"Which Bible translation should I use?" It seems I've been running across people who staunchly insist that everyone use one Bible translation over another more and more lately. I've been thinking of posting on this for a while, and I think now is the time. In short, my answer to the question is: whichever one you like...but don't insist that others have to use it just because you think it's best.
First, I'll address a few reasons why I think this battle over translations harms the Church. Then, I'll share my views on why different translations are best for different people. Finally, I'll provide you a break-down of the pros and cons of the eight major translations used in America, along with examples from each, so you can decide for yourself what to use.
I realize this is a loaded issue that many people feel strongly about, and I risk offending a lot of people. What follows is my opinion, based on experience, study, and what I see as a logical, Biblical way of viewing the matter. But the fact of the matter is, the Bible nowhere directly addresses future translations. I will not claim anywhere in this post that "this is the way it is," "this is the way it has to be," or pull verses about adding to or taking from the Bible out of context to support my stance. You are more than welcome to disagree with me and post those disagreements in the comments section - this remains an open forum for discussion, and I will not censor it unless there is abuse - but I ask that just as I am trying to present my views in a friendly, open manner and openly acknowledge that it is my opinion, please do the same. Thank you.
The Problem with this War
What are the effects of arguing over translations?
1. Disunity - and over a minor issue at that. Not only does this divide us as the Church internally (which hampers fellowship and joint efforts at evangelism, charity, etc.), but it also presents us as just more quarrelling factions to unbelievers - reflecting poorly on our Savior to them.
2. Legalism. I mean this in the sense of coming up with rules that are not in the Bible that we expect everyone to follow even though it makes their walk harder. I see this as comparable to what the Pharisees did.
3. It means putting God in a box. God is big enough, powerful enough, awesome enough to speak to us through far more than one translation of His Word. As for the view that He can or will only do so through one, I see this as a misunderstanding of His character and power.
Why Different People Will Want Different Translations
I now want to look at a few factors as to why I think different translations are suited for different people.
1. Let's look at the original Greek text of the New Testament. The message was the same as what we have today - including some confusing concepts that require years of thinking it over - but it was all written in the language of the common man. Simply, it was intended that everyone could understand it.
2. In this same vein, let's look at the issue of accuracy versus readability. Is it important that a translation be accurate to the original text? Yes - critically so! But it is also important that people are able to understand it. Now, that brings up the side issue of: again, God can speak to His people through any translation. Is a brand new believer going to understand the King James Version? Probably not very much, but still, God can speak to him through it, no doubt. BUT, it may make the new believer feel stupid or like trying to read Scripture is a lot of work and get discouraged. On the other hand, is someone who has spent years in more "scholarly" texts probing the riches of Scripture going to be satisfied with The Message or a New International Version? Probably not. The point is - different people in different stages of their walk with Christ seem to operate best with different translations.
3. Some people stick with centuries-old translations because they're centuries old, and others jump for the newest translation because it's new. Here's where I come down on it: if you choose the oldest or the newest translation, fine, but do it because of something inherent to the translation itself, not just because it is old or new.
4. Finally, let's look at the Old Testament. There is a lot of overlap in 1&2 Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles - they tell slightly different takes of the same stories. Are they all beneficial? Yes. Are they all accurate? Yes. Do they all get the point across? Yes. And do some miss some details others include? Yes. Even reading the least detailed account provides some benefit - just as I believe reading the least "scholarly" translation provides benefit. It's better to read something than nothing.
Overview of a Few Common Translations
Under each subheading, I will provide an overview, a recommendation for who may find it useful, and an example of that translation's render of Romans 11:1-6 so you can compare.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
You may recognize this as the translation I use for studies on the blog. Do I recommend it to others, though? Sometimes - it depends on the person.
The NASB is the only mainstream translation that is strictly literal. As a result, it has the cons of mirroring the original sentence structure of the Hebrew and Greek (which are quite odd in English, and take some getting used to), and translating some of the Hebrew and Greek expressions/sayings literally to the point that they make no sense in modern English. But, it is fantastic for studies involving the original meaning of words in the Hebrew and Greek, if you are so inclined (which I am personally, thus my usage of it), and for tying concepts together across Scripture since you'll recognize the exact same word rendering in different places.
The NASB may be a good translation for you IF: You consider yourself to be somewhat academic (that is, enjoy learning) and have been saved long enough to be familiar with the basic concepts of Scripture.
1 I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” 4 But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.
King James Version and New King James Version (KJV and NKJV)
These are literal translations. This means that they fix the sentence structure problem of the NASB, and usually keep word usage consistent. If you're not familiar with the KJV, you may have some trouble getting past the different meanings of words that were used when it was translated. The pros are highly comparable to those of the NASB.
The KJV may be a good translation for you IF: You consider yourself to be fairly academic (that is, enjoy learning and are willing to put more effort into it), have been saved long enought to be familiar with all of Scripture, and are familair with or willing to learn the word usage of the time period, OR, You were raised on it or are somehow else familiar with it to the point that the word usage doesn't trip you up.
1 I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel saying, 3 Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. 4 But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. 5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
The NKJV may be a good translation for you IF: You consider yourself to be somewhat academic (that is, enjoy learning) and have been saved long enough to be familiar with the basic concepts of Scripture.
1 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3 “Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? 4 But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
English Standard Version (ESV)
This seems to be the "in vogue" translation in America lately.
The ESV is literal but idomatic. This means that it's really close to the NASB, but it changes the expressions/sayings into something a modern English speaker can understand and adapts a few words to have a more clear meaning, and it fixes the sentence structure issue.
The ESV may be a good translation for you IF: You're a middle-of-the-road believer in terms of Scripture, as in you do indeed want to do a *bit* of Bible study (instead of just reading), but don't want to get into the realm of ancient languages. This is actually one I recommend to a lot of people, even though it's not my personal choice.
1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 "Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God's reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
New International Version (NIV) and Its Various Off-Shoots
The NIV is a thought-for-thought translation. This means that its primary focus is to make every point clear to the reader, while still being close enough that it's still considered a translation instead of a paraphrase. It's not super for study (but it's adequate), but it is great for becoming familiar with Scripture.
The NIV may be a good translation for you IF: You are a fairly new believer or are otherwise unfamiliar with the bulk of Scripture, OR, you are really not academically-inclined (which is fine! :-)), OR, you want one translation for lighter Bible reading and a different one for study.
1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? 4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
Amplified Bible (AMP)
The Amplified Bible tries to combine translation and commentary in one. This is not adding to Scripture, because (1) the in-text explanations are the whole point, and (2) it tries to point out where it added stuff. In my experience, most agree that the added explanations are helpful but limiting - that is, they oversimplify some things or draw attention in only one direction.
The AMP may be a good translation for you IF: You think you are able to sort out mentally what's actual Scripture and what's actual commentary, AND, you want to learn more about Scripture so you're seeking a low-level commentary.
1 I ask then: Has God totally rejected and disowned His people? Of course not! Why, I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin! 2 No, God has not rejected and disowned His people [whose destiny] He had marked out and appointed and foreknown from the beginning. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 Lord, they have killed Your prophets; they have demolished Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life. 4 But what is God’s reply to him? I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal! 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant (a small believing minority), selected (chosen) by grace (by God’s unmerited favor and graciousness). 6 But if it is by grace (His unmerited favor and graciousness), it is no longer conditioned on works or anything men have done. Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace [it would be meaningless].
New Living Translation (NLT) and The Message (MSG)
The NLT and MSG are both paraphrases - that is, they're not actual translations. The NLT is actually pretty close to the NIV, but just a little more so, whereas the MSG is completely into paraphrase territory. I don't often recommend them because they are paraphrases (and are therefore....not....exactly Scripture), but they do work to get across the main points in a quick, concise, easy-to-understand manner. Again, it's better to read something than nothing.
The NLT may be a good translation for you IF: You are a new believer or are otherwise unfamiliar with the Bible and want to get down all the main stories and points quickly.
1 I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning. Do you realize what the Scriptures say about this? Elijah the prophet complained to God about the people of Israel and said, 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” 4 And do you remember God’s reply? He said, “No, I have 7,000 others who have never bowed down to Baal!” 5 It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them. 6 And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved.
The MSG may be a good translation for you IF: You are a new believer or are otherwise unfamiliar with the Bible and want to get down all the main stories and points quickly, AND, are fairly young (it's written with young people's way of speaking in mind).
1-2Does this mean, then, that God is so fed up with Israel that he'll have nothing more to do with them? Hardly. Remember that I, the one writing these things, am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham out of the tribe of Benjamin. You can't get much more Semitic than that! So we're not talking about repudiation. God has been too long involved with Israel, has too much invested, to simply wash his hands of them. 2-6Do you remember that time Elijah was agonizing over this same Israel and cried out in prayer?
God, they murdered your prophets,
They trashed your altars;
I'm the only one left and now they're after me!
And do you remember God's answer?
I still have seven thousand who haven't quit,
Seven thousand who are loyal to the finish.
It's the same today. There's a fiercely loyal minority still—not many, perhaps, but probably more than you think. They're holding on, not because of what they think they're going to get out of it, but because they're convinced of God's grace and purpose in choosing them. If they were only thinking of their own immediate self-interest, they would have left long ago.
A Couple Closing Notes
First off, I need to quickly point out that so-called "translations" by cults are not Scripture. The "Bibles" of the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, are widely accepted by the Christian community as blasphemous rewrites because they have actually changed core components of Scripture to fit their doctrine.
Second, as for all the various translations we've discussed above, there's another big war over which source texts different translations use. Personally, I think it really doesn't matter because they're so close, so I'm not going to get into it, but I thought I'd give you a heads-up that that's what's going on in case you run across it. :-)
Now, it's your turn to tell me! :-) What translation is your favorite, and why? Can you think of more pros and cons to different translations that I didn't think of? Have you witnessed the negative effects of this war personally?