How to Choose a Bible Version, Making Sense of the Proliferation of Bible Translations by Robert L Thomas (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2000) 191 pp., paper $11.99

This is quite an impressive little book. In less than 200 pages Professor Thomas of the Master’s Seminary has provided nearly everything the average student of the Bible needs to know about Bible translations in English. For more detailed debates on text-types and translation philosophy and so forth, one would need to supplement this volume. But Thomas gets us in the door and produces an excellent reference and abundant helps for understanding the multitude of translations now available in English. For example:

  • Chapter one gives a short history of English translations, beginning with William Tyndale through The Message. It is most interesting that over 90% of Tyndale’s work found its way into the King James Version (pp. 15, 19).

  • An overview of the Greek textual base is found in chapter two. Thomas spends most of his time on two textual families—the Byzantine and Alexandrian—and shows why he favors the latter (pp. 59-63). He also provides 15 pages of examples of how the two text-types affect translations (pp. 64-78).

  • Chapter three is devoted to the two primary translation philosophies: dynamic-equivalence (or functional equivalence) and formal-equivalence (better named “essentially literal”). Here Thomas shows how translation techniques are determined (pp. 90-101) and provides a handy chart showing the literalness level of numerous translations (p. 96). Thomas clearly favors the essentially literal approach.

  • Theological bias can easily creep into translations and Thomas shows how these can be detected, along with several specific examples (pp. 103-123).

  • Pragmatically people often choose a translation according to its readability level, paragraph format, etc. Thomas discusses these issues in chapter five, giving the rationale for why translators made their decisions. An interesting chart showing the reading grade level of various versions is inserted (p. 127).

  • A review of the most important translations make up the conclusion and the appendix challenges the hermeneutics of dynamic equivalency advocates (pp. 163-191). One major concern is that dynamic equivalent versions attempt to remove ambiguities and thus bleed over too much into interpretation (p. 169).

This is a wonderful little book for personal study or as the basis for classroom instruction. It is an excellent starting point for those seeking to understand the English Bible and make an informed choice for reading and study of Scripture. Unfortunately How to Choose a Bible Version was published before the English Standard Version and so has no comment on the popular essential literal translation.