When (and How) to Use Multiple Bible Translations

compare bible translations

I want people who study the Bible to stop asking, “What’s the best Bible translation?” and feel free to use all the good translations we have. It’s what I called, last week, Ending Bible Translation Tribalism.

In my vision of the ideal world, Christians and Christian groups will still have their favored translations, but they will also make regular use of the many other good translations that God has permitted us to have. (And in this world fine milk chocolate would be very cheap and very good for you.)

I can’t assume that my little post ended Bible translation tribalism. You may still be thinking, “But not all translations are good! Translation X is flat out bad!”

The two major issues in English Bible translation today

The two major issues that cause Christians to call translations bad are 1) gender and 2) functional vs. formal equivalence. And it’s not just conservative Christians who feel uneasy about where major Bible translations land on these issues. Yes, conservative evangelicals often feel nervous about the apparently progressive views of gender taken by some new translations. They also often feel nervous about the apparently unwarranted liberties taken by those same translations, even beyond the matter of gender. But sometimes those who are not-so-conservative (I hate to use any tribal labels here; I’m being purposefully vague) feel a similar nervousness on the other side. They think that antiquated use of gender pronouns is distracting people from the Bible’s message, and that excessively literal translations are needlessly obscuring that message.

These issues really do matter. Christian scholars should keep debating them, pastors should stay abreast of those debates, and people in the pews should not be ignorant of them; how we translate God’s word is very important. It makes sense for denominations and parachurch institutions to favor Bible translations which fit their theological identity.

Bible translations and individual Christians

But for you, the individual Christian nursing your morning cup of coffee in your pool of quiet light and writing down study reflections in your Logos Bible software notes—these two major issues should not stop you from using the translations your tribe doesn’t favor. By all means, dig into the debate over how to treat gender in Bible translation outside your devotional time, and do it soon. Read what Grudem and Poythress have to say on the one hand; read what Moo and Carson have to say on the other. Dig into the debate over translation theory, too. Read Ryken. Get Mark Strauss’ Mobile Ed course on Bible translation.

But once you’ve become aware of the issues, don’t go rushing for your tribal banners and slogans. For the purposes of your personal Bible study you can set aside your suspicious feelings and go back to benefiting from all the good translations we have, no matter where they land on gender or translation theory. If you see a Bible treating gender in a way you don’t like, just keep reading. It’s not going to hurt you. If you see it treating the text more “loosely” or more “literally” than you think is justified, you won’t be scarred for life.

(I do want to clarify that I’m not here discussing—or dismissing—the issue of God’s “gender” in Scripture. You probably do not have in your possession, and Logos Bible Software does not sell to my knowledge, a truly “gender neutral” Bible translation, one which balks at calling God “Father” or Jesus God’s “Son.” No major translations go to this extreme. We are talking here about the narrower issue of whether “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee” seems to the modern ear to limit Isaiah’s words to men, as if women who stay their minds on God will not have perfect peace.)

If you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone and pick up a Bible translation you formerly avoided, something wonderful might happen: You might learn something! As soon as you see the interpretive rendering in the NIV or NLT, something may click for you: you might see meaning you never knew was there. Or as soon as you see the way a more literal translation of 1 Corinthians 7, you may realize that the interpretation of “virgin he is engaged to” (NIV) you’ve assumed all your life is really a more complicated issue than you realized. That might force you to dig deeper in your study. And what is the harm in this?

I can see only benefit in using both major kinds of translations. Well, almost only benefit. It’s true that an interpretive rendering might lead you astray a little. Every once in a while I disagree with the way the NIV or NLT translates something. But this almost never happens because I think the translators got the Greek or Hebrew “wrong.” It’s usually because I think they chose a particular interpretation when the Holy Spirit inspired an ambiguity there, or I think they made the Bible sound casual or hip when I don’t think casual hipness was in the Greek. However, just as often a more literal translation could leave you in the dark about what a passage really means because the “Greeklish” is too obscure (see Col. 2:23 in the KJV, for example). I see the two kinds of translations as complements rather than as competitors.

When a Bible translation surprises you

What should you do, though, when you’re reading a translation—any translation—and you come across something that seems to contradict what you believe or what your particular Christian group has historically taught? Don’t feel threatened: investigate.

So you’re reading along in the CEV and you come across a passage that, given your experience reading more literal translations, doesn’t sound right. Ephesians 5:22 reads in the CEV, “A wife should put her husband first.” The more literal translations have something significantly different here: “Wives, submit to your own husbands.”

Grudem and Poythress object to the way the CEV translates Ephesians 5:22. They see here an attack on gender complementarity in marriage and call this a “highly weakened expression,” saying that “the CEV’s ‘translation’ harmonizes well with what many modern people might wish that the Apostle Paul said” but fails to “do justice to what he actually said.”

I am purposefully withholding my own opinion on this matter in order to make a different point: even if you feel as negatively toward the CEV as Grudem and Poythress do, what’s going to happen to you if you read “a wife should put her husband first”? Even If you feel that Paul was speaking to a very particular cultural situation and the CEV was justified in softening his imperative, what’s going to happen to you if you read the more literal rendering? Nothing bad, no matter what side you’re on, as long as you sincerely desire to obey God and you have a minimally adequate understanding of the two major translation issues we’ve been discussing.

Let’s say that one of these translations is “wrong.” For your purposes as a student of the Bible, even their error can be instructive for you. It raises questions you should be asking: why did this translation go a different direction than all the others? Is some piece of meaning missing? Is some piece added? When you hold up two Bible translations in comparison, it’s as if a spark jumps between them, illuminating the passage you’re studying. That happens even if one of them is wrong. And the spark is often brighter if you use a greater number of translations.

Even if a particular translation is wrong, in a multitude of counsellors there is safety. If you make a regular habit of quickly checking multiple translations (with the Text Comparison tool in Logos, for example), you’ll have a sufficient number of checks and balances. Translations really don’t tend to differ in massive ways; they tend to differ in nuances. It’s rare that one translation will go off completely in its own direction against the tradition of English Bibles that came before it.

Help me end Bible translation tribalism

I have done my best to end Bible Translation Tribalism, and I’m not done trying. I have now cast two drops of water into the internet ocean and am waiting to see what will happen. So far, social scientists are telling me that it will take what they call “a lot” more drops before the sea levels will rise and wipe out Bible translation tribalism. But if you will share this post on Facebook or Twitter, that counts as two drops. Will you? It’s a start.

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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.

Comments

  1. “It makes sense for denominations and parachurch institutions to favor Bible translations which fit their theological identity.”
    This sounds to me like a way to perpetuate “Bible Translation Tribalism” for sure, but is grabbing another translation the answer?
    Let me urge ALL to get into original language as much as you can.
    It is much safer than ANY translation.
    Is it hard! Maybe a little, but OH how worth it!
    This is where Logos shines bright.
    Take some time, ask some questions in the forum, give it a chance. GET BEYOND ENGLISH.

    • I see what you’re saying; I’ve thought about this a good deal. I think there’s a safe space in between “favoring” and “tribalism.” I think it’s the space I myself am in. =) And I do think that teaching people how to use multiple translations is a big part of the answer to the question, “How do we get people into that safe space?”

      I certainly don’t disagree with your call to learn the original languages; I hope many people will get beyond English. But we know it’s not going to happen for the vast majority of Christians. I feel that pulling down multiple translations is the next best thing.

    • Brad Novacek says:

      Bob, I both agree and disagree with you. I think that learning the original languages is really the best option available to us, but for most people that isn’t feasible or wise. So much damage has been done by bad translation; cults have sprung up because of it.

      After a year of formal training in Greek, you feel like you can translate the whole Bible…like you know most of what you need to know about Greek and the rest is just details. Just one more semester helps us to know just how much we don’t know. What can be said, then, of those who try to be self-taught translators? And Hebrew is even more difficult. Why not leave the difficult task of translating to the best qualified and most experienced who have done the best they can (or that anyone can) to translate the Scriptures with panels and peer reviews, rather than just assuming I can do it better on my own because I have some software than can parse a Greek verb for me?

      Sure there are passages in Scripture that simply CANNOT be adequately translated into English. But that’s why we have commentaries; that’s why we have pastors trained to expound the meaning of the text. Even if the translation is limited, the full meaning can be known from these sources.

      A major part of the Great Reformation was getting the Bible in the vernacular so that the common people could read it for themselves. Let the common people keep their vernacular Bibles because, for most of the world, Greek and Hebrew are second, third, or forth languages. If you want them to get the most meaning out of Scripture, give them good translations; don’t make them do it themselves.

    • Brandon says:

      I agree with the idea of getting back to the original language as much as you can mainly because of the limited ability to translate into English words. That being said, at some point you are relying on someone telling you what that Greek word means and what that morphology tells us. There is a good chance that the person telling you this information was also part of a board that created an English translation. At some point your argumentation becomes circular. Yes certain groups do in fact change the meaning, such as the case with the New World Translation. I have even seen a copy that is an interlinear! Now laying that aside for a moment we have solid English translations to refer to written at various reading levels. When we take translation philosophy into consideration we can see the pros and cons of each and that makes in necessary to consult more than one translation.
      Lastly, consider John Wycliffe was his sacrifice in vain? Should people have just learned Latin?

      Here is the main point. Yes be wise and check your translation, yes read more than one translation, yes if you have the ability look at the Greek, but most importantly read Gods word! Lets quit arguing of the supremacy of Greek or the supremacy of this or that translation and start supporting biblical literacy! Oh what a generation with the bible at so many reading levels and yet they collect dust!

  2. Brad Novacek says:

    I can largely agree with this post. I use the ESV almost exclusively for my english Bible in order to be consistent for my parishioners, though I do tend to look at a few other translations because I know they use them. I prefer the formal equivalence because the order of words and phrasing in the original languages matters. But I also understand that not everyone can easily grasp the meaning of that formal of a translation.
    Despite my personal preferences, I recommend the NIV for kids and newer Christians who may not be fluent in “Christianese.” I have also recommended the NLT to parishioners who have been using paraphrases such as The Message and The Living Bible and are uncomfortable with even the NIV. You can have modern language without resorting to paraphrasing.
    Still, my hope is that as Christians grow in knowledge and experience in the Scriptures that they will switch to a more formal equivalent like the ESV because so much can get lost in dynamic equivalents. I still cherish the NIV, NLT, and even the KJV as good devotional Bibles, but for advanced Bible study that mature Christians should strive for, they aren’t good study Bibles.

  3. Mark H. says:

    For many (I was one) the thought of more than one translation is seen as threating the Inspiration of the Bible. I think many believers struggle to reconcile in their thinking, the idea that God “authored” the Bible, when the translations vary. It’s much easier to say, “this is the RIGHT translation, and all others are wrong”, than it is to understand that God inspired the original autographs, not the translations. They see multiple translations as destroying the preservation of the scriptures, when in fact God uses multiple translations to preserve His written message.

    • Right. It can be disturbing, initially, to see a different “Bible,” as if yours was wrong somehow. I’m urging people to get over that fear and see the value they can enjoy.

  4. My personal problem is not with most of the “modern” translations (I happen to prefer the RSV as my regular version), but with the AV (KJV). I have one dear brother in a Study Group that I lead who is a devotee of the AV – almost to the point of being fanatical! For example, he recently informed the group that the modern translations “leave out great big chunks” of the original. I queried this, and was provided with a couple of places in which a few words (not big chunks!) were in his AV, but not in the more modern translations used by the rest of the group. He was not pleased to be informed that, rather than these words having been left out by later translators, it was the case that the AV translators had inserted them – even although they were not in the MSS available to them! Sadly, I did not speak up then (I like to double-check in such instances) and now have the difficulty of assuring the others that the versions they are using have not been denuded of “great big chunks” of the truth! Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thank you.

    • Brian, Logos sells several books I can recommend on this, including From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man. D.A. Carson also has a good book on the topic. And I hope to be writing a book touching on this topic myself. The manuscript is almost complete.

      There are two major issues regarding the KJV: 1) textual criticism and 2) English translation. Your dear study group brother is focusing on the textual criticism angle, and one reason it’s inappropriate to be telling your Bible study group that their Bibles “leave out” words is that it’s unlikely that the group has done any study in textual criticism. It’s a difficult topic. But we all speak English; we all know that the English of the KJV is not our English. This is where I tend to want to focus the discussion: English. No matter what Greek text you prefer, you ought to be able to read a translation of it in contemporary, respectable English. More on this in my book when it comes out!

  5. Deborah Burdzy says:

    This was such a good article and great explanation of the value of being open to study God’s Word in several translations. Love it!

  6. Caron’s book on Inclusive Language is available as a free pdf download from the Gospel Coalition – https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-inclusive-language-debate

  7. Randall McRoberts says:

    You’re doing good work on this anti-tribalism project. Thanks.

  8. A multitude of Counselors is usually not a good approach. Noah wouldn’t have agreed with that approach. Even Jesus didn’t agree with that approach. “The Word” and The Father and The Spirit are the only counselors we need. Many translations are agenda driven or driven by a certain theology. Tribalism will never end because the translations are making the tribes. How many times have you been in church and heard someone say “my translation says …” as if theirs was had some different in it. If all translations were accurate then they wouldn’t be much variance between the translations. The real problem is not with people that have experience with the Bible and have read a good translation and been led by the Spirit. It is the new christian that doesn’t know or have experience. Their “Milk” may be Chocolate flavored. The Bible is not even vanilla, it’s plain. The pure and unadulterated word of God.

    5  Every word of God is pure:
    He is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
    6  Add thou not unto his words,
    Lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.
    Pr 30:5-6.

    • I cannot but speak that which I have seen and heard. Countless times—and I’m talking about thousands, perhaps over 10,000, over almost 20 years—I have been helped to understand the Bible by looking at multiple Bible translations of various kinds. Have you ever studied a foreign language? Two translations can both be accurate but offer different nuances.

      The proof of this pudding is in the eating. Just try it. It tastes so good! I hope to write some posts with more examples as time passes. You can see some in posts I’ve already written here at Logos Talk.

      In all honesty, I have not had the experience you describe in which people in church say, “My translation says,” and that creates a problem. For me it has always created a fantastic teaching moment. People are never more ready to learn than when they have come up with a good question in advance.

      • Mark, I do agree with you. I do own several translations other than my “Tribe”. I use them to compare, Line upon line, here a little, there a little. I assume that you have led out in church as a pastor or leader? So it surprises me that you have never heard people use that statement “My Bible (translation) Says, ….”. Especially in a study group is when I hear it most. Someone will read a verse in their translation, and then someone else doesn’t think that that was good enough so they want to re-explain it with another translation to make their point, that is why I said that “the translations are making the tribes”. What I have also noticed is that many churches (even within the same denomination) have “their” translation. It’s usually an unspoken thing, but it is usually based on what the pastor or leader preaches from. I also find that the Old Testament is less of a challenge with all the various translations that the New Testament. Food for thought.

        • I certainly can’t deny your experience, and this is helpful to me. (I also must have misunderstood you; I was assuming you were coming from a King James Only perspective.) If a Bible study leader has sufficient skill, he or she can turn those “my Bible says…” moments into teaching opportunities. If no one there has the skill to do so, I can see how that could create confusion. I’m trying to allay the confusion ever so slightly by writing on the topic. I can indeed see why in certain situations it may be good for everyone to have the same translation in their laps. I still also think that there are certain situations where it’s beneficial to have multiple translations on respective laps.

          I think the translations are not making the tribes but enforcing their boundaries.

          Thanks for commenting.

          • Rudy Owens says:

            Mark, in your response to Fred, you said you had never experienced someone introducing the idea that their translation says something different. In over 40 years of my Bible teaching, preaching/pastoring, seminary level teaching, I find it fascinating that you have not experienced those type of commits. In the Church setting, I have always encouraged the members to all use the same translation, our “tribes” translation, as this limits confusion. As Bible study leader, I have felt the responsibility to introduce different interpretations of a passage, verse, or in some instances, even words, but have found that using different translations only genders confusion. Once, in a new converts class, a discussing arose about a certain interpretation of the passage under study. There were some in the class using different translations and as they began reading what their “Bible” said, something frightening happened. One of the new Christians raised the question, “Which one is the Word of God?” When I attempted to explain that they were all the word of God, he responded, “How can that possible be? You have been teaching us that the Bible is the Word of God, but these “Bibles” say something entirely different.” Confusion!
            I understand there is no such thing as an entirely word for word translation, but when comparison is made with many of the modern English translations and the original languages, many of the modern translations don’t even come close to what the original says and hence, become an interpretation instead of a translation. I agree with Grudem’s premise in Translating Truth, this takes away the average Christian’s opportunity to realize that the original language may say something different. Now we have the “word of men” and not the Word of God! You said that perhaps over 10,000 times the use of other translations have given you a better understanding of God’s Word. Is it possible that you have been deceived rather, into misunderstanding, by the interpretive translations you are trusting. When the meaning is so drastically different, how can we be so sure what is correct? Indeed, how can they both be the Word of God?
            I must agree with Fred!

          • A fair question, and thanks for writing in—that story is helpful to me. I can’t and won’t deny your experience in that Bible study. That could be difficult to handle.

            But I read Greek and Hebrew (and I can stumble through Aramaic a bit). I don’t read them with native-level fluency, but I can pretty much always figure out what’s going on when translations differ—and I do, habitually. In other words, I check translations against the standard: the original. So no, I do not believe it is possible that I have been deceived. And of those 10,000 times I’ve compared translations, in only a tiny fraction of those comparisons would I call the differences between translations “drastic.” In almost every case, I would call them “understandable” or even “desirable.” For examples, see my long comment to Craig Giddens. I want to understand the Bible. (Drastic differences typically occur due to textual issues, not translation issues.)

            However, if a Bible study leader doesn’t read Greek or Hebrew, I admit that handling questions could be difficult. In that case, and if we’re talking about new Christians, asking everyone to bring the same translation may be wise. It is my belief, however, based on many years of personal experience, that people with good grounding in Scripture (and perhaps a little training in some foreign language or other?) can learn the skill of comparing Bible translations.

          • Rudy, I must point out that you have misread what Mark said. He didn’t say that he has never had someone point out that their translation was different. What he said was no one has ever said “’My translation says,’ and that creates a problem. (Emphasis mine)

            I teach two studies every week with at least half a dozen different translations in the room (ranging from NLT to a German-English interlinear Geneva Bible). I hear “my translation says” at least every ten minutes…but it doesn’t create a problem.

            What it does is create a discussion. It actually helps me to explain nuances of the original language that aren’t necessarily visible (or emphasized) in a single translation. People don’t bring up “my translation says” out of confusion or defensiveness (even when one of the translations is almost shockingly different); they bring it up for the sake of clarity…because examining the nuances of multiple translations (which are based in the original language) helps us to better understand the full truth of God’s Word.

            Is it possible that a new convert could become confused by different translations? Sure, and I know that it does happen. But I would rather explain to a study group that God inspired the autographs in the original languages (not our English translations or even the extant Greek and Hebrew manuscripts); explain the accuracy of the extant manuscripts and that the differences and copying errors are almost always negligible in in text and meaning; explain the translation theory of spheres of meaning for individual words that can be legitimately translated in different ways while still being “literally” accurate; explain formal and dynamic equivalence and their impact on translation; and explain that although the translations differ in English, that both meanings are present and active in the fullness of God’s Word, than to forsake that fullness in favor of a single idea of a single set of interpreters/translators for the sake of avoiding confusion. I would rather explain all of that to my group than to have any one of them (new convert or lifetime Christian) believing that the NIV (for example) is God’s Word, but all of the other translations are just bad interpretations which don’t qualify as God’s Word. I would rather allow (and even create) confusion for the sake of equipping the Saints (and not letting the brethren be uninformed), teaching them about this very contemporary issue, than to simply pretend it doesn’t exist and send the flock out with a half-truth of Scripture to get blind-sided by different (and legitimate) theological ideas. That’s how you destroy faith.

            Confusion breeds interest, and interest is the hallmark of teachable moments. Let them get confused…and teach them. Different translations don’t create tribalism; failure to acknowledge other translations as God’s Word does. Even if you understand it, not explaining it to new converts is simply letting them put their heads in the sand…letting them become tribalists for whatever translation you’ve let them believe is THE Word of God to the detriment of all others.

            If you can read Koine Greek as well as Paul and ancient Hebrew as well as Moses, and you happen to have the millennia old autographs penned by their own hands, you have the right to get dogmatic…to say that THIS is the Word of God. For the rest of us, we need to recognize the complexity and depth of God’s Word and that we need different translations which highlight the different nuances of a verse/phrase/word in order to even to begin to understand such greatness.

            Besides, what happens in 20 years when the NIV (again, for example) is updated to reflect the evolution of the English language or new scholarship/discoveries in the syntax of ancient Hebrew? Now the readers of the NIV2036 are just a bunch of heretics for believing that adulterated false word because it reads different than my NIV1984. Again I say, different translations don’t create tribalism; refusing to acknowledge other good translations does.

          • Brad, this is right on. This is pretty much just what I would say.

            Rudy Owens, I’m happy to hear your thoughts, too. And let’s keep on keeping it civil. We all profess the same desire here: to teach people God’s words.

        • Brad Novacek says:

          Fred, I sincerely hope that your participants aren’t adding their translations to the mix because what another’s says isn’t “good enough.” I hope that it is simply to add clarity to the discussion which is part of Mark’s main point.

          Also, note that Mark didn’t say he never heard it, but that he’s never heard someone say it and it caused a problem.

          For a fuller explanation of both these points, see my response to Rudy below.

  9. Anthony Grubb says:

    Tribalism, lol, a creative term! I feel free to use any Bible translation that fits the audience and the topic, but I am ever reminded of my first brush with a false teacher back as a teen. The guy was teaching annihilationism on TV and had me convinced, hook, line, and sinker that Sunday morning before we went out the door to church. (Yeah, we watched the tube Sunday morning.) My Sunday School teacher straightened me out with Matthew 25:46–Ah, but not so fast, ’cause I had ordered the free false teaching booklet! It arrived and I began to pour over it to see how I’d so readily bought in to something that didn’t hold up to the whole counsel of Scripture. What I discovered was that the teacher jumped around from translation to translation to attempt to prove his point (or wishes) as fact on the several Scriptures he addressed. As I started to zero in on his use of each translation, however, I found that if he had stayed with any one translation he used, like the NAS for instance–while he may have found it useful to him in the one or two instances where he had shared it, on the many other Scriptures he used this one translation would totally debunk his false teaching. Thus he flitted from one translation to another in a very biased, deceptive, and even self-serving manner. Ever since that time, I have maintained a devotion to stick with a given “tribe” throughout a tome, unless some special circumstance warrants the use of a special selection from a different translation.

    • An excellent point and a well-told story. My equivalent is that I read a book once, one that shall remain nameless, that quoted the Bible quite a bit but quoted many, many different versions for no apparent reason. I actually don’t think the author was twisting the verses to say things they weren’t saying, but the fact that he didn’t stick with one translation sort of made you suspect that he was! A preacher may need on occasion to to appeal to alternate translations, and in that case it helps him to be able to refer to a trusted name like the NASB or the NIV. But if he doesn’t explain why he’s shifting versions the shifting may appear suspect. My focus is more, however, on the individual Bible student in his or her study.

  10. Darrell L. says:

    A great article.
    God bless your efforts, Mark.
    I am weary of this argument.
    I once subscribed to the “superiority” of formal equivalence translations. But over the years God has kindly moved me past this distraction. Not being a scholar and not knowing any of the biblical languages, I am absolutely dependent on the servants that the Spirit has raised and supplied for a faithful translation. I believe I own, in one format or another, almost every modern English translation and I cannot see how any of them fail to do what they are supposed to do: teach me to know and love God, believe in Christ for salvation, and to live a life pleasing to Him.
    The choices make for easy suitability. A blessing.
    My first preference is the ESV, but I also love the NLT. Depending on their background, The NIV and the NLT are my first choices of bibles to give to seekers or new believers. The KJV, NASB, NKJV, even the Message seem to be at home in my NIV-based church. And I believe we are better for it.
    Let’s stop the madness. We are fighting and dividing over blessings.

    • This was well written. I was particularly struck by the last line.

      I don’t have universal experience, of course, but after years of getting benefit from all kinds of translations, and after years of never seeing anyone in any clear way “hurt” by the ones I didn’t favor, I’m questioning why any individual Bible student should avoid any of the (good) Bible translations out there.

  11. MJ Smith says:

    I had to chuckle at bit reading the responses because my own take is very different. First, I would never assume that the entire congregation was literate even in their mother tongue … so pressing original languages is clearly out of bounds. Not to mention that it is my experience in other languages that people with a little knowledge rather than true fluency in another language are more apt to muddy the water rather than clarify it.

    Second, I would always assume that the translation that is used within a church service must be judged partially on the understandability – other how well it reads orally/aurally and how well the vocabulary is suited to the congregation. The assumption is always, of course, that they will learn the vocabulary over time.

    Thirdly, because the members of the congregation have differing mother tongues, levels of English fluency and reading abilities, I would never assume that the translation used in the home is generally that which is used in the church. And since homes with only teens and adults have different levels on knowledge than homes with younger children, I would not expect the translation used in the home to remain constant over time.

    Finally, I am used to church meetings frequently beginning with lectio divinia in which 3 or 4 translations are deliberately used.

    What I wonder is why the practice of the two theological streams became so different on such a fundamental practice as reading the scripture?

    • I completely agree with your first paragraph, though I’d add that people’s intuitive understanding of English is generally superior to their explicit understanding. That is, they know accurately that something is “right” or “wrong” but can’t explain why.

      I fully agree with your second and third paragraphs as well, though with regard to the latter I would like to leave room for some families, some churches, and some Christian groups to decide together that the benefits of having a common translation outweigh the detriments for poorer readers. I can’t say I prefer that situation, but I can see their points.

      I’m sure you don’t lack an opinion: why do you think the two theological streams differ on the practice of Scripture reading? =) Not so incidentally, the one praise one of my favorite leaders in my stream gives about the Anglican stream (and I know you’re not Anglican, but this is still interesting) is that he has heard public reading of Scripture done very well among them. When I watch the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge, I see it, too. It’s really wonderful. And public reading of Scripture happens to be commanded in Scripture itself (“give attention to reading”).

  12. Rick King says:

    I agree with using multiple translations and original language text as much as possible. I consider myself somewhat “learned” in theology and see the intent in most good translations.
    What we have found is that even new believers come to the Bible with certain preconceived ideas and tend to either miss, or read into the text what’s there, or not there, no matter which translation we give them. We try to teach them to read as “secularly” first asking the who, what, when, where, how, why question one sentence at a time. Most good translations are at a 6th-7th grade reading level.
    We have done our own blind comparisons of translations and were surprised when we discovered which we preferred. All were a little different, but for Reformed folks, the HCSB ranked high. Based on reviewers calling it an SBC Bible, we would never have considered it.
    I said the above to say that it’s not the English words that are the problem, it’s the willingness in our heart to see what’s there and compare what we’ve read in that “section” with a view of immediate context, book context, Bible context, even if it blows the top of your head off to let it speak the truth, not trying to make it fit our philosophy.

    • Agreed. Who’s “we”? I want to know more about these blind tests, too!

      We don’t hand people a Bible translation (or two or three), and then leave them alone, do we? We disciple them in large part by making them members of a community, the church. A community with gifted leaders—imperfect themselves, but still Christ’s gifts to his people (Eph 4).

      • Rick King says:

        Lol. The “we” was not meant to sound like a large test. If it did, “I” apologize. We meaning working with friends and discussions in small groups. Nothing scientific.

        If I was not clear, I was actually agreeing with you. And to your point about leaving them to themselves, absolutely not in our church.

        Thanks for a thoughtful article.

        • Aha. Still interesting that you would do even informal “blind” studies.

          And I didn’t think you were disagreeing; helpful comment—thank you.

          (I also didn’t think you left new Christians to themselves, and yet I’m glad to hear you say so assuredly that you do not!)

  13. Christian P.J. Bahnerth PhD says:

    I agree with those who say that we use the Greek and/or the Latin texts; however, they need to be studied beyond the level that is possible for the post primary school education level because the meaning of the words used may not convey today what they meant in the first centuries of Christendom. Having said that, the MSS still provide the source of our authority in doctrine. The use of English and other translations are a great aid in determining what the MSS recorded for us. Apart from weighing in to the debate which Version is the better, I would use as a litmus test the correctness of translation Acts 3:21 which in some translations says Christ must ‘remain’ in heaven whilst others translate Christ must be ‘received’ in heaven; to test this I must refer to Christ’s own words “where two or three are gathered together in My name there will I be among them”.
    Use many versions in your own language, but compare them to the MSS.

  14. Ray S Frederick says:

    Love the above discussion and use all the ‘good” one’s– LOGOS 6 just gave me more than I need —But I guess at 92+ ‘I need all the help I can get’ so the Lord lead me on a journey about 8 years ago. It was also about ten years ago that the church I belong to ( I was born a Baptist in 23′ ) is now interdenominational. It really started with a trip to Israel with a 4 square church.(with a loving and questioning pastor) which also offered several areas of ministry that I got involved with RFKC a camp for 7-11 foster & abused kid’s, also a ministry for adults. Also a Messianic congregation helps church #1 with homeless breakfast on the 3rd Sunday.and so I guess I belong to each “tribe’. People often wonder which tribe you belong to, which seems of the most importance.—-I’m not sure which ‘tribe I belong to. I thought we belonged to Christ.
    I also find that I am uncomfortable in a group where everybody agrees. If we all think alike how can we learn. To me’ while important, being ‘right’ isn’t as important as being in relationship with one another.— and when we are in relationship with one another we learn and we are in relationship with Christ — you know–“when two or three are gathered together in My Name” Shalom .

    • Thanks for writing in. You offer some good thoughts.

      Paul is willing to tell professing Christians that they are under anathema if they adopt a different gospel (Gal. 1:8), and he’s willing to command believers to put significant distance (“withdraw yourselves”) between themselves and brothers in Christ who are sinning:

      Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us…. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed (2 thess 3:6, 14).

      So being “right” to some degree is necessary for real relationships with other Christians. The question is what that degree is! Different tribes will give different answers.

  15. So being “right” to some degree is necessary for real relationships with other Christians. The question is what that degree is! Different tribes will give different answers.