Are Translations and Paraphrases the Same? (Part 1)

 In Bible

DG Blog #27


When I became born again at the age of 20, I cut my teeth on the King James Version, the translation used most at that time. The challenge of the Elizabethan language drove me to read several paraphrases alongside the KJV. Since then I’ve read the entirety of twelve different translations and paraphrases from cover to cover, and there are yet newer ones today.

Since I entered the ministry, I acquired a significant number of Bible commentaries and language tools to dig deeper into the original meaning of the Biblical languages of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. I also added to my library, books and courses on hermeneutics[1] I used to interpret the content and context of the words of the original languages. I’ve done so because to know the original languages of Scripture alone doesn’t protect you from error in doctrine. You need the guard rails of hermeneutics to accurately expound and interpret the text. The combination of all these tools provides safety and balance, which is why I approach this subject today about the difference between translations and paraphrases.

Many Christians think that a paraphrase is the same as a Bible translation. It is not. A “translation” attempts to relate what the original text of the Bible says, whereas a “paraphrase” attempts to explain the meaning of what the translation says. Projects on “translations” are done through a committee of Biblical scholars skilled in the languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. During those projects, multiple layers of linguistic teams are assigned to translate specific books in the Bible, check each other’s work, carefully inspect the results through other committees of scholars, and finalize the finished work through an editorial team made up of the best and brightest scholars in Biblical languages.

Such elaborate procedures were done to ensure the best and purest rendering of the original text in the modern language of their day, without doctrinal bias on the part of the translators. As more ancient manuscripts were discovered (since the KJV project of 1611), more revisions and newer translations have been undertaken to confirm the earliest manuscript texts with marginal notations of the differences discovered. Revisions of previous translations and new translations were done to accommodate the continuous morphing of our modern English language, grammar, idioms, and culture.

A paraphrased version of the Bible is not produced the same way as a Bible translation. Technically, paraphrases are not Bibles, but rather interpretive commentaries written by a single author who may or may not carry a scholarly background in one or more of the languages of the original text. Unlike “word-for-word” literal translations (KJV, ESV, NASB), and dynamic equivalence “thought-for-thought” translations (CSB, NIV, NLT), a paraphrase is not produced with the same “checks and balances” of scholarly teams to filter out personal interpretive biases a singular author might insert into the text.

Without the oversight of other scholars, there is no safeguard from the influence of the paraphrase author’s underlying convictions in fundamental doctrines of the faith. Without supervision and accountability, the author can significantly alter the meaning they add or remove from a Scripture passage or verse through the lens of their own bias (whether knowingly or unknowingly). This is something disciples need to know and understand. That is, to never build on, create, or perpetuate any doctrine solely based on a single paraphrase that supports one interpreter’s beliefs. If you do, you might unknowingly disseminate an author’s personal convictions they had built on a foundation of sand.

Grace and Peace!

[1] Hermeneutics: the theory and methodology of interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts. Hermeneutics is more than interpretive principles or methods used when immediate comprehension fails and includes the art of understanding and communication. The application of tools (principles) to interpret scripture with scripture.




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