Which Bible Translation Is Best? All the Good Ones.

which bible translation is best?

I am on a mission to end Bible Translation Tribalism. If you don’t know what I mean by “Translation Tribalism,” see if any of these tribal stereotypes (some borrowed from another blogger) ring true for you:

  • The NIV 2011 is the Bible of the broad swath of centrist evangelicals.
  • The TNIV is the Bible of egalitarian leftist evangelicals.
  • The ESV is the Bible of complementarian, conservative, neo-Reformed evangelicals.
  • The NASB is the Bible of conservative evangelical serious Bible students.
  • The KJV is the Bible of fundamental, independent Baptists.
  • The HCSB is the Bible of Southern Baptists.
  • The NLT is the Bible of seeker-sensitive evangelicals.
  • The NET Bible is the Bible of computer nerds.
  • The NRSV and CEB are the Bibles of Protestant mainliners.

There is probably a little truth in every one of these somewhat tongue-in-cheek stereotypes (except in the ones you don’t like, of course). There really are different groups in Christianity, and they really have differences. It’s not completely accidental that each of these groups would gravitate toward particular translations. And I’ve argued before that the common translation continuum is, though potentially misleading (because all translations use a mixture of both “literal” and “dynamic” renderings), still genuinely useful as a rule of thumb:

image00

Image taken from Mark Strauss’ Mobile Ed Course, BI181 Introducing Bible Translations

But get that thumb out of your mouth, because it’s still wrong for Christians to be suspicious of other Christians just because of the Bible translation they carry to church. The tribalism needs to stop. All Bible-loving-and-reading Christians need to learn to see the value in all good Bible translations.

People who use the NIV exclusively need to also see the value of the NASB. People who use the ESV exclusively need to discover the help the NLT can provide. People who are KJV-only need to stop seeing the translation work of godly, careful brothers and sisters in Christ—such as Doug Moo of the NIV and Wayne Grudem of the ESV—as threats but as gifts.

To say “I am of the NIV” is wrong. To say “I am of the NASB” is wrong. To say “I am of the ESV” is right and proper and everyone else should wise up, you compromisers!

No, wait, wait . . . Give me a moment to breathe deeply and count to 10. Hey, I’ve got my own preferences. But I’ve officially given them up for your sake. And my own—because I actually think that the existence of multiple English Bible translations is a benefit to us all, not a justification for banner-hoisting and wagon-circling.

Trusted voices on translations

Bible translation tribalism doesn’t begin with a wicked desire to divide God’s people. It starts with a simple fact: translations are complicated things, and very few people have the expertise necessary to thoroughly evaluate them, let alone produce them—so the Christian consumers whose buying dollars determine which translations are successful are forced to trust “experts” when deciding which translation is best.

And whom do we trust? Generally speaking, we look to and trust our pastors for this kind of expert guidance. Hopefully, our pastors have a good grasp of translation theory and a lot of experience working through Scripture texts in Greek and Hebrew (Logos Bible Software exists for just this kind of work). But pastors who have done this work are actually more likely to realize that translations are complex. So they, too, trust others’ judgment. They trust their peers, their professors, their denominational leadership, their favorite Christian writers and scholars. This trust is completely natural and fundamentally good. We all trust authorities all the time to help us make decisions on issues that are too complex or would take too much time to grasp. I know my job, you know yours. But we all outsource other jobs to the experts. We try to be well-rounded, and we develop “informed opinions” about many topics, but we’re never going to be as informed as the experts in any given field. We simply don’t have time go around constantly doubting the work of the economists, civil engineers, chemists, optometrists, and Bible translators whose work we rely on.

If there’s a better recipe for highway asphalt out there than the one our municipality is using, we’re just going to leave that in the hands of the highway commissioner and drive on our roads anyway. If the textual critical issue in Jonah 1:9 could have been handled a little more adroitly; if the relationship of tense and aspect in Mark 4:13 fails to reflect the latest scholarship coming out of Steve Runge’s office; if there’s a more suitable rendering for rāqîaʿ in Genesis 1:6—99.9% of Christians, 99.9% of the time, will leave those issues in the hands of the experts and read their Bibles anyway. We will still trust our favored Bible translations, because people we have every reason to trust told us we should trust those translations.

But that’s just what the people in the church down the street, those false “Christians” with their wicked “Bible” “translation” (and their funny hair!), are doing. They’re trusting their leaders. So why are we better than they? If there’s a difference between “us” and “them,” it’s not that “we” are sitting down in a lengthy series of congregational meetings with all our Greek and Hebrew Bibles on our laps and hashing out all the differences among translations, and “they” aren’t. We should be content, without believing our translation to be perfect, exactly, to trust that it is reliable without condemning those who have made a different choice. Our pastor (and/or our crowd) decided translation X was best. Fine. We shouldn’t let our preferred translation become a symbol, a rallying cry, a boundary marker separating us from other groups within the body of Christ.

A way out of Bible translation tribalism

It’s the idea that we must determine which translation is best that has divided us into translational tribes. The need to pick the be-all and end-all Bible translation, the one that is simultaneously literal and understandable and beautiful, the one that (as one press release for a major translation claims) “eliminates . . . the tradeoff between accuracy and readability,” is creating a barometric pressure that is unnecessarily heating up the whole topic.

English speakers are looking for the wrong thing when we look for best. As I said, we need to look for useful. Does that sound too pragmatic? Let me clarify. We need to ask, “Which English Bible translation is most useful for preaching?” “Which is most useful for evangelism?” “Which is useful for reading through in a year?” “Which is conducive to close study?” How about for reading to kids? For memorization?

The average Christian has umpteen Bibles at home; we can afford, financially, to buy different editions for different purposes. Many of us have Logos, with its even greater number of Bible translations.

Because of our embarrassment of financial and translational riches, we can get very specific in our search for useful. “Which English Bible translation is most useful for preaching to these particular people?” “Which English translation is most useful for evangelizing this person I just met?” “Which one is most useful for reading through this year, given that I just read a more literal/paraphrastic version last year?”

A Bible translation thought experiment

Imagine there was only one English Bible translation and that it had never occurred to you that there might be another. The truth is that even if we were stuck with your and my least favorite translation on the chart above, we’d still have an inestimable treasure. We would still have God’s words. The KJV translators, in a sadly neglected but eerily prescient preface to the KJV, said the following:

We do not deny, nay, we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English set forth by men of our profession…containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God: as the King’s speech which he uttered in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian, and Latin, is still the King’s speech, though it be not interpreted by every translator with the like grace, nor peradventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expressly for sense, everywhere. [direct Logos link]

The KJV translators had no qualms saying that even relatively poor translations don’t just contain God’s words but are God’s word. They were not Bible translation tribalists. Perhaps we should take a page out of their book.

mark ward
Mark L. Ward, Jr. received his PhD from Bob Jones University in 2012; he now serves the church as a Logos Pro. He is the author of multiple high school Bible textbooks, including Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption.
 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Vernon Sexton says:

    Very stimulating and well put. Particularly “But that’s just what the people in the church down the street, those false “Christians” with their wicked “Bible” “translation” (and their funny hair!), are doing.” We are all of the same family, the Body of Christ, brothers and sisters. Oh, and on a lighter note, you forgot Catholics (my lot!). We seem (in the Latin bit or Roman Catholics) seem to prefer the NJB (with notes). Sadly Logos/Verbum do not have that translation. The Ordinariate (in the UK, not sure about America and Australia) prefer the NRSV (Catholic Edition, Anglicised). Really it’s each to their own. We have a lot of translations enriching God’s Word to us. Grace and Peace to you all, Vernon.

  2. Greetings, Mark!

    I am duty bound to remind you of a reality of which I am certain you are aware: Any human quest to end a phenomenological quotient that is endemic to human nature is futile.

    Tribalism is endemic to human nature.

    However, this does not negate the Divine and ecclesiastical phenomenon of mitigation. The genuine mitigation of the pejorative manifestations of tribalism can only occur via the exegetical-expositional proclamation of Scripture.

    It is a maxim that the more influenced we become by God’s Word the greater our coalescence around Him and the stronger our unity is with one another, irrespective of Bible translation, ecclesiastical denomination, traditional affiliation or the like.

    Grace and Peace,
    [Emphasis on the Peace]

    Louis

    • Tribalism is endemic to fallen human nature, so, yes, it is through the exposition of Scripture—and the Spirit’s going with His words—that it is likely to be mitigated.

      I actually do hope that my little blog post can help a few people have their fallen endemic tribalism mitigated. If Christians are to unite, only the Bible is fit to be the rallying point that unites us.

  3. a good read. I have taught this information on several occasions. where would you say the LEB falls?

    • I don’t have extensive experience with the LEB, but my experience and a discussion with the leadership over it recently suggests to me that it falls on the far left side of that continuum—it is very literal. But it undergoes revision on occasion, so we’ll see where it lands ultimately.

  4. I belong to a body of believers that does not have pastors or ministers of any kind. That’s a really good thing.
    I read from a wide variety of translations but am always aware that translators all have their own agenda. That is why I have taught myself Hebrew and Greek. The only agenda I have is PRECISION. I always search out the exact meaning.

    • “Precision” must itself be defined in light of a goal. I can see myself saying to D.A. Carson and others on the NLT, “That’s precisely the right way to interpret that phrase for your audience. As long as users understand the basic character of the major translations, they can appreciate the precision they accomplish relative to their respective purposes.

      But I would never discourage anyone from learning the biblical languages; far from it. I wish everyone could. It is, admittedly, a little more difficult to figure out translation differences when you have little access to the original.

  5. Mark … great article and the thoughts are what I try to convey to my students as well. While I may use the ESV for study and academic purposes, I also use NIV, King James, NET, etc. in that study. As you noted each of these translations are still the very words of God!

  6. As a pastor, I have a love for just about all the translations. I lead one Bible Study in the NIV, another Bible study is in the ESV. For my own personal study, I tend to use the NASB and NA27. I do like my class to use the same translation to speed the class along. If there are questions, well I can quickly toggle through the different translations on Logos. I hate getting stuck on the wording and which word is better. When I turn to the NA27 and use the Greek (or Hebrew in OT), I find many times people don’t care what the original language says, they are stuck on personal preference. We always need to be true to what the original language states. Some classes are better suited to one translation while more serious studies are better adept to more accurate translations. I’m just happy to have my members reading the Bible… whichever translation they use. Of course… there are some I tell people to shy away from which are usually paraphrased versions. I encourage all to read God’s Word and let the Holy Spirit work and stir your hearts. Instead of tribalizing, encourage people to read.

    • I’m with you, but I’ll quibble with one word: “accurate.” I know what you mean, but I think the NIV is as “accurate” as the ESV, and the ESV is as “accurate” as the Message—when their respective purposes as translations/paraphrases are taken into account. For example, “the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places” (KJV) is fully accurate. All the Hebrew words are represented with precise glosses. But I never understood what I was reading (through no fault of the KJV translators, by the way—I should have picked up David’s metaphor from context). But when I read the NIV’s “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (that’s off the top of my head—ha! got it!) I suddenly understood what David meant. But the word “boundary” doesn’t appear in the Hebrew. It’s just “lines.” So which translation is more “accurate”? Both are accurate, given their purposes. The KJV accurately translated the words. The NIV accurately got across the meaning to contemporary readers; the translator(s) rightly sensed that we’d need a little extra help.

      Thoughts?

      • Jeff O'Neal says:

        A key takeaway is that just as the books of the Bible all point to The Word, Jesus Christ, so all translations should point us to the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic writings fully inspired by the Holy Spirit. And just as we should keep in mind that everything we read in the Bible ultimately points to Christ, The Word, and draws its ultimate meaning from Him, so everything we read in a translation should point to the Original Text, The Word, and draw its meaning strictly and purely from The Word and nothing or nobody else. No translation does this perfectly. Some do this better than others.

        • And I’m suggesting that there are different useful ways in which a translation may characteristically point to the original.

          • Belinda Prechtl says:

            From what I understand the KJV also puts words in that were not I the original text. The word “office” in 1 Timothy 3:1 is not in the original Greek. So I think that every version uses words that their readers will understand.

          • As usual, it’s complicated. =) Many major modern translations think the word is necessary to get across what Paul meant. Many don’t think so. It isn’t a matter of putting words in that weren’t there or taking them out when they were, at least not in this case.

        • Craig Giddens says:

          My question would be have you ever seen the original Greek? If not how do you make the comparison between the translation and the original Greek?

          • Brian Casey says:

            Craig, I doubt that Jeff was making reference to the original manuscripts, which no one living today has ever seen. Many of us have seen the original-language version (several editions are freely available online), however, and comparing any translation with the Greek is central.

          • Jeff O'Neal says:

            Response to Craig Giddens: It depends on what you mean by “original Greek”. And what is the ultimate question behind your question. Are you challenging the veracity and/or authority of the Bible? Do you advocate that we give some equal or greater credence to the spin of men?
            If by “original Greek” you mean the manuscripts penned by the apostles, no, I have not seen them. Ancient texts written on organic elements that decay over time and carried on foot from town to town, being hand copied repeatedly, wear out, fall apart, and cease to exist in readable form. What we do have is “…a reliable collection of historical documents, written by eye-witnesses during the lifetime of other eye-witnesses. They report supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophecies and claim that their writings are divine rather than human in origin.” We have partial manuscripts that date back to AD 100 to AD 120 – within 2 to 3 decades of the completion of the NT. (“Why you can believe the Bible”, Voddie Baucham – you can find it in several videos on YouTube)
            Baucham claims over 6,000 and some sources go as high as over than 24,000 partial and complete manuscripts (http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/Manuscript.html). In comparison, we only have less than a dozen manuscripts of Aristotle’s poetics and they only date back to over 1,000 years after the originals. Likewise with Julius Caesar’s Gaelic Wars. Homer’s Illiad – a few hundred manuscripts but the earliest date to 2,100 years after the original.
            With this evidence that the current compilation of Greek manuscripts is true to the Word, why the distinction between the Greek version and their various language translations? Because men and their ideas do enter the equation much more in their translations. One of the most egregious example of this is the word, “church”. The meaning of church is all over the map. It can mean a building, people who meet in a particular building, all Christians, all true Christians, the clergy or officialdom (Webster’s) of churchianity, etc… Logos helps us see that “church” is used 109 times in the ESV. 108 of those times, it translates the Greek word “ekklesia”. In 1 Cor 5:12, ekklesia is inferred. And ekklesia has more than one meaning but its most common meaning is “called-out”. This meaning is lost in the word, “church”. And nowhere in the meanings of ekklesia do you find any indication of a building.

          • Jeff O'Neal says:

            I got this again:
            504 Gateway Time-out

            The server didn’t respond in time.

      • Brian Casey says:

        I appreciate the view of “accuracy” espoused here. I think you’re right on!

  7. Guy Platts says:

    When it comes to translations, the biblical principle “every matter should be established through the testimony of two or three witnesses” is good advice.

    • An interesting way to look at it. We English speakers can be very thankful that we have two or three witnesses. People who speak Sara Kaba Dem don’t get two or three witnesses (unless they also speak/read the colonial language).

  8. Thanks for a great article. I do wish we would get away from the “literal” and “dynamic” terminology, though (or at least define them better). It seems we get “stuck” for a particular word on the first gloss that we learned in Seminary and call that “literal,” ignoring the wide semantic range of words and assuming that those “dynamic” translations are somehow less “accurate” than our “literal one!” Thanks for the encouragement and thanks to all those who’ve labored in Bible translation!

    • As often with labels, the problem may not be with the labels, per se, but with the inherent difficulty of the concepts to which they point.

      But I really like what you say about “literal” meaning “the first gloss we learned in Seminary.” That is precisely what Mark Strauss has said, and it is so true.

  9. Pastor Don says:

    I study and preach from the NASB. When folks ask me “what translation should I buy?” I ask them “Which translation will you read?” The “best” translation for the person in the pew is the one they can read and comprehend. If your Bible is only going to sit on the coffee table or stand on the bookshelf…then buy the nicest binding.

    • You got a genuine, audible laugh from me on that one. I feel precisely the same way. There may be people for whom I recommend a translation more difficult than they can handle right now—because I believe they’ll be able to work up to it, and that that will benefit them. But I have not personally ministered to those people. In my own pastoral ministry I have been called to serve people who need more help—and why not give it to them when it’s available?

    • Now there’s the voice of experience! Love it, Pastor Don.

  10. We should be grateful that we have so many translations available in our native language, English. That said, if we put more resources into obeying what the Bible says, rather than arguing fine points (see the list of “fleshly” things in Galatians 5), we would be providing minds and money to train and send Bible Translators to the thousands of languages still without God’s Word. I am not against good theology, but ofttimes our “theology” is refined as we have good ortho-praxy. I say this as someone who has given his life and family since 1993 in pursuing one good version of God’s Word to a Bibleless people (as we are now in the last stages needed before final publishing). We should be grateful for having hundreds of translations – grateful enough to go, and to send others.

    • Amen. I’m really thinking we have enough English translations now! Let the Bible speak in the heart language of every kindred, tribe, people, and nation. And congratulations on almost finishing your important work.

  11. DALE L DURNELL says:

    Thanks for the wonderful article!

    I have long feared that in our quest for the “best” or “only” translation we have in fact made an idol out of the Word of God. Does scripture itself not say “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (NASB)? I love that part about it being “living and active” or “powerful” (NLT). Living things have a life of their own, and as JB Phillips once suggested our God is too small — we try and put God in a shoebox and God won’t stay there. Neither will God’s Word.

    I love the continuum but even there I see a great weakness in the list. For example the JB (alas not available in Logos), the NJB (available in Logos), and the NAB (also available in Logos) are used by our Catholic brothers and sisters. They spring forth from a line of text outside of the KJV to RV and ASV to RSV to NRSV etc line. And sometimes, it’s especially valuable to look at the text in those translations we don’t even want to consider (heavens, they might even contain the apocrypha — but then, so did the original KJV :) ).

    Also, our British brothers and sisters have access to the NEB (finally available in Logos, thank you very much) and the REB (also available in Logos). I wonder where you might place those translations on the sliding scale :).

    One of the best lessons I learned in seminary was to always read the Bible in multiple translations, and not just those that share a heritage with the venerated KJV, and certainly not just the one with which we are most comfortable.

    Blessings
    Dale

    • Amen. I agree fully. I’ve made a pretty much daily habit of reading multiple translations since 1999. It’s a little hard to quantify all the value I’ve gotten out of that practice, but I’m trying to do so with this and other posts.

  12. I really enjoyed this thread immensely. I seldom comment but I will make this an exception. I think it is good to have different opinions as long as we are respectful of other’s opinions.

    I do most of my personal work on the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. My favorite Bible version is by far the KJV, but from time to time, I see that other versions may, in my opinion, capture a verse or a clause better. I don’t have one second favorite, but a number of them, that I turn to for a “a second opinion.” These include the NASB, ASV, ESV, HCSB, LITV, EB, and AMP as well as some of the really early editions, such as Geneva and Bishops.

    I suppose I generally have a love for the left side of the graph. Last year I discovered Leeser (Old Testament). Logos has Leeser as a pre-pub and perhaps I can get some of you to join me in ordering that so we can hurry the production along. I had my wife bring a hard copy for me from the USA when she traveled there last year. In doing side-by-side comparisons in e-Sword I kept noting that I loved this translation long before I realized it was produced by a Jewish scholar (my father’s side of the family are Jewish so this made me happy).

    From time to time I find what I was looking for in other Bible versions, even on the right side of the chart. As I am reading Isaiah 53 and one of the commentators says that a particular verse is written in the prophetic perfect, and yet I notice the KJV is written in the future, I realize I better go look. And sure enough, I find that a long list of my Bibles speak in the future and another list in the past and yet another in the developing present. And then the fun really begins, because I turn to the Biblia Hebraica.

    Because my native language is Spanish, and I have had to translate my own books to either Spanish or to English, I realize that context is vital. That just like we would not expect a word in English to have the same meaning under different circumstances, so likewise a word in Hebrew or Greek has the same type of versatility.

    I tell my students that sometimes a word is so rich it needs multiple words to translate it, so it is that multiple versions can be so helpful. This is why the AMP approach is sometimes just right. Even if a version helps me with one complicated translation, I am going to cherish it and be grateful for it. If I read a commentary and get one thought that helps me better understand a passage, I will be grateful for it. So I read commentaries from a broad range of perspectives.

    But back to the Bible, I do fear that many modern versions have lost some of the Christology in them, or the Messianic focus in them. So I don’t want to say, it is all good. But returning to your fun article and where we agree. Our Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for copyright reasons, needed a new translation of the Reina Valera (we were using the Reina Valera 1960). We produced a new translation of Reina Valera in 2009, using an earlier edition as a model for the new translation.

    I tell Church members here in Chile, under no circumstances do away with your Reina Valera 1960 but keep it and treasure it. It is a fantastic Bible and it will help you better understand a passage by reading both the LDS Reina Valera 2009 as well as the Reina Valera 1960.

    So, I guess this is a long way of saying how much I have enjoyed your article as well as the great posts and comments. I also got a good chuckle out of Pastor Don’s comment about which version they will read. What good do all those Bibles do if we do not read them and cherish them and learn to love each other despite our differences?

  13. Ruth Bushan says:

    Reverend Mark,
    Thank you for Enlightening all who need to know about Translations.i am grateful to you for all the Patience and hardwork that you take to bring out the Truth .
    My mother tongue is not English,but English is The Global Lang.I was taught to read KJV,afterwards when I started on my own try all Translations available,to understand clearly.
    “Woman anointing Jesus”- translations help me NIV and NLT where hard words for non- English, is made easy.
    I am Grateful to God ,who uses His Angels to bring His Word ,to Digest that He is The “word”.All Praises and Glory to God !!

  14. Sharyn says:

    Hello and thank you for such a great read ;-)
    I’m a born again Christian of 12 years and a hairdresser and a survivor of Domestic violence, and where Gods has placed me within Bible college and Homeschooling my lil boy (by the way – he LOVE’S Gods word ) he reminds me of a little mini Billy Graham jr. ) but beside the point I totally agree with you !! I first got handed a NiV when born again, then found NLT, then the MESSAGE, dappled in CEV, then at collage found TLB, and others at college were using ESV, it wasn’t when I had to create a bible study on 1 John (by the way there’s sooooooooo much in that book – ;-) as with all too! that when we were asked to, use the given text (ESV) and I used to say I would never be ‘converted’ (joke) to ESV, I do joke now as its become my favorite ! – but in all serious I love ALL GOD’S WORD and still use many ! – as a new student taking Jesus’ light into the hurting and broken world I use whatever is easier to read, I believe personally that translations were created to help us with use of understanding different or difficult terms etc… they are tools equipping us, and the Truth, GOD IS LOVE and HIS WORD SPEAKES TO ALL.
    God bless and thank you so very much , its sad and there shouldn’t be such things going on as “which bible to do you use?” going on – totally agree with – each has a personal favorite used in different settings and purposes – as others have said – Gods word is Gods word!

    Keep up the great work ;-)
    leaving words as sung by my lil boy – God Rocks – “Guide me in The Truth and Teach me – you are God My Saviour !” God Bless xx

  15. Sharyn says:

    oops forgot to mention also used KJV and NKJV too !
    ok talking to much hairdresser signing out – God Bless !! ;-)

  16. Sharyn says:

    double oops ! sorry for first message typo error –

    meant to read “where God’s placed me”

    there is ONLY ONE GOD – AMEN !!

    doing a girl thing – too many things at once ;-)

    again, God Bless !

  17. I do not disagree with any of this, but there is a real difference between those who (in my view wrongly) believe that the Byzantine text is inherently superior to the Alexandrain texts which are (again in their view) inherently corrupt.and those who see the Textus Receptus as (in parts) a flawed modern creation.

    Here the differene is not over translation but over text, therefore the divergance of views on translations often hides a more fundamental division that is not so easily bridged.

    • And perhaps I’m revealing my own view of textual criticism by treating it as a non-issue. Those who use the critical text can afford to be magnanimous regarding the Textus Receptus, because we really don’t believe the differences are very significant—certainly not for the purposes of daily Bible study.

  18. I really enjoyed this thread immensely. I seldom comment but I will make this an exception. I do most of my personal work on the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. My favorite Bible version is by far the KJV, but from time to time, I see that other versions may, in my opinion, capture a verse or a clause better. I don’t have one second favorite, but a number of them, that I turn to for a “a second opinion.” These include the NASB, ASV, ESV, HCSB, LITV, EB, and AMP as well as some of the really early editions, such as Geneva and Bishops. I suppose I generally have a love for the left side of the graph.

    Last year I discovered Leeser (Old Testament). Logos has Leeser as a pre-pub and perhaps I can get some of you to join me in ordering that so we can hurry the production along. I had my wife bring a hard copy for me from the USA when she traveled there last year. In doing side-by-side comparisons in e-Sword I kept noting that I loved this translation long before I realized it was produced by a Jewish scholar (my father’s side of the family is Jewish so this made me happy).

    From time to time I find what I was looking for in other Bible versions, even on the right side of the chart. As I am reading Isaiah 53 and one of the commentators says that a particular verse is written in the prophetic perfect, and yet I notice the KJV is written in the future, I realize I better go look. And sure enough, I find that a long list of my Bibles speak in the future and another list in the past and yet another in the developing present. And then the fun really begins, because I can then turn to the Biblia Hebraica.

    Because my native language is Spanish, and I have had to translate my own books to either Spanish or to English, I realize that context is vital. That just like we would not expect a word in English to have the same meaning under different circumstances, so likewise a word in Hebrew or Greek has the same type of versatility. I tell my students that sometimes a word is so rich it needs multiple words to translate it, so it is that multiple versions can be so helpful. This is why the AMP approach is sometimes just right.

    Even if a version helps me with one complicated translation, I am going to cherish it and be grateful for it. If I read a commentary and get one thought that helps me better understand a passage, I will be grateful for it. So I read commentaries from a broad range of perspectives. But back to the Bible, I do fear that many modern versions have lost some of the Christology in them, or the Messianic focus in them. So I don’t want to say, it is all good.

    But returning to your fun article and where we agree. Our Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for copyright reasons, needed a new translation of the Reina Valera (we were using the Reina Valera 1960). We produced a new translation of Reina Valera in 2009, using an earlier edition as a model for the new translation. I tell Church members here in Chile, under no circumstances do away with your Reina Valera 1960 but keep it and treasure it. It is a fantastic Bible and it will help you better understand a passage by reading both the LDS Reina Valera 2009 as well as the Reina Valera 1960.

    So, I guess this is a long way of saying how much I have enjoyed your article as well as the great posts and comments. I also got a good chuckle out of Pastor Don’s comment about which version they will read. What good do all those Bibles do if we do not read them and cherish them and learn to love each other despite our differences?

    • Thanks for writing in, Gregorio. (Sorry your comment got caught in the spam filter.) Your experience is shared, I think, by many commenters.

      I am concerned that KJV readers do not realize all the ways in which English has changed since 1611. It’s not always obvious. But I do still check the KJV.

      • Guy Platts says:

        It is also educational to look at William Tyndale, whose translation makes up most of the KJV, The KJV was produced by the ecclesiastical establishment, so they changed the more neutral terms for leaders to those of their own officers. They also changed ‘love’ in 1 Corinithians 13 to ‘charity’ which then implies the idea of penance.

  19. Brian Casey says:

    The characterizations of that group of different translations is right on. I used to label that way, but I’m trying to get away from it, just as you are. Usually these days, the only one I feel the need to combat a bit is the NLT — I’ve been disappointed in all but one NLT passage that I’ve ever compared to another translation. But one can still get the “word” out of it.

    On that theme … in your conclusion, which gave me some pause, I noted the difference between “contain God’s words” (plural) and “are God’s word.” That works for me. :-)

  20. I only wish there were a version of the KJV where the only changes were in the ” thees, thous, and all the other unnecessary ths, that make it nearly impossible to read out loud without tongue twisting. We have the NKJV, but I often wonder if a lot of the changes in it were not done just to meet the word count required for a copyright. Call me old and set in my ways; and yes I am; but just one man’s opinion. Oh, and I use the NASU.
    God bless, Lawrence

    • Lawrence, thanks for the comment. I’m glad you make use of several Bible translations.

      I’ve discovered over the years that the differences between the English of 1611 and the English of today go beyond the thees, thous, and -ths on the ends of certain verbs. For example, what does “halt” mean in the sentence “How long halt ye between two opinions”? What would you say? That is, what did the KJV translators mean when they used that word?

    • Hamilton R says:

      God bless:

      Have you looked at Updated KJV? it supposedly does what you want.

      Blessings.

    • afitkin says:

      what’s the NASU? Never heard of it.

  21. Dwiyanto says:

    Hi Mark, thanks for writing this. I’m an Indonesian, and working as an editor for a ministry with most of the resources are translated from English, sometimes I find problems with an author’s point of view when he expounds the Scripture from one or several translations. We only have one ‘authorized’ version of Indonesian Bible, and several ‘unauthorized’ versions that are rarely used in the pulpits. So when the author explains a word or phrase from his Bible, and they somehow differ from our Bible, sometimes I have a hard time of translating it ‘faithfully’ to that one Indonesian version. What I’m trying to say is that I appreciate the richness of the various English Bibles (they are after all are translations too). Thank you.

    • Very interesting. Thanks for writing in.

      It just so happens that I often use Indonesian as an exotic foreign example of Bible translation, but I knew next to nothing about the actual situation there—until now. Can I ask this: is there anything analogous in Indonesian to the archaic language of the KJV? Is there an older, revered, or maybe literary form that some people still read but most people can’t? Ethnologue suggests that may be the case: http://www.ethnologue.com/country/ID/languages

      • Dwiyanto says:

        Hi Mark. I refer you to this page from Sabda, a ministry similar to yours in terms of building a wealth of biblical resources: http://sabdaweb.sabda.org/bible/verse/
        What I said by ‘authorized’ is the TB (new translation c.1974(!)) and after that BIS (similar to NLT/Living Bible, an effort by the Indonesian Bible Society, which published the TB, to produce a more readable Bible, but it’s not used widely nor for preaching).
        The archaic one is TL (old translation) which no one uses anymore after TB is published. I cannot say this for sure but I think TB is still quite similar to KJV/NKJV in some aspects of the translation (with some found-in-bible-only words and terminologies).
        I hope this helps. Thanks!

  22. MJ Smith says:

    May I note that your selection of Bibles is skewed? Just teasing but I think Gorman is worth noting:
    In Part One (chapters 1 and 2) Gorman discusses the task and text of exegesis. In chapter one he briefly defines exegesis before discussing the strengths and weaknesses of various ways in which exegesis has been done. He compares and contrasts the synchronic approach (focusing on the final form of the text as seen, for example, in narrative-critical, social-scientific, or socio-rhetorical readings) with the diachronic approach (the historical-critical method) and the existential approach (his name for readings which focus on hermeneutics, transformation, or theology, such as missional interpretation, sacred readings, postcolonial criticism, or liberationist exegesis). He argues for an eclectic approach in which synchronic exegesis is the first among equals. In chapter two Gorman focuses on the selection of an English translation for exegesis. He expresses a preference for formal-equivalence translations and divides translations into four categories: 1) preferred for exegesis (NRSV, NAB, TNIV, and NET), 2) useful for exegesis, with caution (RSV, NIV, NASB, REB, ESV, HCSB), 3) unacceptable for exegesis, but helpful in others ways (NLT, NJB, CEV, GNB, The Message), and 4) unacceptable for exegesis (KJV, NKJV, LB).

    Gorman, Michael J. Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers (Revised and Expanded Edition; Peabody MA; Hendrickson, 2009). Pp. xii+286, Paperback, US$19.95, ISBN 978-1-59856-311-5

    • This is really great. I like that analysis, and I’ll take a look at Gorman’s explanations. Put the translations from category 2 into category 1, and from category into category 2, and I’m pretty much right with him.

  23. MJ Smith says:

    Does one really want to read many translations translated from essentially the same text or does one wish to broaden the opportunity to understand Scripture by reading translations from the major traditions of the church — Masoretic (e.g. JPS), LXX (e.g. NETS and Easter/Greek Orthodox NT), Vulgate (D-R, Knox), Peshitta (The Peshitta), Received Text (KJV), Critical text (NJB. NRSV, NEB). It is just a tribal to only read Western European manuscript traditions as it is tribal to read only KJV translation traditions. Remember that both the Oriental Orthodox territories and the Eastern Orthodox territories had significant Christian populations before Europe was Christianized.

    • MJ, I know you. You’re advanced. =) I actually agree with you (though I can’t say I’ve ever dug into the Peshitta since I have no facility at all with Syriac). I do make checking the Vulgate and the LXX, especially, a regular part of my workflow. So don’t let my post be an example of Western tribalism so much as what I take to be the appropriate advice for my audience. However, I do like your way of putting that.

  24. Fred L. says:

    For the same reason there are so many church denominations, there are many Bible versions. Many Bible translators unfortunately have an agenda in their translation. The biggest problem with Bible translations is the Manuscripts they are derived from. Older is not necessarily better, more original is better, but there is no absolute original, because there are no original manuscripts today. While I agree that all translations contain most of the “Word of God” some are more accurately translated, and therefore more trustworthy. For example the Passage in Romans 3:22 is a phrase “by the faith of Jesus” is translated also in many versions “through faith in Jesus” (see also Gal 2:16; Gal 3:22; Php 3:9; Rev 14:12). There is a huge difference between the two phrases. While it is important to have faith in Jesus, is the verse really trying to say have faith in Jesus, or have the faith of Jesus? While I am not a scholar , but a Bible Student, the Gospels and the writings of Paul, and other New Testament books tell me that I must have the “Faith of Jesus” in order to be like Him, but I must have faith in Jesus in order to believe.

    All translations have their Positive attributes as well as their negative attributes, but some really are more accurate than others. New Christians usually desire one of the looser translations for the Milk of the Word, as they grow they should grow into the Meat of the Word and into one of the more literal translations.

    • Next week I hope to have a post up handling some of these issues, but let me say preliminarily that even if I agree with you (and right now I won’t say!), what harm is likely to accrue to someone who diligently compares both the more “literal” and more “loose” translations?

  25. Fred L. says:

    By the Way. The Real Question is this:
    What is the Best Translation?

    Answer:
    The one you actually read.

  26. John Moody says:

    Great article, but let’s be honest: friendly sparring over translations is FUN! As I (an ESV user) told my pastor (an HCSB guy) recently, “There’s no issue here. We’ll both teach God’s word, you from your version, and me from His.” :)

  27. Robert D. Brown says:

    Thank you for a very good and clearly written article. I plan to share it and use it as a reference to show others we should major on the majors and minor on the minors when it comes to translations. We just need to point others to Jesus at the end of the day, no matter what translation we use to do it.

  28. As long as Christ is preached …
    I am not a. NASB Christian, or a King James Christian. Satan is so clever at using the passion for “being right” to divide us.
    I for tools (and this post is one) to understand the differences between versions, and the things that might make one reading better than another — and recognize when different readings provide different insights.
    A thought experiment I have sometime suggested to more inflexible friends is this: “Suppose you were not an English speaker. Should the Bible in your language be a translation of (insert favorite version here) or a translation of the best original texts?”

  29. Dan Neal says:

    In my opinion the proper recourse for prejudicial tribalism could possibly be the age-old method of debate. We put two people with differing views in the same room defending or disproving in a moderated format. This allows for evidence to be weighed undetermined in a format that allows for disagreement in the expression of differing views. I believe we will always have a form of tribalism because instinctively we want to associate with those of the same values and backgrounds.

  30. Gerald says:

    While it’s true that languages and the translating of languages can be complicated, fortunately there is one Master of all the worlds’ lingos, dialects or communication forms. God knows exactly what needs to be imparted to the intended recipient. …As noted in Luke 24:46, Jesus enabled his listeners to understand scripture. Consequently, no matter what Bible version we read, to truly grasp a Kingdom of Heaven impartation a relationship with God via His Holy Spirit’s guidance in Jesus’ name is required. Still, I do have a personal pet peeve concerning Bible varieties. -Sadly, many pastors or fellow Bible study folk fail to announce what translation they are reading from. That is common courtesy! And my last word concerns trust. Yes, we should listen to and trust the surgeon who will operate on us. Still, a second or third professional opinion of confirmation doesn’t hurt. But when it comes to the Word while we should listen to the so called experts, only God is our Expert discerner.
    ‘In Christ’
    Gerald

  31. Mark, this is just great. In my class on Bibliology last week, I argued the same basic point in a lecture… but it wasn’t nearly as engagingly written.

    Thanks!

  32. Mark,
    Your approach will only go so far. It hits a wall at the point where different translators are translating from significantly different base-texts.

    Two translators can render a base-text differently, and they can still both yield correct translations. But when one translator’s base-text of the New Testament contains Matthew 1:25, Matthew 5:44, Matthew 17:21, Mark 1:1-2, Mark 1:41, Mark 16:9-20, Luke 22:43-44, Luke 23:34, John 3:13, John 5:4, John 7:53-8:11, and Acts 8:37, and another translator’s base-text of the New Testament does not contain those verses, or else contains them in a significantly different form, it is impossible for *both* resultant translations to *both* contain nothing except all of God’s message given to the inspired persons who produced the New Testament. (I speak only of these passages, in the interest of brevity, but the translatable differences are in the hundreds, in the Gospels alone.)

    Either those passages, in one original form, are legitimate inspired Scripture, or they are not. If they are, then the versions that omit them or change them to a form which conveys a different sense do *not* have God’s message at those points. If they are not, then the versions that contain them have something other than God’s message at those points.

    And to attempt to recruit the KJV preface as an ally against this obvious fact would be a symptom of sheer historical revisionism — or, more simply, a flagrant denial of the historical context of the KJV’s preface. The KJV preface was referring to other translations, made by fellow Protestants (this is what is meant by “men of our profession” — their /profession of faith/, not as if bakers and fisherman were making Bible translations) of /essentially the same base-text they were using./ They were not commenting there about translations that were based primarily on the Alexandrian Text; at the time, no such English translations existed. Right?

    • Re: your last paragraph: interesting. If I misinterpreted “men of our profession,” that would be ironic—because it would support of the big point I try to make about the KJV, namely that English has changed in such subtle ways in 400 years that it is difficult or impossible for most readers to realize when they’re being misled. However, I checked the OED, and I think my read is correct. The sense I adduce was definitely available in 1611 (as was the one you adduce). More importantly, when they talk about “men of our profession,” they reference not other Christians but other translators. It is true that the KJV translators did not use the same schema of text types and did not have access to the sheer number of MSS that we have access to. I can see your point about it being unfair to adduce their support for the NIV. But I also don’t think you can enlist the KJV translators for a TR-only position when the TR was all they had. That also is an anachronistic argument.

      If I’m understanding where you’re coming from on the rest of what you write regarding textual criticism, then it is the nature of my (critical text) position to believe that the differences between text types are not in fact significant. I’ve mostly decided to give up the debate over textual criticism, except among scholars, and just urge those who prefer the Textus Receptus (or Majority Text, or just Sinaiticus, or whatever they prefer!) to use that text to make a good translation in respectable, contemporary English. Get your TR folks together (I know a professional cat herder if you need some help =) and lobby Crossway/Zondervan/B&H to create a “TR edition” of the ESV/NIV/HCSB, maybe.

      If I’m not really following you, or I’m fitting you into a box in which you don’t belong, please do tell me.

  33. Mark, have you read One Bible Many Versions by Dave Brunn?
    He researched several English versions and came to a similar conclusion as you do, they are all good.

    He also said that translations labeled as more literal aren’t always more literal than translations labeled as more dynamic. You can find passages where the NASB was freer than the NLT.

    http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=2715

    • I surely have (read it in bed with a bad flu!). It was a big influence on the things I’m writing about translation tribalism. If even the translations that champion one end of the continuum or the other can’t be consistent, perhaps Christian shouldn’t be divided by those translations.

      • Dave Brunn says:

        I am always happy to hear that the book is accomplishing the purpose I had in mind when I wrote it. Blessings to both of you. –Dave Brunn

        • A pleasure to hear from you, Dave. Your book was indeed very meaningful to me. It emboldened me to conclude what I was leaning toward for many years previously.

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