"Greek Meaning Versus English Translation"
OR "What is the Best English Translation?"

As people start reading the New Testament in Greek, there is always the question about how to translate certain words and idiomatic Greek constructions into English. It is important when learning Greek to understand that the "meaning of a Greek sentence" and "producing a translation into English" are two distinct ideas (or processes). Once the Greek meaning of a New Testament passage is understood, then an adequate English translation can be produced.  First year Greek students should not be too concerned about producing a smooth English translation to start with. It is probably best to be too 'literal' at first to make sure you understand all the Greek nuances. Once the Greek is thoroughly understood, then you can work on producing a good translation.

Greek Meaning

What something means in Greek has to do with what the writer of the Greek is trying to convey. What is the Greek writer/speaker saying?  In trying to decipher what the Greek sentence means, obviously you are required in some sense to translate it into the language you speak/think in. However, you should not be overly concerned about trying to create a 'polished' translation before you have a complete understanding of what the Greek sentence (writing) itself is trying to convey.  There are many idioms, nuances, and emphases in Greek that need to be considered before the meaning of the writer is fully understood. You need to understand each verbal tense, the different possibilities of meaning for each word, and the relationships of the words to each other in this construction.

Once you have a thorough understanding of what you feel the writer was trying to convey, then you can go about trying to find the best English translation to fit that meaning. As much as possible, you want to convey the same meaning in English that was written in Greek.

Translating Into English

I have a real respect for people who are able to produce an accurate, yet easily readable, English translation from the Greek. There are many challenges in producing an English translation. Some have commented about wanting a 'word for word' translation of the Greek New Testament. Keep in mind that one language can never adequately translate another language with the same feeling, emphasis, rhyme, idiom, etc.  Due to these and other factors inherent in language, doing a 'word for word' translation is not really that meaningful. This would only be a valid kind of exercise if there were two languages that corresponded so close in structure that the only difference in the two was their vocabulary. Then there would also be the requirement that each word in one language had one and only one word that exactly corresponded to it in the other language. There are no two languages that I know of that correspond to each other in grammar, rules of syntax, semantic structure, etc., especially not modern English and Koine (Biblical) Greek.

Because of these differences in language, producing a translation inherently means that there must be some interpretation on the part of the translator. There is no such thing as a completely 'unbiased' translation. However, as a translator consciously puts aside all intention of conveying certain doctrinal notions and preconceived ideas, then chances are he will produce a less-biased translation.

The 'Best' English Translations

(For a more complete answer and scholarly coverage of this topic, please see an extended answer by Daniel B. Wallace at http://bible.org/article/why-so-many-versions. - The whole document is quite informative, but if you want to read about merits of specific translations, scroll down to the section entitled "Which Translation Is Best?")

Many ask the question, "What is the 'best' or most 'correct' translation?"  This kind of question is not really valid without asking back, "What are you wanting to use the translation for?"  Each translation was made with a specific purpose and audience in mind. Some try to be more 'literal', trying not to add extra words or more interpretation than necessary (such as the old 1901American Standard version or Rotherham's Emphasized Bible). These kinds of translations tend to be less readable, but more appropriate for study.  Others try to convey the more subtle meaning of the Greek by focusing on the tense and aspect of Greek verbs (e.g. Wuest). Others use amplification and paraphrase to convey nuances of Greek that are difficult to bring out in English (e.g. Amplified or Weymouth). Some translations are more concerned about being easily understandable and therefore are forced to add more interpretation (e.g. NIV, J.B.Philips, and many of the recent contemporary translations). I own many kinds of translations and try to read them all depending on my need at the time. (A couple of my favorite Bibles for all-around use are the New American Standard and the New King James version. These tend to be fairly readable, yet don’t take too many 'liberties' in interpretation.)

            If a person is trying to learn Greek, then using a side-by-side Greek-English parallel New Testament (or possibly a Greek-English interlinear) may be appropriate. It is surprising how much you can learn over time by being in meetings where someone is reading the English Bible and you following along in the Greek.

            Another interesting New Testament to use for study is "The Precise Parallel New Testament" (by Oxford University Press). It includes the Greek text and seven different Bible translations on each page: Greek, King James Version, Rheims Bible, Amplified Bible, New International Version, New Revised Standard Version, New American Bible, and the New American Standard Bible.

(Please note that I am not an expert on English translations of the New Testament; these limit comments are made only from my experience, without thorough research.)

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