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This topic is adapted from the Credo House YouTube channel.

The Bible was written in three languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Chances are you don’t speak any of those languages. This is why the Bible is translated: so that people can understand God’s word in their own language. English speakers are blessed with a variety of Bible translations. But how do we choose which one to use for our personal reading and study? In general, there are three types of Bible translations: word for word, thought for thought, and paraphrase.

A literal translation directly from Greek into English of the end of  John 4:7 (Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well) is, “Give to me to drink.”

Word for Word Translations

Word for word translations try to stay as close to the original wording of the Bible as possible. They try to give readers as literal a rendering of the text. But this kind of translation also comes across as hard to understand at times, and doesn’t always reflect the way people actually use the English language. Example of this kind of translation are the King James Bible (KJV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the English Standard Version (ESV).

The ESV’s translation of John 4:7 is, “Give me a drink.”

Thought for Thought Translations

Thought for thought translations try and translate each thought of the original text. These translations focus on the concepts being taught in the Bible. They attempt to give a sense of how the original text would have sounded to its original hearers. This is done by translating the Bible in a way that sounds more like contemporary language. Examples of this kind of translation are the New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT).

The NLT’s translation of John 4:7 is, “Please give me a drink.”

Paraphrase Bibles

Paraphrase Bibles are just that, paraphrases of the original. They are attempts to make the Bible sound familiar to modern ears. They translate the big ideas of each passage, while altering antiquated phrases to make them sound more contemporary. Examples of paraphrase translations are The Message (MSG) and The Living Bible (TLB).

The MSG translation of John 4:7 is, “Would you give me a drink of water?”

[Related Series: How to Read the Bible]

Written content for this topic by Scott Creps and Daniel Martin.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. Which Bible translation (if any) are you most familiar with? Why?
  4. Which Bible translation does your church usually use? Why?
  5. In your own words, explain the main differences between the three types of Bible translations.
  6. What is the value of a “word for word” translation like the NASB/ESV?
  7. What is the value of a “thought for thought” or “paraphrase” translation like the NLT or the Message?
  8. Do you think there is one “right” translation of the Bible? Explain.
  9. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

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