So Many Translations, So Little Time…

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).

What I Read:

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…

More Useful Information:

How to Read the Bible: A Lighthearted Look at a Serious Question

Modern English Bible Translations – Wikipedia

Ken Collin’s Bible Translations Into English

Recent English Bible Versions Compared

English Bible Versions

Top 10 Selling Bible Translations

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  1. #1 by WES on July 25, 2008 - 4:09 pm

    For the last two years, the ESV has been tops on our family’s list. For our oldest son, ‘The Jesus Storybook Bible’ and ‘Big Picture Bible’ and ‘Big Thoughts For Little Thinkers’ have been great. It was good to finally see Libby. My son and I could borrow some of her hair.

  2. #2 by petermlopez on July 27, 2008 - 9:54 pm

    Thanks, Wes. Like I wrote, I have only had my ESV for about a month, but I love it. I think Lori might agree to loan you guys a little of her black hair. It was nice to see you guys too. Your son is too cute, and huge. A future Munday Mogul to be sure!

  3. #3 by WES on July 29, 2008 - 5:31 am

    Wish ya’ll lived closer, would love to have you over and hear more of your story. I love the audio of the esv here :

    http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/devotions/one.year.tract/?date=2008-07-29

    Got it on the ipod.

    Black hair, is a gift. One that for me has apparently been spent.

  4. #4 by petermlopez on July 29, 2008 - 10:13 am

    That’s pretty cool, an audio Bible reading plan. Actually, I have been kicking around the idea of developing a theological Bible reading plan. Not so much a “Jan. 1 = Gen. 1 and Matt. 1″ kind of thing, but a reading plan that ties the Old & New Testaments together in a way that helps readers make sense of it all (e.g. John 1 and Gen. 1, etc.)

    It’s still some time in the making, but I would like to publish it on another blog as a stand alone thing…some day.

    And, yes, I think Libby found all of the black hair that I have lost…

  5. #5 by wilma on August 10, 2008 - 10:44 pm

    Peter, I have been toying with the idea of buying a ESV Bible… but I just have a hard time getting away from my Amplified. I have used it for years and it just suits my study and personality (wordy and all) Bud thinks there is no other translation than the NAS. I have been reading a Chronological Daily Bible for this year. It is interesting but I have to get into the New Testament for my “Grace” fix each day. I have pictures of Miss Libby to get in the mail from the shower. Sorry I am so slow.. I have been on vacation so I have not posted on my blog for over a week. wwhogan.blogspot.com I will try to update tomorrow. Hope you enjoy

    Love ya, wilma

  6. #6 by petermlopez on August 11, 2008 - 5:34 pm

    I really agree with Bud, but I am liking the ESV. Go to Family Christian Store in Abilene (by the mall) and you can get one for $5. It’s a pocket-sized version, but if you like it, then you can get a big one (Lifeway has a nice black “personal size” one that I’ve got my eyes on). For a regular reading Bible, I would recommend the NIV because it reads so well. Next time we visit, remind me to tell you about my idea for a Bible reading plan I’ve been developing. I can’t wait to see the pictures.

    Thanks, I found your blog and I’ve already linked to it. Love ya’ too.

  7. #7 by Michael Metts on August 13, 2008 - 9:19 am

    You should look into getting a NET translation. They are available on Bible.org. The reason I suggest this version is because the translation gives exhaustive (some 60,000+) translation notes explaining what the original manuscripts state. It explains the difficulties translators run into in translating different phrases and even lists the earliest witnesses that offer the best readings, as well as later witnesses that have attempted to harmonize various passages with matching pericopae. I haven’t had language classes yet (I’m in Bible college) but having used this Bible for over a year now, it has helped me understand greatly the translation process and original languages.

    Great post!
    Michael Metts

  8. #8 by petermlopez on August 13, 2008 - 12:39 pm

    Michael, thank you. I have spent a fair amount of time looking at the NET Bible online (I really loved the concept), but I have not purchased one yet. I actually reviewed the online site for another blog I used to write called biblenerds, it went no where and I have since taken it down.

    I must admit, I was intrigued by the idea of 60K+ notes, though. I put getting a hard copy on a mental to-do list, but that list has since been wonderfully interrupted by our new baby girl. Maybe I’ll ask for one for Christmas or my birthday.

  9. #9 by Michael Metts on August 13, 2008 - 1:14 pm

    I will be having my own baby girl in about 5 days. :)

    I added you to the Blogroll on my site. Please let me know if I have the name wrong.

    Thanks!
    Michael

  10. #10 by petermlopez on August 13, 2008 - 1:30 pm

    Thank you. I hope your baby girl is happy and healthy, and I pray blessings for you guys.

  11. #11 by Bosco Peters on August 18, 2008 - 5:05 am

    I understand your point about footnoting.
    My point is that there is no consistency in footnoting.
    Sometimes the footnote is there – at other times it is not.
    There is no consistent principle applied.
    This makes the ESV have an appearance of accuracy which, those who follow the original languages will realise, it does not have.

    http://www.liturgy.co.nz/newsviews/esv.html

  12. #12 by petermlopez on August 18, 2008 - 11:01 am

    Thank you Bosco, for taking the time to read and comment. I agree with you about the consistency with which footnotes are applied. I will defer to you regarding the original Greek, I am not an expert in Biblical Greek.

  13. #13 by Carl on August 23, 2008 - 10:55 am

    For whatever it’s worth (and this may sound hokey to some) but I still have the “My First Holy Bible: Keepsake Edition” published by the Keepsake Bible Company in Nashville, TN. It was presented to me when I was an infant shortly after I was born in 1963 by the Rev. & Mrs. Speed who apparently was the pastor of the church where we lived at the time. I don’t remember anything about Rev. Speed.

  14. #14 by petermlopez on August 23, 2008 - 3:44 pm

    I think that’s wonderful. When our daughter was born a couple of months ago, I bought here a pink International Children’s Version so I could read to her. I would love for her to still cherish it when she’s an adult.

    You should pass it on to your children/grandchildren.

  15. #15 by Carl on August 23, 2008 - 4:44 pm

    Unfortunately my wife and I have no children. Just a very spoiled cockatiel who can’t read as far as we know.

  16. #16 by petermlopez on August 25, 2008 - 12:06 pm

    Spoiled pets are great, aren’t they. We have a Jack Russell named Oliver, I think he owns us as much as we own him. Thanks, Carl.

  17. #17 by Doug Stone on September 1, 2008 - 10:36 pm

    Peter,
    You will love the Amplified Bible. It takes a little getting used to but I have had mine for years, have had it recovered once years ago and I still use it all the time. If I am not mistaken it was published by the Lockman Foundation and is based on the American Standard.
    It’s not great for every purpose but when you get used there are just certain verses that you will always reference the Amplified for.

    BTW I noticed your are from Sweetwater. I am from Lubbock though I live in Kansas City now. You should come up and visit the International House of Prayer and or check out our website at http://www.ihop.org
    Thanks for the great information.
    Many Blessings,
    Doug

  18. #18 by petermlopez on September 2, 2008 - 9:14 am

    Yes, the Amplified Bible is published by the Lockman Foundation. I wasn’t interested until recently actually. I heard a guest speaker at a church in Munday, Texas (my wife’s hometown) and he quoted from the Amplified Bible. I was surprised, but I was also intrigued and then persuaded to check it out. He wasn’t advocating for it or anything, but when he would quote scripture he would say something like, “…and the Amplified Bible says…”

    I’m glad you mentioned the IHOP. A good friend of mine who was from Sweetwater and now is a worship leader in Amarillo went this last summer. He loved it. Our church is about to open the Sweetwater Prayer Center, and our pastor wants a live feed of the IHOP on a television. I would love to go myself.

    Thanks, Doug, blessings to you as well.

  19. #19 by Kent on September 5, 2008 - 11:06 am

    Have you seen the digitized version of the Apologetics Study Bible from Logos Bible Software? You can read the study notes and articles along with any translation (or the original languages). It’s part of a collection of Bible reference books from Broadman & Holman. I thought you might be interested!

    The Apologetics Study Bible

  20. #20 by petermlopez on September 5, 2008 - 3:33 pm

    Thanks, Kent. I will be sure to check it out.

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