like the NLT as it's word choice and grammar make it much easier to read and understand. It uses words that are much more familiar to me and thus gives me more meaning then the NIV.

    Take this passage in the beatitudes...

    NIV - Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    NLT - God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

    I've heard several sermons on this verse where it's taken the paster 5-10mins to explain something that the NLT explains for me quite simply. Simply put, I find the language in the NIV out of date and hard to understand. KJV is like reading greek to me.

    I want a translation that is easy to read in language that I understand - for every day reading. NLT gives that to me. When I am studying something or discussing even, then I will use multiple translations to get multiple takes on it. I would never ever base a theological belief on only one version.

    1. NLT's "God blesses those who are poor," does not equate to the NIV's "Blessed are the poor in spirit."

      We don't need any more versions.

  19. People need to understand the KJV is out of date. It was written in the kings english in 1611. We dont speak that way anymore and many of the words and phrases in the KJV have different or way different meanings then they did then.

    With all do respect to the original poster im sorry but i want to make this clear for readers who come to this blog now or years from now

    KJV KIng James gave translators instructions intended to guarantee that a new version of the bible would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its beliefs about an ordained clergy. The translation was by 47 scholars, all of whom were members of the Church of England. In common with most other translations of the period, the New Testament was translated from the Textus Receptus (Received Text) series of the Greek texts. The Old Testament was translated from the Masoretic Hebrew text, while the Apocrypha were translated from the Greek Septuagint (LXX), except for 2 Esdras, which was translated from the Latin Vulgate.
    The translators appear to have otherwise made no first-hand study of ancient manuscript sources, even those that—like the Codex Bezae —would have been readily available to them. In addition to all previous English versions, including the Douay-Rheims Bible, they also consulted contemporary vernacular translations in Spanish, French, Italian and German. They also made wide and eclectic use of all printed editions in the original languages then available, including the ancient Syriac New Testament printed with an interlinear Latin gloss in the Antwerp Polyglot of 1573.
    The translators took the Bishop's Bible as their source text, and where they departed from that in favour of another translation, this was most commonly the Geneva Bible. However, the degree to which readings from the Bishop's Bible survived into final text of the King James Bible varies greatly from company to company, as did the propensity of the King James translators to coin phrases of their own.

    So in essence the KJV was written with the Church of englands beliefs in mind. I would find very few people today in America who would agree with the Church of Englands beliefs.

    NLT This translation follows a combination of formal equivalence (or word-for-word) and dynamic equivalence (or thought-for-thought) methods of translation. The translators set out to render the meaning and style of the original texts in clear, contemporary English. The words and phrases are translated as simply and literally as possible. If the literal approach resulted in a translation that was hard to understand or was misleading, a more dynamic approach was used. Metaphors are translated literally if the natural meaning is communicated clearly in English. But metaphors and other figures of speech are rendered more dynamically if necessary to ensure clear transmission of the original meaning. From the NLT introduction: "[The translators'] goal was to be both faithful to the ancient texts and eminently readable. The result is a translation that is both exegetically accurate and idiomatically powerful."

    The Old Testament translation was based on the Masoretic Text (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) and was further compared to other sources such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Greek manuscripts, Samaritan Pentateuch, Syriac Peshitta, and Latin Vulgate. The New Testament translation was based on the two standard editions of the Greek New Testament (the UBS 4th revised edition and the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece 27th edition).

    Also i like in the NLT where weights and measures have been updated so as to mean something. As in ten sheckels of silver to ten pieces of silver.

    one last note. What good is the KJV or any version for that matter if you dont understand what is being said? I sure cant take the KJV and read it to my daughter. BUt yet the NLT, message, NIV, the living bible, all could be read and for the most part understand it.

  20. KCTeenCenter,

    My comment was too long to be left here so I posted it at:


    It is not my intention to single you out, but to respond as completely as I could. Thank you for stopping by.


  21. I have no desire to debate versions of the bible, but I will say I have always been a KJB only person, as has my wife. But we have started working with 4th - 6th grade students this year, who are really, and I hate to say this but, are not very bright. They come from broken homes and in a school district that is very far behind. Many of them can barely read. And for us, the biggest concern was with pronunciation, not comprehension. As the teacher, it is my job through the power of the Holy Spirit to teach the scriptures for their comprehension.

    Anyway, I started looking at other translations to assist with help the children be able to pronounce words. A friend had recommended the NLT, as it is rated at a 6th grade reading level. I do find concern related to the fact that you miss a large amount of the meaning with the NLT, but I sure like how much easier the children can read it.

    Having just started using the NLT personally, I was hoping to get your input with your 10+ years experience dealing with the NLT.

  22. Hello Joe!

    I have to tell you I haven't touched the NLT since my discovery about it's background, that would translate into years. I'm afraid I won't be much help in that area. The KJV is what I've been using since.

    Suffice it to say, the NLT would be consider a spin off of the Living Bible, paraphrased by K. Taylor. If memory serves correctly, either the LB or NLT was created by K. Taylor for his children, so in that regard the NLT should work well. If your concern is pronunciation, the NLT should do well with children under your guidance. Although I have to say some Biblical terms are hard for ANYONE to pronounce, despite their background. :) Maybe for lessons, you can spell out the word in a pronunciation key as an aid?

    Personally speaking as a mom, I would use the NLT just for the Old Testament reading.

    I would caution any one of any age using it for the New Testament reading. There should be another translation, preferably, KJV for comparison.

    Thanks for stopping by! Hope this helps :)


  23. Yes this is so true. I remember we did a full study on the translations at one point. I think translations like NLT the The Message are great as complimentary tools not as primary reading and study tools. I'll be bold to even say they are commentaries. Sometimes when I am reading through the prophets or if instructions are being given about dimensions etc I switch to NLT/MSG to get a bit more sense out of the text and understand what might have been meant. KJV is a bit too hard for me so I use NKJV instead. Thank you for this article, I am sure it'll help people.

  24. Dear Hannah,

    Thank you so much for your blog. It is great to hear rational reasons that relate to my spiritual experience of the many different bibles that I've read or attempted to read. The KJV keeps me living in Respect and Awe of the gift I've been given. As a very subjective and intuitive person I need to have a concrete resolution to the ongoing "which bible" debate I have with myself. It makes sense and I feel led by the spirit to use the KJV as my primary bible (as I have been), and relegate the others (as good as some are) to commentary section status along with the many other bible study books I have. Freedom at last. God Bless and Hang on to Jesus!

    1. Thank you!

      My point about translations often gets lost in debate.... Be led of the Spirit... that alone should be the end of all debates, but alas, human nature doesn't allow for the suffiency of the Spirit. We seek, look to more physical means of accountability.

      May the Spirit continue to keep you and bless you with WISDOM.

  25. Good article. Word for word translations are always the best. Preachers should know better, but many still choose to use Bibles such as the NLT and the Mess Bible, I mean the Message Bible.


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