I believe in modernly worded Bibles that render the Scriptures in a manner that is easier for us to read and understand. I reject the “King James Version only” position and cringe when I see a church inform its potential preacher applicants or guest speakers that they must use the KJV, NKJV, or ASV only. (I know of a teacher at a particular school of preaching who encourages his students to use reprints of the 1611 KJV with its antiquated words and spellings, such as “Pfalms” instead of “Psalms.”) My reasoning for rejecting this type of thinking stems from the truth that God inspired Biblical writers to pen the Scriptures in the vernacular current to the day in which it was written. It seems to me that in so doing the implication is that God wants His Word presented in such a format that people will be able to readily understand it without having to pull out a dictionary.
(This is not strictly a condemnation of the KJV or ASV, it is just that I perceive that, thanks to our current public educational system, one can probably no longer confidently say that the KJV is written on the sixth-grade reading level. Alternatively, I might say that if it is still deemed to be written at the sixth-grade reading level, the KJV and ASV face the challenge that we unfortunately have many for whom the sixth-grade reading level is too difficult to read. For example, too many in the sixth-grade cannot even read at their grade level. I know this from time I’ve spent in the public classroom doing reading remediation so that the students could pass their End of Grade tests and meet the standards laid out in the “No Child Left Behind” legislation. I likewise have observed that too many adults who were essentially allowed to graduate from high school without being properly educated cannot readily understand the sixth-grade reading level. I am also mindful of high school drop outs who cannot read competently at the sixth-grade level either.)
That having been said, though, not every modern English Bible is equal. Our modern English Bibles come in two formats, formal equivalent translations (a.k.a “word for word” texts) or paraphrased versions (a.k.a “thought for thought” texts). Consider the following about the processes responsible for bringing these modern English Bibles into being.
With the formal equivalent translation of the Bible, a team of scholars, typically from across the denominational spectrum, endeavor to literally translate each Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek word into its modern equivalent. These Bibles are the most reliable because no word from the original text is left out (though perhaps sometimes put into a footnote because it was obtained from only a minority of original manuscripts or codices) and is translated without the added bias of any one committee member. Thus, the members of the translation committee do not permit their doctrinal biases to get in the way of the provision of a true, accurate translation.
Paraphrased versions of the Bible, on the other hand, are often the result of a committee of men and women too often possessing an obvious doctrinal bias (e.g., Calvinism, premillennialism, etc). As such, they are not nearly as accurate. Some of them are even heretical. The reason for this is that the committee members read from the original language and then put it into the terms that they feel reflects the thoughts being conveyed by the original writer of the Biblical text. Do you not immediately recognize the problem inherent in this process? If, as I have previously stated, I am providing my thoughts regarding what I believe the original text to say, then I can subconsciously provide a paragraph or a sentence that reflects my own doctrinal bias. After all, I am a fallible human being. If, however, I were to stick with the original words of the text, as reflected in the modern equivalent process, I am dealing with that which is infallible!
Note this illustration demonstrating various modern English Bibles being currently offered by various publishing houses and book stores.
I will only discuss a few of the modern English Bibles listed in the illustration above. They are listed from left to right progressing from the most accurate translation to the least accurate paraphrase version.
Obviously an interlinear would be the most literal and accurate translation as it provides the text in the original language with the modern word in English written below each word. These can be hard to read, though, as Koine Greek, for example, like many non-English languages, does not present the typical noun/verb order to which we are accustomed. In Koine Greek, the verb typically precedes the noun. (If you’ve heard the Star Wars character, “Yoda,” then you have a better idea of that about which I am talking.)
The NASB (New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update) is listed as the second most literal and accurate translation of the Bible. (That happens to be the translation from which I most often teach and preach. To be as literal as it is, it actually reads more easily than one might suspect. Some may not like it, though, as, I will admit, certain passages may still seem difficult even though rendered in our modern English.) It was translated by an interdenominational committed that endeavored to avoid doctrinal bias.
The English Standard Version is a relatively “new kid on the block.” It is listed as the fourth most literal and accurate translation of God’s Word. I haven’t thoroughly evaluated it yet but do like to use it from time to time. I have found that certain passages are easier to read in the ESV than the NASB.
Note that the KJV and NKJV are listed as the sixth and seventh most literal and accurate translations of the Scriptures. (This fact would probably shock some of the readers of this blog.) The reason for this is because a greater number of earlier manuscripts and codices were discovered in the years following the original KJV translation of the Bible. (Some of these discoveries took place not even a century after the original 1611 translation.) Also, the KJV and NKJV rely heavily upon the use of the Latin Vulgate in its translation. Essentially, then, in some regards, the KJV and NKJV are translations of a much earlier translation. Latin, of course, was not the original language in which the Bible was written.
Thus, there are some discrepancies in the text. For example, in Matthew 12:40, the KJV translators have Jesus say that Jonah spent 3 days and nights in a whale as opposed to a big fish as born out in the Koine Greek. King James was also trying to orchestrate the difficult task of placating the Catholics and Protestants in his kingdom with this Bible translation. If you are a student of history, you are aware at how explosive the tensions were at this time between these two religious groups. For this reason, there are some peculiar references found in the KJV such as the use of the word “Easter” as opposed to the correct rendering of “Passover.” (As such, placating particularly the Catholics.) The Catholic/Protestant compromise likewise led to to the transliteration* of a few words that have remained the staple in all modern translations and paraphrases that have followed. (For example, the use of the word, “baptism,” rather than the correct word, “immersion.”)
You also find the influence of a word from the Latin Vulgate that has likewise remained in use in every modern English Bible that has followed the KJV. The word, “church,” is a Latin term. The Koine Greek is “ekklesia,” which means, “the called out.” Because of this peculiar insistence that the word, “church,” still be used in modern English translations, people have unfortunately come to equate a “church” with her building rather than coming to the correct conclusion that a “church” actually refers to the people assembling inside that building. In pointing out these weaknesses, I am not saying that Christians should abandon the KJV or NKJV completely. After all, it has brought many people to Christ and continues doing so. For the most part, it remains a faithful translation of the original texts and is certainly preferable to the paraphrase version. It is just that the critics of modern English Bibles need to apply the same critical eye to their beloved KJV as they do to the RSV or the NLT!
The twelfth and thirteenth most accurate modern English Bibles on the list fall into the category of paraphrase versions; namely, the NIV and TNIV. There is some obvious doctrinal bias in the NIV and TNIV. For example, Psalm 51 has been translated in a manner reflecting Calvinistic bias; specifically, the committee responsible for this version have David declaring that he was born in sin in keeping with the idea of the Calvinistic idea of total depravity. Even so, I keep both in my comparative reading list as they can sometimes shed clarity on a text I am reading. Both versions are very easy to read. The other Bible from the NIV family, the NIVr, lands at the 16th spot on the accuracy list given in the illustration above. (I honestly do not understand how the NLT beat out the NIVr as I find portions of the NLT heretical. Yet the compilers of this list who are responsible for the above illustration seemed to think this was the case. To be honest, though, I have not given the NIVr a thorough reading even though I have access to it in the e-Sword Bible software program. Perhaps such is truly the case.)
I will forego commenting on the “bottom” of this list as I do not believe them to be as widely utilized as the popular paraphrases, the NIV and TNIV. (I am also skipping these translations for the sake of brevity. Perhaps I will revisit them in the future, particularly the CEV, NLT, and The Message.) I will say, though, that I was shocked upon discovering profanity in the original Living Bible, since updated as the NLT!
In conclusion, I think the serious Bible student would do well to stick with a modern equivalent translation (i.e., a “word for word” translation.) These may not read as easily or smoothly as the paraphrase versions (i.e., a “thought for thought” version) but they are more accurate. I do not condemn people for reading and studying from paraphrase versions, though. (As I said, I will use some of these for comparative purposes.) I just try to remind such individuals who use paraphrase versions exclusively that they need to take care as these can and often contain the doctrinal biases of the committee putting that particular modern English Bible together.
*Transliterate: “to represent or spell in the characters of another alphabet.”1 In the case of the example cited above, “baptism,” the translator took the Koine Greek word, “baptizo,” (unfortunately WordPress wouldn’t allow me to copy and paste the actual Greek letters from Microsoft Word) and rendered it letter for letter in modern English to give us the words, “Baptize,” “Baptized,” and “Baptism.” This is how they transliterated “baptizo:” Beta=”b.” Alpha=”a.” Pi”=”p.” Tau=”t.” Iota=”i.” Zeta=”z.” Omega=”e.” (That last one is strange considering that in order to have faithfully transliterated this letter they should have written omega as an “o” instead of as an “e.”) This they did despite the fact that they knew the actual meaning of the word and could have provided a modern equivalent for the word. Again, this was done as those in King James’ kingdom embraced various modes of “baptism;” that is, they thought “baptism” could be administered through sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. By transliterating the word as opposed to actually translating it, those religious people reading the KJV could still adhere to their preferred mode of “baptism” with a clear conscience.
1 “transliteration.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. Merriam-Webster Online. 13 August 2010 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transliteration>