Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Final Verdict on Translations

The very first Bible related post I did here (breaking away from the usual nerd talk) was a post about Bible translations. I grew up in a KJV only environment, and it quite literally was all I had ever been exposed to. 

Don't get me wrong -- although I am no KJV-onliest, I'm not an "Anything-but-KJV'er" either. There really are two sides to that camp. I think the King James Version of the Bible is beautiful, majestic and was a technological masterpiece for its time; in fact, it was probably one of the greatest human achievements ever! I do not feel, with recent textual discoveries and general advancement of the English language that it is the best choice today (none of us walk around speaking Elizabethan English). I do reference the KJV occasionally, and I would never encourage anyone to switch from the KJV if that is what they preferred. However, I would not likely recommend anyone to switch to the KJV as a primary Bible, either.

Now, in the first few posts I made on this, I was still very much learning and discovering things for myself. I didn't know enough yet to even know how to know what I liked. I was going strictly off of what I could find to read, and what friends (some of whom were pastors) recommended.

In the process of all this I read two books and watched a series of videos.

The first book I read was by Don Carson:
The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism
by D. A. Carson
Carson does not, by any means disparage the KJV. He does do an excellent job of explaining the science of textual criticism and why there are better options available today to consider than the King James Version.

Next, I watched this series of videos:
"Which Bible Translation Should I Use?" With Dr. Doug Moo (NIV), Dr. Wayne Grudem (ESV), and Dr. Ray Clendenen (HCSB)

...which was filmed at Liberty University, and actually later became the basis for this book (the 4th, added translation for the book was the NLT even though no representative was at Liberty):
Which Bible Translation Should I Use?: A Comparison of 4 Major Recent Versions by Andreas J. Kostenberger (Editor) , David. A Croteau  (Editor) , Joe Stowell (Foreword)
...which was the second book I read on the matter.

If you are truly interested in all of this, I highly recommend you check out all of those resources on your own, and form your own opinion. Because, for example, as great as the translations in the video series are, and as good of a job as their representatives did giving a talk on their merits, what I ultimately chose as my primary text was none of those.

What did I choose?
NASB (and sometimes ESV)

To try to keep this as short as possible, in the following paragraphs, I want to list a few things I like specifically about a few other translations, a few things that kept me from picking those other translations as my primary text and then we'll finish up with the NASB and why it is going to be my primary Bible.

First, I knew, for my primary study and memorization text I wanted a formal equivalence translation (also known as a "word for word" translation).

NIV:

Being a little more on the dynamic equivalence (or thought-for-thought) end of the translation spectrum, the biggest issue I see with the NIV. Now, I don't hate it with the passion of a thousand burning torches as others seem to.

 If you are an NIV fan and are struggling with the update yourself you really must watch Doug Moo's video from the link I listed above. Dr. Moo is a brilliant NT scholar, and was chair of the translation committee for the NIV. In all honesty, I really think he did a much better job at presenting his case, and defending the NIV than any of the other speakers. There isn't one moment of uncertainty or hesitation in anything he said.

Although you can still pick up some 1984 NIV Bibles from ChristianBook.com and BibleStudyTools.com has the '84 text online, it won't be around forever.

NKJV:

I think the NKJV is somewhat of an overlooked translation -- it doesn't seem to get a lot of the hype many of the others do, and I don't hear a lot of preachers preaching from it. I think, perhaps it was more popular before the ESV came onto the scene. My personal NKJV is a "New Geneva Study Bible" (given to me by a dear friend) which has been renamed "The Reformation Study Bible" and re-published in the ESV (and sadly an out of date 2007 edition of the ESV text). I use my NGSB all the time for the notes and other resources. R.C. Sproul is the only person I've personally heard preach or teach from the NKJV. I do think it reads well, better than the ESV even. It also feels familiar to me, since I grew up with the KJV. My issues with the NKJV are textual, however, as I don't feel like the best, most reliable manuscripts were used for translation (although alternate renderings are available in footnotes from older, more reliable MSS, and these footnotes are great as they show WHICH manuscripts vary, and where).

HCSB:

I love the HCSB. I really do. It came oh SO very close to being my primary Bible. I actually read through the HCSB, cover to cover, this past Summer (my first time reading the Bible cover to cover). The HCSB Study Bible is awesome -- I actually like it better than the famed ESV Study Bible in many ways. Although it's still considered a word-for-word translation, it leans a bit toward the dynamic side using what the publisher calls "Optimal Equivalence", which means that they used a word for word approach when it made sense, but if something wasn't clear, they would fall back to a thought for thought rendering. In other words, it's VERY readable, modern English. You can read more about my thoughts on the HCSB specifically here. What are some things I don't like about the HCSB? Well quite honestly, one of my biggest hangups is that although it's very accurate, some well known passages are rendered so drastically different...I just simply think it breaks from tradition a little too much to be my main study and memorization Bible. You can read more about that decision here. The HCSB is, however the second Bible I usually reach for (or flip to in YouVersion) for an alternate reading (although the NIV is very close also). 


ESV:
Let's look at the ESV. When I started this journey, it was the most recommended to me. It is a formal equivalence translation that is very much in the "King James Tradition". I also have an ESV Study Bible and it's a brilliant resource, and I use it for it's notes, essays and book introductions very often. In fact, the ESV Study Bible is a great purchase even if you never take it off the shelf because of the online version of the ESV Study Bible! One of my big concerns is that it seems a bit (sorry, to use a software word) unstable (no, the Bible isn't crashing, it's shifting). It was first released in 2001, with an update in 2007 and another in 2011 (and I've heard rumors of a possible 2014 edition). While I think it's great to keep up with English and correct possible translation errors, I think these revisions are a bit quick. I think it's very possible to have an entire congregation and a pastor all reading from an ESV and have different versions all over the place. I have even discovered that on YouVersion, the audio and the text are two different versions of the ESV text. Just for some perspective, the NIV has been updated once since 1984, the NASB once since 1977 and I don't think the NKJV has ever been updated since its release in 1982. Finally, it seems as though it really is becoming a standard version, with many, many people using it.

NASB:
So, what are some things I like about the NASB? Well, it's the most literal, word for word English translation.

Personally, I think the NASB gets a bad rap. It's said to be awkward and/or wooden. I honestly think many people who say that have only read the 1977 edition (which still had some Elizabethan English in the Poetry and prayers to The Lord) and not checked out the 1995.

It sounds good when read out loud. It sounds "Biblical". Although based on the Critical Text, it (like many other translations) includes what might have only been in the Textus Receptus (and therefore in the KJV) but rather than shove it in a footnote where you might miss it, it puts it inline, in a bracket. That way if you are reading out loud and people may be following along with a KJV/NKJV they won't wonder why you skipped entire verses (like the ending to the Lord's Prayer). Also, it uses small caps for Old Testament references in the New Testament (the HCSB also does something simlar, using bold text). Pronouns referring to the Deity are capitalized also.

Finally, and I can not stress this enough, if you for whatever reason are considering a new Bible translation (and perhaps Google got you here somehow), please, talk to your pastor, friends, other people you trust and try a few translations, live with them for a while and make your own decision. It's a personal decision that nobody can really make for you. In all honesty, the best translation is the one that you will read!

3 comments:

  1. Hi Jason, thanks for the interesting post. I came across this while looking for articles on the NASB. It seems my journey into Bible translations has many similarities to yours. I too was raised on the KJV, but have been looking for a more modern formal equivalent translation to use as a primary text for just over 2 years now. I agree with your thoughts on the ESV - I too have tried to use it and appreciate it but I find its English style distracting to me.

    The NASB is one of the few translations (along with the NKJV) which I find I can read and it sounds like straight "Bible". It doesn't bring to my imagination a translation committee, sitting around discussing textual choices - rather both of those versions seem to have been very well thought out. My biggest issue with adopting the NASB has been it's readability, which I understand is a reflection of its adherence to the underlying Hebrew & Greek syntax. I actually think it would be possible to do a revised "easier-read" edition of the NASB, where the English is updated to remove superfluous text. However, I understand this would go against the translation philosophy of Lockman Foundation. So there are times when I find myself in a study situation and if using my NASB, will read slowly and carefully to make sure it isn't too much of a mouthful (e.g. the beginning of Luke or Ephesians).

    There's much more I could say - I hope that I can eventually get past my obsession with translational choice and can simply enjoy and dig deep into the word for what it is. Thanks for the great post,

    John (33, Adelaide, Australia)

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    1. Hi John, I'm glad you found the post interesting and useful. I've been warming up to the ESV a little more over time, using it in devotional reading and such. I still very much prefer the NASB for study.

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