3 Reasons Preachers Shouldn’t Publicly Contradict a Bible Translation

I cringe almost every time I hear a preacher criticize a particular phrase from an English Bible translation in preaching—even and especially those times when I caught myself doing it before I could stop myself. We preachers and Bible teachers would do better not to publicly correct the Bible translations on people’s laps.

Here are three reasons why.

1. We are putting down people our sheep need to trust.

When we criticize a given English Bible translation or marvel at how they could have gotten a passage so wrong, we are not putting down a faceless publishing company; we are putting down people. People who have given their entire lives to study and teach Scripture and to make the Bible available to others. People who are at that very moment sitting in a pew somewhere or standing in a pulpit like we are. People whom our people need to trust.

Why do our people need to trust Bible translators? Because without Bible translators, they don’t have the Bible. They’ve got to trust at least someone to take God’s words on the sometimes arduous journey from Hebrew and Greek into English (or whatever modern language they speak).

When we criticize the nameless, faceless (and defenseless) people who supposedly messed up the Bible, we destroy a trust that is generally healthy. What evangelical Bible translator out there purposefully sets out to misrepresent God’s word? Would we criticize his rendering that way if he were one of our Sunday School teachers? One of the translators of the NLT—he worked on Numbers—is about 40 feet from me as I speak. Super nice guy. A faithful churchman. Back trouble I’ve been praying for. A real-live person.

And yet I have heard partisans for multiple (other) translations talk dismissively about his work. I’ve also seen the end results of that kind of talk: the people in the pews get an unhealthy message. Often their consciences are bound for or against given translations, and they feel a revulsion they can’t explain for Bible translations they’ve never read a word of, translations that could be very useful for them.

I don’t mean we can never disagree with a particular rendering. God has not chosen to give equal clarity to all portions of Scripture, or even to all lexemes. So there are some real corkers in Scripture, passages that scatter the translators all across the map. It is healthy to acknowledge this fact, because our people should not trust any one translation so completely that it becomes, in effect, perfect—doubly inspired.

So I declare open season on στοιχεῖα (stoicheia), and if we can make our comments with the spirit of friendly competition rather than us-versus-them, godly-versus-stupid/crazy/evil, I personally think it’s okay, even good, to come down in favor of one translation or another. But no put-downs are necessary.

2. We may be overestimating our abilities.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: do we really and truly know more about Greek verb tenses or translation theory or textual criticism or the difference between hades and hell and sheol and gehenna than the biblical scholars who put together the NIV/ESV/KJV/NASB?

Do we really and truly know English better than the stylists who worked on those translations, people who had access to linguistic corpuses which show, as scientifically as possible, what certain English words and sentence structures mean today?

Maybe, maybe. Translators are not perfect; they make occasional dumb mistakes as humans after the fall are wont to do. They “fix” one problem of tricky English and unwittingly create a new problem of intertextual interpretation. And we preachers have had some education of our own, or we wouldn’t be preaching, using Logos Bible Software, or reading this blog. But I think it is safer generally to assume that smart people had good reasons for choosing the renderings we see in the pages of the Bible in front of us, and that they could explain those reasons if we had a chance to sit down with them. The quest to discover their reasons may uncover valuable truths we were missing. I always try to go on that quest before I dismiss what I see in front of me (Prov 18:13).

If we absolutely must disagree with one Bible translation’s rendering of a certain passage, I suggest we use it as an opportunity to praise and lift up another one. If we have to take some stock away from the 1984 NIV in our people’s eyes because of its translation of σάρξ (sarx) as “sinful nature” rather than “flesh,” then let’s make sure to reinvest that stock of trust in the 2011 NIV for acknowledging and fixing the problem.

Quite often, there will be a good motivation behind that “dumb mistake.” So let’s give it publicly: I appreciate the way the NIV translators are always striving to make the Bible text understandable to the average reader. (I always think of the time the NIV “added” the word “boundary” in Psalm 16:6—though I would say it was not an addition but a necessary clarification for English readers—instantly clearing up a decades-long misunderstanding I didn’t know I had.)

If we don’t put public stock in other Bible translators, and other Bible interpreters more generally, we may find that we do real harm to our sheep—and to our own ministries. We ourselves falter; we ourselves are the unwitting causes of serious misunderstandings. We don’t want our people to go through a market crash in their faith—because we encouraged them to trust their pastor as the only reliable Bible teacher in existence.

We’re going to be wrong sometimes in our interpretation; we’ll breed far less distrust if we’re humbly wrong than if we’re arrogantly wrong. Some humble-hedging may help us when it comes time to disagree with our Bible translations: “I may be missing something, but it seems to me that the NIV communicates the truth here a bit more effectively than the ESV.” We can’t humble-hedge the gospel or the call for repentance or other things the Bible clearly says; we should speak confidently as the oracles of God (1 Pet 4:11). But we should also know when we might be missing something. Humble people cultivate that sense.

3. We are withholding God’s gifts from our people

Bad-mouthing a Bible translation stirs up the kind of party spirit Paul condemned: “I’m with Paul,” “I’m with Peter!,” “I’m with Apollos!” And in my experience, it doesn’t merely place other translations on a second tier but on a villain tier.

If my kids are fighting over who has the best ball, I want to say, “I bought all of these balls for all of you! Just enjoy them and use them; don’t twist my gifts into an excuse to fight each other!”

And that’s pretty much just what God, our Father, says (through Paul):

Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

Paul and Apollos and Peter? All these Bible teachers are yours; don’t fight over them. The men and women who gave us the NIV? All are yours. The teams who produced the ESV and NLT and CSB and NKJV and NET? Yours. They are gifts to the church (Eph 4:11–12). We should all enjoy them and use them; we should not twist them into an excuse to fight one another.

Pastors are supposed to guard the flock (Acts 20:28–31); it is appropriate sometimes to warn them about doctrinal dangers. We may indeed want to suggest to people that another Bible translation might be a better use of their study time. But I personally am careful not to scare my people away from something God gave them for their good, just because (like Paul and Peter and Apollos) it isn’t perfect.


The line between “helpful contribution” and “hobby horse” is not always clear, and my many posts on the use-all-the-good-Bible-translations theme may be moving ineluctably from the first category to the second. So I must point out that I’m not the only one who sees the problems I’m seeing. My friend Andy Naselli sees it, too, and his article on the topic is fantastic. And the respected authors of Going Deeper with New Testament Greek (Koestenberger and Plummer) observe,

A pastor should never undermine the congregation’s trust in English Bible translations through comments such as, “The ESV gets this really wrong here . . . .” or “I can’t believe the NIV says . . . .” It is arrogant and detrimental for the pastor to present himself as the infallible pope of Bible translation. (B&H Academic Blog)

We pastors and other Bible teachers can model a careful, appreciative use of all God’s good gifts to Bible students. If our people ever get asked, “Which Bible translation is best?” They should know by our example to reply, “All the good ones.”

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Written by
Mark Ward

Christian, husband, father, writer, ultimate frisbee player when possible.

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  • Thanks, Mark, for a helpful thought that we often overlook. When I disagree with a translation, I need to admit that faithful Christian translators see things differently and that I may be wrong in my interpretation. Let’s share the divergence with our people in positive ways; then they’ll grow in their ability to accept differences between faithful servants of Christ. We’re not necessarily right or wrong. We search together for the depth and breadth of God’s word.

    • Nailed it!

      And yet “we are not necessarily right or wrong” is the rub, isn’t it? You can be “right” and “wrong” in translating the Bible, but you can also be “right” and “pretty much right” and “a tiny bit off depending on how someone reads you.” Teaching our sheep how to distinguish among those options—in other words, teaching them discernment—starts, I think, with giving them a fundamentally trusting and positive and open viewpoint on the Bible translations that are actually likely to end up in their laps.

  • Mark,

    I wonder if you have a suggestion as to what a teacher might say when he reaches Psalm 29:1 in a church that uses the KJV and it translates what’s quite apparently “sons of God” as “ye mighty?”

    I struggled with that because it’s not as if the translation is picking up on some textual variant. At least, I don’t know of any in this case.

    And it’s rather important for understanding the psalm to know to whom David is addressing.

    I think I said something like “I simply don’t know why the KJV translators translated it that way.” Maybe that statement would fall under your “humble-hedging” approach.

    I wonder if you think there would have been a better way to express the fact that what’s written in the KJV doesn’t seem to be the most helpful way to translate that text.

    • Your approach was fine if you had insufficient time to figure out why the KJV translators did that—like in a Bible study group situation where someone says, “Why does the KJV say something so different from what your Bible translation says?” I, too, was initially stymied. I couldn’t remember any use of el that meant “mighty.” Saying “I don’t know” is a lot better than saying, “These stupid/crazy/evil translators!” I might simply have added, “I bet they had a good reason, but I personally couldn’t figure it out in the time I had.” I might also, depending on my audience, skip over the issue entirely. If the one person in my congregation who is holding a KJV is not likely, in my opinion, to notice the issue, I’ll skip it.

      But the best thing to do, if you did have the time and resources, is to figure it out. And Kidner gives some guidance here (I do love Kidner):

      ’ēlîm is the plural of ’ēl, which is a synonym of ’ĕlōhîm, God. On ’ĕlōhîm as ‘angels’, see on 8:5, 6. In one composite expression ’ēl means ‘power’ (Gen. 31:29; Deut. 28:32, etc.); hence AV, RV hazard ‘the mighty’. Some MSS have an additional consonant, whereby the LXX and Vulg. understood the word as ‘rams’ (cf. PBV ‘bring young rains’). But the corresponding passage, Ps. 96:7f., implies that ’ēlîm here, like the ‘families’ there, are the worshippers, not the offerings.

      Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973).

      In other words, the KJV translators made a rational choice to reflect certain other uses of the key word here. And if you check multiple translations as a habit, you’ll see that the NASB and NKJV do the same thing the KJV does. It does seem pretty important that a preacher figure out who’s being addressed here, and it’s worth some time explaining the issue to others. I think modeling good interpretation here would mean alerting people to the leading reasons you took the view you did, and doing your best to give the leading reasons why the KJV/NKJV/NASB took the view they did. You will thereby implicitly teach your hearers 1) that reason must be applied to interpretation and 2) what kinds of reasons are generally considered valid by the community of evangelical Bible interpreters—and, the point of this post, 3) that nearly always translators have a good reason or two (or ten!) for the choices they make.

      Does that help?

  • Dear Brother Ward, this is really great! I am a retired pastor, although not retired from ministry. I am member of a denomination that in the past was a proud proponent of the KJV only!!! (though, thankfully most no longer are) to the point that I have witnessed people who would, during the service, be asked by the preacher/Sunday School teacher/Bible study leader, to stand and read a particular portion of scripture out loud. If that random individual read from a version other than the KJV that person would sometimes be openly rebuked. If not by the pastor or person conducting the service then by another congregant. Needless to say sometimes that individual might never be seen in our services again.

    • Great comment. Thank you for reading!

      Naturally, I had KJV-Onlyism partly in mind while writing this post—but my main focus was actually not there. I have heard KJV-Only preachers harshly criticize other versions, of course; but I have heard non-KJV-Only preachers do the same thing.

  • Well taken and some excellent points. On the other hand, doesn’t it have something to do with which translation we are addressing? Let’s be honest, some are horrific. Plus, what about those times when one translation contradicts another? Let’s be honest again. The NIV is, in fact, wrong at times when compared with formal translations.

    • I’m not sure I can think of any truly “horrific” renderings in standard evangelical Bible translations. In my long experience with them, I think I can safely say that there is always a rational justification for their choices. Often that justification is readability, and maybe in certain circumstances (like in expository preaching or close study) I’d prefer to sacrifice readability to some other value, such as formal correspondence of word order. The rubric I suggest for evaluating evangelical Bible translations is usefulness: which translation will be most useful for me in this evangelistic conversation? Or in this preaching series? Or in my devotional reading time this year?

      • Greetings, Brother Ward. If I may be so bold, shouldn’t “usefulness” be dictated by the most accurate rendering of the text? Is usefulness actually relative depending upon what we are doing? Also, as the other half of my post stated, what about those times when one translation contradicts another? Again, the NIV is, in fact, wrong at times when compared with formal translations. Do we not have the right (even responsibility, in fact) to say, “The NIV is clearly incorrect here”? Out of a couple of dozen examples I addressed in an article a couple of years ago, in 1 Cor. 7:1-2. the NIV is patently wrong with: “It is good for a man not to marry.” The Greek haptō never means “to marry,” rather refers to sexual relations. It is, in fact, so used in the Septuagint (Gen. 20:4, 6; Ruth 2:9; Prov. 6:29). The NIV is not translating here, rather it is interpreting in view of the rest of the context. Again, there many other examples.

        • Okay, now this I can get excited about—a perfect, real-life example of a significant difference between translations that calls for the very approach I’m recommending in this post!

          I have indeed tended to disagree with the NIV translators over 1 Cor 7:1–2. If people in my congregation are carrying the NIV (or even just studying it—and I hope they are), then I am obligated to make some comments on the issue when I preach this passage. And the whole time I do so, I will observe the translators-of-major-evangelical-Bibles-are-not-dummies principle. If a committee headed by Doug Moo and including Mark Strauss and Bruce Waltke (et al.) persists in this rendering after decades of public disagreement over it, they simply must have good reasons for doing so. It’s my job as a preaching pastor to discover those reasons and mediate them to my congregation. It’s my job to model how exegetical disagreements are handled by responsible, gracious Christians who are “easy to be intreated” as the old KJV says. I simply would not call the NIV at 1 Cor 7:1–2 “patently wrong” or a “glaring inaccuracy.” I would also not say, “The NIV is interpreting rather than translating,” unless I had opportunity to make some significant qualifications regarding the ways in which all translations necessarily interpret. I happen to think that the NIV is giving too much weight to a disputable interpretation in this passage, but until I can explain why gifted evangelical teachers did something, I’m going to hold my criticism, or perhaps humble-hedge.

          Here’s another thing I would do: I would quote an authority when my disagreement is obvious and significant. Carson, in fact, says that the NIV’s “not to marry” represents “an unwarranted softening of the Greek.”

          What I can’t do is say, “The NIV totally messed this one up. I don’t know what they were thinking.” If I don’t know what they were thinking, I’d better remain silent. Proverbs 18:13 is my go-to verse here.

          And as for usefulness, let me try to clarify: “accuracy” is not transparent standard. There are multiple legitimate ways to translate a given verse. They all say “the same thing,” but they say it in ways that may be more or less suitable for specific audiences. The NASB and the ESV are great translations, but the NIrV was more “accurate” for the functionally illiterate people I pastored for almost six years. As Augustine said,

          What is the use of correct speech if it does not meet with the listener’s understanding? There is no point in speaking at all if our words are not understood by the people to whose understanding our words are directed. The teacher, then, will avoid all words that do not communicate; if, in their place, he can use other words which are intelligible in their correct forms, he will choose to do that, but if he cannot—either because they do not exist or because they do not occur to him at the time—he will use words that are less correct, provided that the subject-matter itself is communicated and learnt correctly.

          This aim of being intelligible should be strenuously pursued . . . . What use is a golden key, if it cannot unlock what we want to be unlocked, and what is wrong with a wooden one, if it can, since our sole aim is to open closed doors?

          • Brother Ward, your comments are again well taken. I simply don’t understand, however, the reluctance to say the NIV is clearly wrong here, as it is elsewhere. As I have shared from my current pulpit for 31 years and for 12 before that elsewhere, words mean things, and haptō NEVER means “to marry,” regardless of how anyone wants to give it “dynamic equivalence.” As my last word, I would suggest you read (if you haven’t already) Robert Martin’s book, “Accuracy of Translation” (Banner of Truth). This is not from some “KJV Only” penman (or publisher), rather from a concerned pastor who thoroughly analyzes the NIV. My dear brother, the NIV is not a good translation for the “functionally illiterate” or anyone else. I’ve been studying this issue and related ones for 25 years, and I am convinced that the NIV is among the worst translations ever fostered on the Church. Soli Deo Gloria.

          • I respectfully disagree, emphasis on the “respectful.” When someone with such a long and faithful pastorate disagrees with me, I take it very seriously. Thank you for reading and for commenting so graciously.

  • When I hear a comment these days that “Such and such a ‘modern version’ is in violation of the last verse of Revelation,” I have just stopped trying. I’m tired of being called a heretic or worse for just pointing out that the last verse of Revelation is just specific to the book of Revelation. We English speakers are basically so arrogant, that I can’t even speak to the issue any longer….. we have members of our church that English is a (weak) second language….. they bring the translations of their “First” language…… it has created a lot of confusion in our midst to point out they are “not” carrying “God’s Word.” God help us!

    • That kind of rhetoric is indeed unhelpful in the extreme. And it’s actually coming out of discussions of textual criticism, not of translation. In general, I’d encourage people who cannot read ancient Chinese to avoid strident opinions on which of the manuscripts of the Analects are the most faithful to Confucius’ original sayings. Likewise, I think a good shepherd of souls will have occasion to say, “If you don’t read Greek, you probably shouldn’t be speaking so confidently about textual criticism of the New Testament, a matter on which good people disagree.” Then have them turn to Prov 18:13 in whatever version they want. =)

  • Mark Ward,
    I disagree. If a translation has a glaring inaccuracy, the translators should be called out on it. I would argue that preachers even have an obligation to do so, for we are feeding the flock, and if we see in their food something that does not belong there, or if we see that something that should be there is not there, we should not pretend otherwise.
    Are you really saying that we should pretend otherwise?
    Are you saying that we should perpetuate a pretense of accuracy, concerning passages where a translation contains an inaccuracy, just to inculcate an unjustified confidence in a version that does not deserve it at that particular point?

    • James Snapp, can you give an example of a glaring inaccuracy in a major evangelical Bible translation? And note: “I don’t mean we can never disagree with a particular rendering…. It’s okay…to come down in favor of one translation or another.”

  • Mark Ward,
    Yes; surely the mistreatment of Matthew 10:28 in “The Message” is a glaring inaccuracy. (Not that I would ever preach a sermon based on “The Message” in a million years, but some folks would.)

    See for additional details

    Also the base-text of the NIV (current edition) is wrong in Mark 1:41 — a textual issue rather than translational, but it is still worth pointing out if one uses the NIV, particularly because readers are likely to wonder why, in the 1984 NIV, Jesus is filled with compassion in the same passage where, in the 2011 NIV, Jesus is indignant.

    • James, if you genuinely believed I was talking about the Message when I mentioned Bible translations, then it’s my fault for being unclear. I like the Message just fine as a paraphrase, a stimulating “idea bag,” as a friend of mine just called it. I would not generally preach from it. It is not, nor does it claim to be, a Bible “translation.” I’ll grant that its preface and introduction could be much clearer (in my mind) in distinguishing paraphrase from translation. But Peterson taught Greek and Hebrew: he knew that he was not “translating” Matt 23:27 (I borrow this example from Fee and Strauss) when he wrote, “You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh.” He knew he was, as Fee and Strauss say, “transculturating.” The kind of outright hatred and disgust I see people express for the Message just seems misplaced to me—unless or until a lot of people start treating it like it’s a Bible translation. And I’m not seeing that.

      And as for textual issues, I believe my approach recommended in this post applies: you and I shouldn’t put down people our sheep need to trust, and we shouldn’t overestimate your own skill on textual issues. Your website indicates that you are educated with regard to textual issues, and yet you take a different approach than the scholarly mainstream. Fine: the mainstream needs some naysayers so it doesn’t calcify into an unassailable tradition. Unless, however, you are prepared to question the motives rather than the methods of textual critics on the other side, I recommend going real easy on the NIV at Mark 1:41. Do you really think that Doug Moo and his team have an agenda in which they wish to make Jesus look bad? If they are wrong, can they be honestly wrong rather than maliciously wrong? They could have made a different textual decision; they were not wedded indissolubly to the Nestle-Aland. Mark 1:41 provides a good opportunity to say to our sheep, if they’re even holding an NIV, “There are good reasons behind the NIV2011’s textual choice here; they are working hard to make the right choice. I think the reasons behind the NIV1984’s textual choice are better—here’s why.” In this approach you’re taking stock from one standard evangelical Bible and giving it to another.

      I’m still looking, then, for you to provide an example of a “glaring inaccuracy” in a major evangelical Bible translation. Dr. J.D. Watson made a valiant attempt with 1 Cor 7:1–2 in the NIV. I’m not willing to call that a glaring inaccuracy, but it probably comes as close as any I can think of. Can you find one for the list?

      • Mark Ward,

        MW: . . . “unless or until a lot of people start treating it like it’s a Bible translation. And I’m not seeing that.”

        Leapin’ lizards, man, you obviously are not seeing because you’re not looking. The publishers of The Message market it as a Bible translation 24/7/365.

        MW: ” Unless, however, you are prepared to question the motives rather than the methods of textual critics on the other side, I recommend going real easy on the NIV at Mark 1:41.”

        Eh? Surely the moment motives are brought into play, people will cry “ad hominem” and so forth. For details on why the TNIV/NIV-2011’s textual decision at Mark 1:41 is wrong, see http://www.thetextofthegospels.com/2016/03/mark-141-why-niv-is-wrong.html .

        MW: “Do you really think that Doug Moo and his team have an agenda in which they wish to make Jesus look bad? If they are wrong, can they be honestly wrong rather than maliciously wrong?”

        Mark, if a doctor sincerely prescribes a medicine, and the medicine kills you, are you less dead because the doctor was honest? I’m just not seeing any validity to your qualification about motives.

        MW: “I’m still looking, then, for you to provide an example of a “glaring inaccuracy” in a major evangelical Bible translation.”

        Not a problem, but since The Message apparently is not a “major evangelical Bible translation,” would you mind telling me what versions *are* major evangelical Bible translations to you?

        Meanwhile, here’s one link (of dozens of dozens) showing that The Message is being marketed as a Bible translation.

  • How would you address the issue of translation for hidden agendas? For example, a bible translation that has gone gender-less. Liberal theologians would have us believe that God has no gender (all the fuss made about ‘the shack’ movie) Yet Jesus consistently called God His Father. Jesus Himself said “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father’, and the last time I checked, Jesus is described emphatically as male. Changing word meaning for a modern society changes the meaning of the text and gives rise to speculation that sin is in fact not sin – hence a different gospel.
    One that we should have no part of and warn our sheep against.

    • Ian, I’m afraid you may be confusing “gender-inclusive” and “genderless.” There is no Bible translation I am aware of which calls Jesus a female or a neuter. Gender-inclusive Bibles rather have made a judgment call about contemporary English: they think the generic “he” is no longer generic to modern ears, which in turn makes general promises (“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee”) sound like they were issued specifically to men and not to women. That call may be disputed (and people I respect greatly, such as Vern Poythress, do carefully dispute it), but it is not intrinsically a “liberal” idea.

      However, if there comes a Bible translation which denies the maleness of Jesus or balks at calling God “Father,” I’m with you. Let’s warn the sheep about that one if it comes.

  • Hi Mark,

    Right after I was saved, I went to a local bookstore and was shown an NIV. I used it for quite some time until I started to go to a IF Church. I was told to throw it out. For years I was reading the KJV (Which I do appreciate and have numerous verses memorized). I cannot go into those churches anymore. Although I know that it was not the translation, I was left beat down, unhappy and trying to live a life of works (that everyone could see) although I was told we are saved by faith. I ended up confused and bitter. I think people need to be careful and understand that their viewpoint has an impact others. I read the NIV and others now but still feel convicted everyday. It caused a lot of confusion.

  • No translation/translator is infallible or inerrant. no one claim to be so. It is healthy to point that out to the church.
    often a translation also makes it’s own revisions/corrections.

  • Jesus teaches judge not, as only God is capable. With Scripture we may discern good from evil or right from wrong and our duty is to correct.

    Disagreeing, if our motivation is Christ and not a selfish agenda; God works all things for the good of those who love Him and called for His purpose.

    Individuals within the congregation, searching Scripture, spiritually discern.

    We can do nothing without Christ. Examine self to determine if in the faith.

    Respecting responsibility and authority of Christ called shepherds; offered as a simplistic and simply trusting layman’s view.

    Appreciation for the subject and opportunity.

  • What an interesting topic. I’m neither a preacher, nor do I know the original languages, however, with the help of scholarly works, have come across a number of mistranslations. Now how to treat them? I think there’s a difference between criticism and correction. Example: Matthew 11:12 in the NIV1984 is an obvious mistranslation (which has been corrected since). The 1984 translation I believe is even harmful to the Kingdom, as it justifies a forceful leadership style. The NIV translaters were humble enough to correct this, therefore, I think preachers should do the same, in cases where ignoring the error is more harmful than correcting it. How to do that with humility and humbleness is an entirely different topic…

  • Mark as usual you hit the mark! (pun intended!) My constant word to people is “balance”. We can get so obsessed with things like English Bible translations that we miss the meaning (and just become mean!). Thanks

  • My approach has been to help teach those in my congregation (in small groups) who are willing to listen :-) to use their primary favorite Bible translations but also try to have the habit of comparing passages they read with a 2nd translation.
    I also TRY to explain that they need to read the preface of their Bible translations to try to get a better grasp of the philosophy behind the Bible translation, and why they chose to translate passages (esp those that seem to contradict or be quite different from another translation) they way they do.
    That way I hope that the confidence in their Bibles as the Word of God remains but they are aware that it is sometimes not easy to decide on how to translate a passage and the reasons behind the choices made.

    This seems to have helped (so far) :-)

  • Two books I found helpful on this subject that Logos has (do I get a cash voucher for saying this? :-) is “Which Bible translation should I use” and “how to read the Bible for all its worth”

  • This may be outside the bounds of the article, but what should I do with the ESV’s translation of Malachi 2:16? All other major translations, and the minor ones, too, translate it as the Lord explicitly saying He hates divorce, whereas ESV turns it into a man hating (not loving) his wife and divorcing her. The overall thrust of the passage doesn’t change: the Jewish men divorcing their Jewish wives to marry foreign ones isn’t good. But so many depend on that explicit statement of the Lord’s hatred of divorce when dealing with divorce topically. I read the NET notes, but not being a Hebrew scholar, I’m not completely certain I understand what they’re saying.

    I’m not a pastor, but I do lead small group Bible studies where this has come up. Since ESV is the outlier, how do I get around NOT saying they seem to have gotten it wrong? I accept that they made what they thought was the best choice, but how can I explain their choice to other students of the Scriptures, clearly and without getting too technical?

    • Fantastic question. And I think you’ve already answered it. Why not say, “I’m not completely certain I understand the NET Bible’s explanation for the translation you can see here in the ESV—but note that the overall thrust of the passage doesn’t change”? Are Bible study leaders permitted to say, “I don’t know”? Some questions of biblical interpretation are technical; this cannot be avoided. Some explanations of difficult passages require knowledge of Greek or Hebrew. The number of these is, in my judgment, few. One is more punchy and memorable, and has tradition on its side (in English), but the other one doesn’t let anyone off the hook.

      It is not just humble but honest to acknowledge that some phrases in Scripture are difficult to translate. We do our best to follow technical or theological reasons we have access to in footnotes and commentaries, and on those occasions when the discussions go above our heads (this has certainly happened to me) we pray and do our best to understand and believe and obey.

      I really appreciate this comment. Was my answer at all helpful?

      • Yes, definitely, not least because you were able to confirm my understanding that the passage still means the same thing and, as you put it, “doesn’t let anyone off the hook.” So basically I can just say, “It has to do with interpreting the grammar of the original manuscript, but let’s look at the whole passage – can we still see that divorce isn’t part of God’s best design for marriage?” And leave it there. Yeah, that’s a whole lot less complicated! Thank you, and blessings on your Sabbath day.

  • Mark,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I sense that you are very strident in your beliefs concerning this area, and I think some of this has to do with the experiences of a translator you know personally. While some may say your objectivity has been compromised, others might agree they are persons and this angle needs to be explored.

    Interestingly, it took me awhile to warm up to the NLT, and incidentally, one of my respected professors worked on the Numbers section for the study bible, if not also the translation, so I wonder if we have a friend in common. Nevertheless, I only learned this in the past six months and had already formed my own opinion of both the NLT (which is “okay” in my opinion, for it quite frequently goes beyond translation and into interpretation where the text is vague–just as do nearly all translations at some point and sometimes this clarity is desirable) and the NLT Study Bible (which is surprisingly wonderful).

    While I have pondered many of your points, I also wonder if you have also weighed these same points from other angles before putting your thoughts into words. For that matter, my objections to your major thrusts received no mention and no coverage, and to give the appearance of a well-thought out article, in my mind those should have received at least some mention. Nevertheless, we do not get our thoughts challenged by other thoughts until we take the plunge and put them out there, so thank you again.

    To be quite honest, my sense of reality was also violated in the opening paragraph, and so it was with difficulty that I sought to follow your reasonings from that point on. This was what gave me great pause:

    “we are not putting down a faceless publishing company; we are putting down people…. People whom our people need to trust.”

    Thus, it was postulated that the people in the church need to trust Bible translators. To which I might reply, which ones? For as you know, there are a lot of translations and a lot of different takes on different verses!

    Now, I am not anything like KJV only, but with the ongoing proliferation of translations today, I’ve begun to agree with that crowd on some of the points they’ve been making for decades about us losing a common dialog and that bible memorization is a lost discipline, and thus I can’t agree that the church needs to openly trust translators. In fact, in light of recent harsh marketing ploys by at least one major copyright holder in promoting their new version and phasing out the use of a version that held wide acceptance for many decades, it is time we take a “caveat emptor” approach; let the buyer beware!

    There is a point to be made about promoting rebellion and attacking the institution when the church is an institution (whether or not you are actually leaning that way, I cannot tell), and there is a point to be made about too quickly jumping to criticize before sufficient study is made and about overestimating one’s own abilities, but it is a hard sale that we should just trust translators and translations–can we trust that they too have properly weighed all things? And was it appropriate for them to in all cases decide to make changes to the landscape of existing Bible translations by adding another? If we could firmly answer “yes” in both instances, then we should be have at least one universal translation they’ve agreed on, that as they worked separately, they came to the same renderings.

    I know translators commonly refer back to other existing translations and mustn’t copy them very frequently, but we’ve never had a case where two translations were released simultaneously, each of the teams of translators through the direction of the Holy Spirit having inadvertently produced the same translation. It was said in Jewish legends that something like this happened when the Septuagint was first translated, when long passages from the Hebrew were translated by different teams in isolation, and then when they came together, sometimes for pages at a time the new Greek translation read word-for-word the same. This no doubt gave people some assurance to trust the people who translated. Unfortunately, we do not have anything like this today.

    For myself, after giving up a discontinued translation, after perhaps a two year search and a lot of changes in my understanding about the development of my native tongue and the value of retaining many traditional renderings and keeping a link to the great writers of the past, the ESV is the translation I’m now most comfortable with. However, when something doesn’t feel right or the formal equivalence is too awkward or I get just a little curious, I do appreciate being able to check parallels in both modern and original languages, and I really like how Logos makes that process a seamless one. So at a time when the landscape of Bible translations was becoming almost hopelessly scattered and strewn, Bible software is there to help us sort it out.

  • Here’s a short clip of John Piper explaining why you should not use a less literal translation like the NIV. I agree with him.


    I can appreciate the spirit of this post but we’re dealing with the very words of God. Each pastor will have to give an account for how he fed his sheep (Heb 13:17). Douglass Moo will not give an account for my congregation. Neither will Bruce Ware.

    • Brandon, the very words of God were spoken in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek………..are you suggesting everyone learn those languages so we can read the “very words of God”? If not, then they have to be translated, and no translation ends up being the “exact” word for word, because when translation happens some words in some languages don’t have words in others. Therefore, a close equivalent understanding is rendered. Over years, language changes, and there is nothing wrong with updates….for example in James, the words “Gay Clothing” has an entirely different idea today than it did in 1611. Likewise, Saul of Tarsus kicking against the pricks needs a little updating as well, so as not to be misunderstood.

  • From the original translators’ preface to the King James Version:
    “Zeal to promote the common good, whether it be by devising anything ourselves, or revising that which hath been laboured by others, deserveth certainly much respect and esteem, but yet findeth but cold entertainment in the world. It is welcomed with suspicion instead of love, and with emulation instead of thanks: and if there be any hole left for cavil to enter, (and cavil, if it do not find a hole, will make one) it is sure to be misconstrued, and in danger to be condemned.”
    It seems that they knew what criticism was coming their way for doing good. They were right, the KJV was roundly criticized by some when it first appeared.

    • You might even tell the congregation no one with the name Jesus existed in the first century CE. Very obvious considering the 1611 version of the KJB has not a single J on any page the king was name Iames. Why is this so? The letter J never appeared in any language unit about 1650 CE.

  • Wondering what is more important; Is it ok ignore the words which are actually in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts to protect some other persons poor translational skills? Is it better the congregation remains ignorant?

    For example the Roman Catholic Church claims to hold the only access to salvation (keys to heaven).
    Matthew 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

    I would agree with the Roman Church if in fact a single word of the above verse was spoken to mean what the RCC claims.

    The KJV which just so happens coincidentally to have most of the same errors found in the Vulgate has this verse so twisted the message of the entire conversation has been lost to the reader.

    The idea familiarity sells has not been lost on bible translators. However this verse was translated from the Greek, this when not a single person present in whilst these words were spoken uttered a Greek word.

    If a proper understanding of the conversation is desired, one would be required to translated the Greek back to Hebrew and then into English.

    Let’s do so with a few key words in this verse. Peter was not the name of the apostle Petra is Greek this apostle was named Shimown. The phrase upon this rock was not referring to Shimown but to the Rock of Salvation errantly known as Jesus (Yahowsha). On ever other occasion the Rock is always the Messiah (Ma’aseyah).

    The word church nor any word that was akin to church is present. The Greek word ekklesia was written which means ‘to be called out’ and that for any purpose. Looking to the Hebrew for a similar word we find Miqra which is the Hebrew word meaning ‘to be called out’. Going where the words lead us; Yahowah spoke to Moses (Moseh) stating His children should approach 7 times each year specifically on Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, 7 Weeks (Pentecost), Trumpets, The Day of Reconciliations, and Tabernacles/Booths/ Sukah. All 7 festivals are called Mow’ed Miqra or times to be called out to meet. The 7th day Shabat is also a miqra.

    The verse would have been more correctly rendered “Upon this rock (Yahowsha referring to himself (and thus destroying the RCC’s claim to pope) I will reestablish the mow’ed miqra, and the doors of heaven will never be closed again.

    We can see the parallel in Revelation in the letter to the assembly in Philadelphia. A door was opened to these people which Yahowah said no one can shut (i.e. the gates of hell /Satan who by the way shut the door during his interaction with Adam).

    I can understand why no pastor would ever preach such a sermon. The result: The congregation would might understand why Yahowsha came to us. Most likely you would be removed from the pulpit, or the next Sunday the pews at your church would be empty.

    Going where the words lead is the narrow path. Yahowsha fulfilled the Passover, opening the door way with his blood smeared on the upright pillar and lintel of the doorway to heaven. On Unleavened Bread his soul descended into She’ol paying the price for our transgressions and fulfilling the second festival, the next day fulfilling the 3 festival of First Fruits his soul and all the souls sleeping for this very moment to occur became the First Fruits offering to Yahowah of new born children a wave offering of harvested grain. Fulfilling the 4 festival feast 7 times 7 Shabats the next say was the last festival fulfilled by Yahowsha Shabuwa in Hebrew or the promise of 7 fulfilled the Ruach Qodesh or Set Apart Spirit was bestowed upon the apostles gathered for this festival they were empowered with knowledge and many gentile languages for the work they were to perform.

    Finally the words lead to a fact Yahowsha stated until all in the Towrah and Prophets was fulfilled not a single part of the smallest letter would fall from the Towrah, or when the heavens and earth also pass away. Using logic this would tell us all there could be no new anything especially and new thing that would negate the Towrah. All has not been fulfilled Trumpets (last trumpet blast), The Day of Reconciliations (judgement, separation), and the 1000 year Sukah have not yet been fulfilled.

    Now wouldn’t that make a great sermon? You could end it with the idea Yahowah started with Adam in the Garden, and will end with Adam’s descendants in the Garden once more. Man is 6, Yahowah is 1, 6+1= 7 or perfection.
    6 days for man to toil and one to rest with Yahowah or perfection.
    We are approaching the year 6000 on the Hebrew calendar. 33 CE marked the year 4000. The year 2000 Abraham entered into a familiar covenant relationship with Yahowah. Do the math.

Written by Mark Ward