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Is it okay to use a paraphrase of the Bible?

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A paraphrase rewords the Bible into plain or modern language. It is the author's interpretation of God's Word, using imagination and literary skill, rather than an actual translation of the biblical text. A popular paraphrase is Eugene Peterson's The Message. Translations, on the other hand, seek to convert the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek language text into English (or another language) either by "word for word" methods (formal equivalence) or by "thought for thought" methods (dynamic equivalence). Recognizing that a paraphrase is one author's interpretation of the Bible message rather than an actual translation of the biblical text, should readers use a paraphrase of the Bible?

The best recommendation would be to say not to only use a paraphrase of the Bible. For some, paraphrases provide a fresh take on well-known texts. Hebrews 4:12 says, in part, "the word of God is living and active." A paraphrase may be one way for readers to remember that God's word is dynamic and applicable today. Seeing biblical truth through a new lens may help readers more readily apply biblical truth to daily life.

However, readers should always remember that a paraphrase is one author's take on the truth of the Bible. Since the Bible consists of God's inspired words, the intent in reading it should be to understand what its words communicate and to apply them. A more literal translation provides better access to these words. Paraphrases can then help to show how others have interpreted these words. For newer readers, paraphrases might make hard biblical truths more easily understandable. For those well-versed in the Bible, paraphrases may help remove the familiarity of the passages and challenge the reader to see deeper truths. However, no reader should consult only a paraphrase but, to ensure a correct understanding of the passage, also read a good Bible translation (such as the popular New International Version (NIV), the English Standard Version (ESV), the New King James Version (NKJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), or the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)).

In fact, many find a combination of multiple translations helpful in their Bible study. For example, a Bible teacher may use the ESV as his or her primary translation and then refer to two or three other versions, both literal and paraphrased, for ideas on how others have interpreted the passage. As Proverbs 15:22 teaches, "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed." Proverbs 11:14 likewise notes, "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety." More versions to assist in learning can be beneficial at times. Of greatest importance, however, is to read the Bible, understand what it teaches, and apply it.

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