Newcomers to the English Bible often lament the seemingly never-ending proliferation of Bible translations: Which one do I pick? Long gone are the days when the King James Version of the Bible ruled them all!
The past ten years have seen a particular spurt of growth of newer English Bible translations. The late 20th century classic, the New International Version (NIV) 1984, got a major facelift in 2011. The English Standard Version (ESV) got its last update in 2016.
But while the well-known NIV and ESV battle it out over which one is more popular, other English translations have emerged. The New English Translation (NET) Bible, known for its extensive footnotes, and all available online, got a major revision in 2019. The Holman Christian Standard Bible was replaced by the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), in 2017.
Just when you thought we would be worn out by all of these new translations and updates, we learn in 2020 of yet another round of updates. First, the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) got a minor revision of updates, of less than 1% of the text, in early 2020. The CSB project was driven a lot by Dr. Thomas Schreiner, of Southern Baptist Seminary. Dr. Schreiner was once a graduate student of Dr. Donald Hagner, at Fuller Seminary. Hagner was my primary New Testament professor, when I went to Fuller. An interview with Dr. Schreiner, about the CSB, can be found here on YouTube. The CSB committee suggests that the small update this year will be the last one, for perhaps the next 10 years. Find out all about it here. A downloadable PDF of the changes can be found here.
Secondly, the venerable New American Standard Bible (NASB), developed by the Lockman Foundation, first published in 1971, was last updated in 1995. A new update for 2020 is expected to hit the printers by early 2021. But you can see a preview of the changes on Facebook.
Finally, we learn that Southern California pastor John MacArthur is planning on yet another revision of the NASB, to be called the Legacy Standard Bible. The impetus behind the Legacy Standard Bible is to provide an “accurate” translation, based on the latest advances in the study of ancient Bible manuscripts, while shying away from some current interpretive trends in certain modern translations.
Here is my take: The positive side of having all of these Bible translations is that it helps to compare different nuances in how English words and phrases can be used to translate the original Hebrew and Greek. All of the major translations available today are very good (only a handful, like the Passion Translation, generally should be avoided). That is why I make regular use of websites like BibleGateway.com, where you can compare different Bible translations, side-by-side, as part of my devotional and study reading, in addition to normally reading from my English Standard Version (ESV) study Bible.
But sometimes we can go too far. The downside to having so many Bible translations available, the situation will continue to lead towards more tribalism in English-speaking Christianity. Different Bible translations, with different perspectives, will compete for different readerships in mind, and individual believers and churches will find themselves gravitating towards one silo, or another, thereby undermining widespread trust across multiple segments of evangelicalism, a case that Bible scholar Mark Ward strongly made most recently.
In other words, the plethora of Bible translations will thrill the Bible nerd, like me, but it will surely frustrate and confuse the average Christian, for whom a regular pattern of Bible reading and study can be a struggle…. and it is simply better to have in mind the plumbers, Soccer moms, and restaurant table waiters, than in trying to cater to the Bible nerds.