For in him you have been enriched in every way– in all your speaking and in all your knowledge. I Cor 1:5 (NIV)
I would rather have people read any translation of the Bible—no matter how weak—than to read no translation of the Bible. If there could be only one translation in English, I would rather it be my least favorite than that there be none. God uses every version to bless people and save people. — John Piper (2004) [full article]
I revel in the multitude of English versions available to us. I love my NASB for word studies and my ESV for sermon preparation. My NLT is great for bedtime devotional reading, and the NIV has been my choice for general use and memorization. And there are certain passages where the age-old cadences of the KJV just can’t be surpassed. This is cause for celebration, but sadly, it has more often become an issue of contention within the church. This should not be. The wealth of translations casts the Word of God like an exquisitely carved diamond, which when viewed from different perspectives radiates forth new glimpses of beauty at every turn.
The greatest experience, I am told, is to learn the Biblical languages themselves and to read the Word of God in the original tongues. I have studied a little Greek, but that’s about it. Definitely not enough to pull out a Greek NT and start my daily devotions. Maybe one day. . .
Until that time, I can bask in the richness of what is available in English. But, to whom much is given, much is required. The critical question for all of us is this: with so much additional insight, with so many translations, am I doing what the Word of God says? Am I applying the truths of God’s word, or just content to let my head swell filling my brain with facts and information? Let me not be a hearer only. Let me do what it says. (James 1:22)
Does it really make that much difference to study Philippians 2:14 in any one of the various translations:
- Do everything without complaining or arguing, (NIV)
- Do all things without complaining and disputing, (NKJV)
- Do all things without murmurings and disputings: (KJV)
- Do all things without grumbling or disputing; (NASB)
- In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing, (NLT)
I can compare and contrast translations all day long, but at the end of the day am I doing all things without grumbling or disputing?
No English translation is perfect. Not even the good ol’ King James. Some words just can’t be rendered perfectly into English from the Hebrew or Greek. I was preaching on Psalm 34 a few weeks ago and came upon this verse. Notice the difference in the way it is translated between the NIV and NASB:
My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. (NIV)
My soul will make its boast in the LORD; The humble will hear it and rejoice. (NAS95)
I was noticing the underlined word and how it was translated differently between the two. “Humble” and “afflicted” conjure up different thoughts in my mind. I was curious why there was such a difference in wording between the two versions. As I studied it out, my Vine’s told me that the Hebrew word there is anaw which has both ideas in view simultaneously. The idea there is an afflicted person who through the trial of affliction has developed humility. Moses in the wilderness would be a perfect example of this. Moses early in life, so full of self-confidence, spends 40 years in a wilderness “affliction” learning humility. In fact, Scripture tells us that it made him the humblest man on earth!
But the point is this: no English word carries that idea, so a translator is stuck having to render that word into its closest fit. Whatever word is chosen is going to fall short of the original idea. So examining this verse in the various translations gives us that fuller picture. (Resources like Vine’s Dictionary of Biblical Words help too!)
So, who is the winning candidate for Bible memorization, for hiding God’s Word? Well, there is no single winner. I think you knew I was going dodge making a blanket statement. It partially depends on what your ultimate aim is. Preaching or study? One of the formal equivalence options is probably a good choice. Personal devotional use? Evangelism? Then you might move towards the dynamic translations a bit more.
After considering your primary purpose, you should consider the pros and cons of the leading translations. Here are some of them, going from most literal to most dynamic:
Pros: Most literal; very close to original texts; great for analysis/study
Cons: Many idiomatic expressions left literal (not fully translated); requires more outside study for complete comprehension; awkward English at times
Pros: Same as NASB above; usually more readable English than NASB; ESV seems to be winning the “formal equivalence” field with endorsements from Piper, MacArthur, others
Cons: Although improved English from the NASB, still at times awkward or less-natural English
Pros: Literal translation; enduring, well-known and beloved through the ages
Cons: Elizabethan English very difficult for most modern English speakers to fully understand; not based on most updated Greek manuscripts
Pros: Very popular translation; maintains tradition of KJV in updated English
Cons: Same manuscript issues as KJV
Pros: Takes a “middle road” between formal and dynamic equivalence; most popular translation in the past 30 years; familiar to many
Cons: Going out of print!
Pros: Again, same “middle road” philosophy as NIV 84; very understandable English
Cons: Gender-inclusive language occasionally hides underlying meaning of text; obscures original languages at times, particularly in area of pronouns – singular/plural; masculine/feminine distinctions are sometimes blurred; this is a problem for in-depth study
Pros: Very easy to understand, dynamic translation; great for younger readers
Cons: Many interpretive calls made by the translators to create this ease of use which puts you at a much greater distance from the original texts; similar gender-inclusive issues as NIV 2011
Well, there you have most of the major ones.
My choice? At the moment, I’m memorizing out of Matthew, and (most of the time) I like the NIV 2011 for the narrative portions of Scripture. In a couple of instances, I am choosing to use a literal wording where I feel the NIV has made an unnecessary paraphrase. (A good topic for a later post.) However, when I next memorize out of one of the epistles, I am going to use the ESV.
Again, we can dither all day trying to determine the best choice.
Or, we could actually start memorizing the Bible.
So, do your research, make your choice, and let’s get down to the business of Hiding His Word in our hearts!
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. (Psalm 119:97-100)