When I was a teenager, someone at my home congregation made available some copies of Good News for Modern Man. I read the New Testament all the way through for the first time in this little paperback. I’m sure that in other congregations there may have been tracts warning of the errors of this modern version and recommending people stay away from it. This leads to a legitimate question. Aren’t these translations dangerous?
My experience as a Bible reader suggests that we can over blow the dangers. I was in a greater danger from not reading the Bible. Bible illiteracy is the great danger of our society. (And by the way, the publication of many different translations has not stemmed that tide.) If I hadn’t found something easier to read, I might have given up or simply have failed to grow in faith. That little paperback led to a growth in my devotional life. I was strengthened by milk for stronger food.
I think several factors militate against the flaws in some translations. I was not reading the Bible in isolation. I had mature Christian people around me. These people were more knowledgeable that I was, and I could ask questions. In other words, my church family helped guide my reading.
I was also aware of multiple translations. I wasn’t just relying on Good News for Modern Man alone. At that point, I had a King James Version to compare with, and it wasn’t too long that I also had a Revised Standard Version and a New American Standard Bible. In other words, I was aware that I was reading a translation. I’ve learned over the years that no translation is perfect because translating is a human activity. That is why the final court of appeal in religious discussion is the Bible in the original languages. But I’m extremely grateful for access to the Bible in my native language.
One further fact needs to be noted. The Bible is an amazingly resilient collection of books. Most of our teachings are not based on one passage alone. Even when a translation throws us a loop with a questionable translation, other passages may keep us from going the wrong direction. The Bible is its own best interpreter.
The functional equivalent translation (meaning for meaning) is designed for easy access to the beginner and the person with few reference books to consult. My own pilgrimage suggests that those translations are not necessarily harmful and may be helpful. But I think their proper use is as a stepping stone. Careful Bible study in English is best done with a formal equivalent (more literal) translation (e.g., NASB, NKJV, and ESV). If you have only been reading a meaning for meaning translation, I would encourage you to try a more literal translation especially in careful study.