As you may know, the Hebrew language and the ancient Hebrew alphabet in particular are the subject of many of my posts. I do not pretend to be an expert in Bible translation, so I try to avoid making critical distinctions between the numerous Bible translations on the market. However, one question does seem to come up in my discussions a lot (one I am asked, and one I ask): Which Bible translation do you prefer?
First, while I certainly have opinions about some of the translations available, I have come to the conclusion that, as with most other things religious, it is far too easy to become legalistic about preference in Bible translation. All translations contain a certain level of subjectivity in interpretation. I do believe some translations to be of a higher quality than others, but I have yet to come across a translation that was so bad or so heretical that I would tell someone not to read it. I would suggest that you find a translation you are comfortable with, read it, get to know it, and branch out from there.
Well, here are my two cents (because that’s really about all it’s worth).
My primary reading and study Bible is a thinline New American Standard (NASB). For regular reading and church going, I prefer not to lug around a 5lb. study or application Bible. Admittedly, when I first began studying the Bible seriously, I spent a great deal of time and energy researching which Bible translation was the most accurate. I don’t believe there is a definitive consensus on this point, but I was able to determine that a fair number of scholars far more qualified than I believe the New American Standard Bible to be the most accurate and literal English translation. The King James Version (or Authorized Version) being a close second. The one knock on the NASB seemed to be that it was less readable than some other translations. However, I have found the NASB to be very readable, and I would highly recommend it to anyone as a study and/or reading Bible. My NASB is my personal favorite.
Over time, I broke free from the bondage of having to use only the most literal translation. I know there is a large King James-only camp, and I almost developed an NASB-only mentality, but thank the Lord I didn’t because I have found considerable value in reading other translations. I have found the New International Version (NIV) to be highly readable and as accurate in rendering meanings as almost any translation available. In fact, when I have had occasion to give gift Bibles, I have given the NIV because of its balance between readability and accuracy. The NIV also seems to be the most common Bible in pulpits and pews where I live (west Texas). I have an NIV Hebrew-Greek Keyword study Bible and a thinline, plain text edition that I carry to churches where I know the pastor preaches out of the NIV.
My first post-NASB and NIV purchase was a pocket-sized New King James Version (NKJV). I purchased it as a curiosity more than anything else, and I had a difficult time getting into the flow of reading it. The New King James wasn’t quite as familiar as the old King James, and it wasn’t quite as readable as the NASB or the NIV, so I had difficulty early on. But, I have recently begun to enjoy reading the NKJV. Admittedly, it’s not as literal as the NASB and not as readable as the NIV, but it is growing on me. I know many in the KJV-only camp rant about the NKJV, and, on my personal list of favorite translations, the NKJV is about fourth or fifth, but I do not believe the NKJV to be the perversion that others claim it to be. I don’t think my NKJV will ever replace my NASB as my own personal favorite, but I will continue to read it frequently and, if you have only ever read one other version for the last several years, give the NKJV a try.
The most recent addition to my Bible collection is an English Standard Version (ESV) which I have only been reading for about a month. So far so good. I must confess, I was drawn to the ESV simply by walking through bookstores and seeing the stacks upon stacks of ESV’s with a size and decorative scheme for every taste. While I found many of the covers to be horrendous, there were a few that caught my eye. I resisted the urge, however, and only when I had a chance to snag a gray, pocket-sized ESV emblazoned with a Celtic cross on the cover for $5 with other purchase, did I finally give in. I’m glad I did because I have found the ESV to be both highly accurate and highly readable. I am seriously considering making my ESV my bookbag Bible (it fits perfectly in the pocket). And, although I have never been to a church where the pastor preached from the ESV (that I know of), it seems that everyone has a pocket-sized ESV (in matching color of course) in a backpack or purse ready to whip out at a moment’s notice. You might as well get one too.
Now, if only the ESV’s publisher would write a paragraph about the following footnote on the translation page rather than footnoting every use of brothers:
Fn. Or brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters.
I think it would save more than a few trees considering how many times brothers is used in the New Testament. Plus, I’m tired of being suckered in to reading a footnote that I have read over and over. If you have an ESV, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a small point, but one that is rapidly developing into a pet peeve. I may send the publisher a letter. Perhaps, he¹ will read this post.
¹The English word he has traditionally referred to both men and women, depending on the context, and may refer to either a man or a woman.
Shortly after I was set free from my dependence on my NASB, as I began my journey through the various translations, I came across a Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) in the bargain bin of a local Christian bookstore alongside the mis-imprinted Bibles (by the way, those bins are worth perusing if you are looking for other versions to study, God forbid you carry to church a Bible where your name is misspelled, or, worse yet, where someone else’s name is misspelled, but, to have on your shelf for studying when no one else will see, it is well worth the money). It was a great find, and not a misspelling or mis-imprint to be found. The cover design left a lot to be desired, I don’t blame others for leaving it on the shelf based on appearance. But, I have been particularly pleased with the treatment of the Hebrew, even if it is in the footnotes where the references to alternative translations of words and phrases are found. I would highly recommend the HCSB as a reading and/or study Bible.
Last, but certainly not least, the King James Version. How can you not love the King James Version (the Authorized Version to those outside the US)? The Lord’s prayer just isn’t the same unless it is in King James English. I’m not quite in the King James-only camp, but I do love to read the King James Version and to hear it read from pulpits. It just feels right. I know it has its problems, all translations do, but if I were stuck on a deserted island with only two Bible translations, I would take my NASB and my King James Version. I hope later generations influenced by text messaging and email will not completely shrug off the King James Version. I hope my generation doesn’t either. If you haven’t read your King James Version in a while, and I know you have one on a shelf somewhere, go pull it out and start reading it again.
What I Reference:
David Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible is one of my favorite resources for referencing and understanding Jewish and Hebrew stuff. The Complete Jewish Bible which consists of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the B’rit Hadashah (New Covenant/Testament) gives the traditional Protestant Bible a decidedly Jewish flare, rather than the Protestant Bible giving the Jewish Bible a Protestant flare. I don’t think even David Stern would argue the Complete Jewish Bible is a literal translation, but it is one of my favorites.
For my Hebrew research, I use a paperback copy of the Jewish Publication Society’s Hebrew-English Tanakh which is an entirely original translation of the Old Testament. I’m not a Hebrew scholar, but this translation has come in very handy.
My favorite New Testament resource is my Interlinear NASB/NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. I really cannot rave about this book enough, so I won’t bother trying, but, if you spend any time at all studying the New Testament Greek, get this book.
I have two Keyword Study Bibles, a King James Version and an NIV. I love them both dearly. Everyone needs a Keyword Study Bible.
When I’m writing, I frequently reference The Contemporary Parallel New Testament (eight translations side-by-side). It includes the King James Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, New King James Version, New Century Version (NCV), Contemporary English Version (CEV), New Living Translation (NLT) and The Message. I would love to have an entire Bible like this, but it would probably be 10,000 pages long.
What’s Next (And My Wish List):
We recently celebrated the birth of our first child, Libby, so I will be reading the International Children’s Bible for the next few years. I’m excited about that. I bought her a little pink one for her birthday.
I am also eager to get my hands on an Amplified Bible. I’m curious to read a Bible with a running in-text commentary.
My next major endeavor will probably be the Apologetics Study Bible. I must confess to being somewhat skeptical of the need to label anything “apologetics” or anyone an “apologist”. It seems all things are and we all should be. I’m also reluctant to endorse anything trendy, and apologetics is all the rage in Christian circles, but my curiosity is getting the better of me…
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