Written by Ronald J. Gordon Published: April, 1997 ~ Last Updated: December, 2012 ©
This document may be reproduced for non-profit or educational purposes only, with the
provisions that this document remain intact and full acknowledgement be given to the author.
ccasionally, this writer visits Christian bookstores and peruses the newly released Bible translations in order to evaluate, not only the readings of several predesignated test verses, but also the maps, tables, cross-references, and various helps for the reader. This experience often results in pleasant discoveries which increases his appreciation of textual resolutions, and further deepens his understanding of the often mystical pathway of interpretation. As this writer investigates several pre-determined test verses, it is with more than twenty-five years of experience in reading, studying, and translating from Greek texts, plus the knowledge gained from the works of published textual authorities. This wealth of knowledge is being freely shared with you in the hope that it will increase your understanding of the differences between translations, and further guide you in the selection of a personal study Bible. In the interest of a balanced comparison, all translations have been sorted according to their literalness, and that literalness has been determined solely by our three prime test verses. The most literal stand at the top and the most interpretative rest near the bottom. This ranking does not infer that one translation is more accurate than another, but only to spatially represent their literal and interpretative differences. Frequently this process becomes challenging, for some interpretative versions may capture the true literal essence of a passage and some literal translations digress into interpretation. Since all translation is a matter of interpretation to some degree, we use this term to mean the infusion of personal opinions which may not necessarily be required by the underlying text. The following sections explain why each verse was selected for this exercise, the predictable meaning-based interpretation, and special cues to alert the reader for otherwise unknown influences which may affect the over all evaluation of a translation.
LITERAL Test Verse: Luke 20:22
The first reason this verse was chosen is because it demands an almost word-for-word translation with little room for experimentation or imagination. Each word is interpretively rigid, the verb tense does not allow much exploration, and the basic question asked of Jesus expects a simple yes or no answer. A literal sense challenges the imagination and inventiveness of the translator. One must also avoid sounding like another Bible version. When copyrights and royalties are involved, translators must review not only Greek texts but also other versions in order to escape possible infringements. As more versions become available, translators are forced to be even more inventive. Notice how some translations attempt to remain literal, in sense, while implementing more expressive words. The second reason for choosing this verse is to discern if the translator has fully understood and captured the original significance of the question posed to Jesus, and His response to that question.
Tribute - not taxation - is the issue here, and specifically the inscription on the coin. It is not a question of taxation but one of acknowledging national subjugation. Whereas taxation is anticipated for government services rendered, tribute means to acknowledge submission to a superior. Every individual in the Roman Empire was required to pay an annual tribute and to pledge, Caesar is Lord. Luke uses the Greek word PHOROS which he may believe to be synonymous with KENSOS that is used by Matthew and Mark in their parallel accounts. The political and spiritual dilemma for a devout Jew was more than just paying taxes to a foreign government in exchange for roads and bridges. It was a much deeper question, for this annual tribute was also a pledge of allegiance to the Caesar. Octavius (born Gaius Octavius Thurinus), known in the Bible as Caesar Augustus, initiated the issue by minting coins with this inscription: Caesar Augustus, Divi Filius, Pater Patriae, that is to say: Caesar Augustus, Son of God, Father of His Country. Augustus (Octavius at birth and Octavian when later adopted by Julius Caesar) was stating that he was a god, to be worshipped. That raised a few eyebrows even among Romans, but since he restored order to the Empire from the chaos that followed the assassination of Julius Caesar, people were generally content to accept this innovation. Whereas Julius Caesar might be considered the first dictator of the Roman Empire, Augustus definitely became its first Emperor. He was well liked and possessed a quality lacking in many rulers - grace. Succeeding Augustus was his adopted son Tiberius who subsequently minted on his coins: Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus, which implied that since his father Augustus was divine, then he was divine also. Both men claimed to be God; Augustus by assertion and Tiberius by succession.
This forced public acknowledgement of allegiance was doubly blasphemous for Jews in that the coin (a denarius as shown at right) bore a graven image along with an inscription that claimed someone other than Jehovah was God. In other words, how could a Jehovah fearing Jew pay tribute and promise allegiance to an earthly ruler as his God? More pointedly is the real question: Who was the real God and protector of Israel: Jehovah? Tiberius? or Augustus? Tribute was a form of taxation, but the singular use of the word tax by Bible translators obscures the deeper question, and fails to account for the incredible amazement found in verse 26. Jesus' detractors were not asking if it was acceptable to pay taxes to a government for roads and bridges. They wanted to know where Jesus fit into the broad spectrum of political opinion regarding the permissibility of rendering godly allegiance to anyone other than Jehovah. This was a hot political issue for Jews.
Of all the occasions and methods used to trap Jesus, this one was by far, the most clever. Similar attempts were usually trivial arguments over theology and their probable conclusions. For example, a woman that had seven husbands legally, ethically, and morally, thus, which one will she have in eternity? But on this occasion, the attempt was made to force Jesus into one of three political perspectives. No matter which one He picks, the other two will be against Him. He can't win! At least they believed so.
There were three reactions to the tribute issue: Yes, No, and I guess we must. Notice again that a yes or no answer was requested. They wanted to box Jesus into the argumentative landscape of their own perspective. The more conservative voices (including the Zealots) emphatically said: No way. There is only one true God. Paying this tribute forces us to recognize a Caesar as God. The moderate voices were the Pharisees who said: We don't like it. We wish it were not the case. But what else can we do? The liberal voices were the Sadducees, the aristocrats who benefited immensely from Rome. They even tried to justify their political position by quoting passages such as Jeremiah 20:5, Moreover I will give all the riches of this city, and all its gains, and all the precious things of it, yes, all the treasures of the kings of Judah will I give into the hand of their enemies; and they shall make them a prey, and take them, and carry them to Babylon. Sadducees argued from this and similar passages that Rome was now the new Babylon. If God approved of Babylon manging the fate of Israel in the past then Rome might also possess this same blessing of Jehovah. It was a hotly contested issue which affected all Jews but at different social, economical, and theological levels. Only in the Gospel according to Luke do we find the words For Us which highlights that it was, indeed, a Jewish question - not a Gentile issue.
Jesus exhibits a powerful display of wisdom by drawing attention to the image and the inscription of the coin itself where the Emperor is claiming to be God. In modern English (along with shameless commentary) Jesus might have said: If it's his inscription and his image and thus his coin and he demands to have it returned, then give it back to him - [ Because he is not God ] But, give to God [ Jehovah who really is God ] what belongs to God. In other words, if Caesar claims to be either God or a fig tree, that doesn't make it so. Jesus leaves his detractors in complete astonishment, as no one had thought of rejecting the underlying premise of the argument itself. This is not an issue of dutifully paying taxes for government services, because that woefully fails to explain their utter amazement in verse 26. They were amazed because Jesus identified the real issue of who is God! They never considered dismissing the underlying premise. And, what does belong to God? The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, Psalm 24:1. That includes Caesar, his empire, and his tribute coin.
Other questions abound concerning this incident such as the continuing debate over which denarius was the tribute coin that was actually handed to Jesus. Although Tiberius was emperor at the time of this question and his coins had been minted for several years, the coins of Augustus had long saturated the Empire. Which coin do you think was given to Jesus: the first one of Augustus who started the whole issue, or the latter one of Tiberius who claimed the same status from his step-father?
EXPRESSIVE Text Verse: Acts 27:14
Apostle Paul uses language at this point which is very flexible, permitting the translator to be inventive with vocabulary and creative with interpretation. More words permit the translator greater freedom to experiment with the nuances of language, and in this passage, there are several picturesque words that tempt the translator to cross the line from textual civility into personal opinion. Unlike the rigidity of the previous verse, the translator now finds room for expression.
|Egyptian Grain Vessel|
Paul's storm was extremely violent but the reference to a hurricane or typhoon by a few translations is a bit presumptuous, for the latter are special types of cyclonic events that always begin as tropical disturbances, as opposed to frontal activity or the convergence of mid-latitude systems. This writer lived in Europe and has traveled around the Mediterranean Sea from Spain to Israel, up the Adriatic and down the Dardanelles. He has a first hand understanding of this body of water, derived from personal sailing experiences and also from discussion with crew members. Hurricanes (western hemisphere) and Typhoons (eastern hemisphere) are regional names for Tropical Cyclones (non-frontal synoptic scale low-pressure systems) which take days to form. Basic requirements include ocean temperatures of no less than 26.5º C or 80º F over a vast area to no less that 150 feet with sufficient upper moist layers near the mid-troposphere. Tropical disturbances gradually build into tropical storms (39 mph) and eventually a hurricane, if able to maintain sustained surface winds of 74 mph. Climatic conditions around the Mediterranean lack the necessary foundational elements to create a hurricane. Violent mid-latitude storms occur in this region but they are not cyclonic (spinning). They are directional frontal systems. Everything about this Pauline storm cries against being labeled a hurricane because; it had a directional name (Northeast), formed in only a matter of hours, gave no warning, was preceded by the most gentle southerly breeze, and then drove the ship in the opposite direction for nearly 300 miles. Hurricanes are unable to do this in the tropics, let alone in the cooler Mediterranean. Persistent reflection on the suddenness of its appearance should dispel any association with hurricanes or typhoons, because these latter storms announce their presence for days. These mariners had absolutely no warning from sky or sea. In fact, it was a gentle southerly breeze which had lulled the crew into a false security. In the final analysis, one does not need an advanced meteorological education or extended hours of hermeneutical classroom discussion to resolve this matter, for most American students learned these basic particulars in about eight-grade earth science.
Spelling of the directional name is varied. The Vulgate has Euraquilo and the Majority has Euroclydon. Friedrich Blass says that the name comes from the Greek EUROS (east wind) and the Latin AQUILO (northeast), thus an east-northeast wind. Greek TUPHONIKOS (violent wind) might tempt the novice to conclude that since modern typhoons are cyclonic (spinning) and named after this word, therefore TUPHONIKOS is a spinning wind. Actually, this Greek word comes from the destructive mythological god Typhon, largest and most grotesque of all mythical creatures.
The Storm & A.T. Robertson
Notice how the more literal translations avoided a description of the storm and the meteorological entanglements by simply transliterating the name. Additionally, some versions describe the wind beating against the ship while others describe the wind as coming from the island and some included the name of the island. New Testament Greek scholar A.T. Robertson, GRAMMAR, p. 606: AUTHES is in the ablative, not genitive case, beat down from it (island), not against it or on it (ship). AUTHES cannot refer to PLOION (boat) which is neuter. So the ablative case with KATA as in Mar 5:13. Some versions follow Robertson and some do not. A couple imaginatively tried to straddle both views.
This verse offers more words to play with concerning an event that is filled with emotion, tension, and interpersonal dynamics. If the wind had not caught the boat, they would have wintered safely and the outcome of Paul's life may have been very different. At least the crew would not have acknowledged the superiority of Paul's God. This occasion is an example of God's sovereignty employed through ordinary and practical means.
INTERPRETATIVE Test Verse: Mark 11:16
At first reading this verse appears to be literally demanding, yet it contains an irresistible enticement to be interpretively and theologically adventurous. One word has successfully tempted translators to suggest and invent circumstances which may or may not have occurred.
|Jesus Cleanses the Temple|
Most of these words are literally exacting, thereby limiting interpretative freedom, except for that one word SKEOUS (vessel). It should be noticed that the majority of newer versions, delight in omitting manuscript words for the interjection of textually unsupported words. This rather nondescript word (vessel) allows the translator the opportunity to put something in it, and many did according to their preconceived theological dispositions. Some translators link the containers to the merchants, whereas others follow speculative history suggesting that Jesus' cleansing of the Temple also terminated a shortcut over the outer courts, whereby noisy travelers between the southwest (inner city) and northeast gates (Jericho road) could no longer disrupt God's house of prayer. A few translations put merchandise in the containers in order to firmly convict the Sellers, but then disappointingly fail to explain why the buyers were also expelled? What was their crime? How does one explain their ousting from the Temple grounds? It seems reasonable to conclude that both Sellers and Buyers were expelled for the same reason. No manuscript clearly states what was in the vessels, but that didn't stop many translators from guessing.
The Greek preposition DIA means through and describes something being transported entirely across the Holy precincts, giving moderate weight to the suggestion (J.B. Phillips, Amplified, New English Bible) of a short-cut for travelers between the inner city and the Jericho Road by means of the southwest and northeast gates, and presumably a noisy and irreverent one at that. A.T. Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament: The temple authorities had prohibited using the outer court of the temple through the Precinct as a sort of short cut or by-path from the city to the Mount of Olives. But the rule was neglected and all sorts of irreverent conduct was going on that stirred the spirit of Jesus. Literal versions incorporate the pronoun but the more conversational versions supplant it with into which changes the focus more toward the Sellers. A pertinent question then arises: For what specific reason did Jesus cleanse the Temple? Was it because the merchants were cheating, a suggestion which fails to explain why the buyers were also expelled? Or was it because commercialism should not occur in a house of prayer? This makes better sense but it then intimidates modern church-goers who routinely conduct fund raising on church grounds. Have some translators focused entirely on the Sellers in order to alleviate concerns about bingo and bake sales? How many good sermons have you heard in the past twenty years concerning the sin of these buyers? How many Sunday School lessons have created good discussions about the transgressions of the buyers? Does it not raise curiosity with anyone that Jesus expelled the buyers for a reason? What was that reason? Speculation that the Sellers were cheating is unconvincing for these reasons: both Sellers and Buyers were ejected for the same infraction (cf. John 2:16), the quotation from Isaiah 56:7 identifies a spiritual problem, and the quotation from Jeremiah 7:11 has to do with spiritual robbery.
None of these Old Testament quotations involved money. God was accusing recalcitrant worshippers in Jeremiah's time of robbing the Temple of its sacredness, for they were defiantly living immoral lives and yet trusting this Holy Place to expiate their guilt. Instead of true repentance lifting them up to God, their immorality was pulling the sacred nature of the Temple down to their level of depravity. A sacred place cannot replace the need for repentance, for God states this in the very next verse: But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel - Jeremiah 7:12. In other words, Shiloh (first permanent resting place of the Tabernacle) did not previously save unrepentant worshippers and God is reminding them that Jerusalem is no better refuge. It is suggested by this writer that Jesus was making the very same charge and appropriately used this verse as His defense for removing Sellers AND Buyers who were both guilty of the same spiritual infraction. Thus, even a preposition can dramatically influence interpretation.
Grammatical Analysis of these Verses
Check out our own Grammatical Analysis where each word of each verse has been individually parsed, translated, and modestly explained, so that you will have a commanding understanding of the underlying text as you study the following translations. This interlinear approach gives you a nice advantage without requiring you to be a linguistic expert. There are also links to this resource appearing just below each translation entry at the right margin, so that you may quickly and frequently make reference without scrolling and losing your place.
Disposition of Establishing Literalness
Translations are ranked according to these three verses, not comparatively to each other as a whole because this exercise is predicated entirely on the tendency of the translator to depart from the underlying manuscript text on such occasions as described above. An exercise determined from "softball" verses would exhibit similarities so great as to nullify the differences that actually exist between various translations. It is "hardball" verses such as those described above that extract the true proclivity of the translator, for here even the literal translator is tempted to lean toward interpretation. Predictably, most literal versions eschewed the temptation to exhibit opinions while non-literals relished the opportunity. There were a few normally more literal versions that succumbed to these very tendencies and thus placed lower on the list than would otherwise be expected.
Ranking is entirely predicated on literalness not accuracy - near the top does not necessarily mean good any more than bad should be associated with those at the bottom. Translations known for their literalness naturally placed near the top of the list and those known for interlacing opinions and commentary placed near the bottom. Most disagreements with our exercise will probably involve those several versions that placed in the middle, to which application of different verses might bump them up a few levels. However, rising a few levels does not significantly enhance the overall character of any translation, and appealing to other verses will certainly not transform a Paraphrase into a Literal nor a Literal into a Paraphrase.
A perfect score of 30 was nearly achieved by a couple of translations. Minus scores for others were the direct result of a predilection for opinion and interpretation over literalness. In the interest of balance, let it be stated that occasionally an opinion may actually enhance comprehension to a limited degree. But since our exercise is interested only in ranking according to literalness, the existence of opinion is a detriment.
In Acts 27:14, the wind factor DOWN FROM and AGAINST US are both counted as Literal even though A.T. Robertson references have supplanted the word Literal. We wanted to illustrate how differently translators understand the same text, inspite of grammar, scholarly research, and etymological issues.
Chart of Literalness
|Translations||Luke 20:22||Acts 27:14||Mark 11:16||Totals||Adjusted|
|Modern King James Version||9||0||8||0||12||0||29||0||29|
|King James Version||9||0||8||1||10||1||27||2||25|
|New American Standard Version||7||0||8||1||10||1||25||2||23|
|English Standard Version||9||0||6||2||10||2||25||4||21|
|Revised Standard Version||9||0||6||2||10||2||25||4||21|
|New English Translation||8||0||7||2||10||2||25||4||21|
|New King James Version||7||0||6||1||10||1||23||2||21|
|New International Version||8||0||4||4||10||2||22||6||16|
|New Revised Standard Version||5||1||6||2||10||2||21||5||16|
|Phillips Modern English||8||1||4||3||10||3||22||7||15|
|New English Bible||4||2||6||2||8||2||18||6||12|
|New Living Translation||4||3||2||7||2||7||8||17||-9|
LITERAL TRANSLATION OF THE BIBLE by Jay P. Green ~ 1987
Sovereign Grace Publishers, Lafayette, Indiana
MODERN KING JAMES VERSION by Jay P. Green ~ 1962
Sovereign Grace Publishers, Lafayette, Indiana
YOUNG'S LITERAL TRANSLATION by Robert Young ~ 1898
Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan
PALMER: NEW TRANSLATIONS FROM THE GREEK by David Palmer ~ 1998
THE SCRIPTURES ~ 1994
Institute for Scripture Research
WORLD ENGLISH BIBLE ~ 1997
Rainbow Missions, Inc., Mesa, Colorado
KING JAMES VERSION ~ 1611 (1769)
THIRD MILLENIUM BIBLE ~ 1998
Deuel Enterprises, Gary, South Dakota
INTERNATIONAL STANDARD VERSION ~ 1996
International Standard Version Foundation, 2200 North Grand Avenue, Santa Ana, CA
RECOVERY VERSION ~ 1999
Living Stream Ministry, 2431 W. La Palma Avenue, Anaheim, CA 92801
HOLMAN CHRISTIAN STANDARD BIBLE ~ 1999
B&H Publishing Group, 127 Ninth Avenue North, MSN 114, Nashville, TN. 37234
NEW AMERICAN STANDARD VERSION ~ 1960
The Lockman Foundation, A.J. Holman Company, New York
ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION ~ 2001
Good News Publishers, 1300 Crescent Street, Wheaton, IL 60187
REVISED STANDARD VERSION ~ 1952
National Council of the Churches of Christ, 475 Riverside Drive, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10115
NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION ~ 1997
Biblical Studies Foundation, 1101 E. Arapaho Road, Suite 200, Richardson, TX 75081
NEW KING JAMES VERSION ~ 1982
Thomas Nelson, Inc., PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
AMPLIFIED BIBLE ~ 1987
Zondervan Publish House, Grand Rapids, Michigan
BIBLE IN BASIC ENGLISH by C.K. Ogden ~ 1965
ANALYTICAL-LITERAL TRANSLATION by Gary F. Zeolla ~ 1999
Darkness To Light Ministries, Natrona Heights, Pennsylvania
NEW CENTURY VERSION ~ 1987
Word Publishing acquired by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
DARBY BIBLE by John Nelson Darby ~ 1890
BIBLE TRUTH PUBLISHERS, 59 Industrial Road, PO Box 649, Addison, IL 60101
CONCORDANT VERSION ~ 1998
15570 Knochaven Road, Santa Clarita, CA 91387
NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ~ 1978
New York Bible Society International, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan
GOD'S WORD ~ 1976
God's Word to the Nations, PO Box 400, Orange Park, Florida 32067
NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION ~ 1989
National Council of Churches of Christ, World Bible Publishers, Inc., Iowa Falls, Iowa
NEW TESTAMENT IN MODERN ENGLISH by J.B. Phillips ~ 1958
Barns & Noble, 33 East 17th Street, New York, NY 10003
EXPANDED TRANSLATION by Kenneth S. Wuest ~ 1961
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan
JERUSALEM BIBLE ~ 1966
Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York
WEYMOUTH: NEW TESTAMENT IN MODERN SPEECH by Richard Weymouth ~ 1902
Richard Francis Weymouth
COVENANT TRANSLATION ~ 2001
Accurate Bibles, Armidale, Australia
TODAY'S ENGLISH VERSION ~ 1966 (Good News Bible)
American Bible Society, New York, New York
ARAMAIC BIBLE by Victor N. Alexander ~ 1998
Vic Alexander, Burbank, CA 91505
NEW ENGLISH BIBLE ~ 1961
Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press
CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH VERSION ~ 1995
American Bible Society, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee
NEW AMERICAN BIBLE ~ 1970
Catholic Biblical Association of America, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Camden, New Jersey
THE MESSAGE by Eugene H. Peterson ~ 1993
Navpress, Colorado Springs, Colorado
NEW LIVING TRANSLATION ~ 1996
Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois
LIVING BIBLE ~ 1971
Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois
COTTON PATCH VERSION ~ 1969
Association Press, New York, New York