Tag Archives: bible translations

The Elusive Quest for the “Best” Bible Translation

I ran across this comic today, posted in an excellent piece by Andy Naselli, a New Testament instructor at Bethlehem College & Seminary, founded by Minneapolis pastor, John Piper. Naselli’s argument is that while many Christians tend to argue that their favorite Bible translation is the best, and every other translation is inferior, it would greatly help if we had some humility here.

Evangelical Christians can get pretty picky when it comes to Bible translations that they implicitly trust. But one of my pet peeves is when people, who have absolutely no background in biblical scholarship, tend to think they know better than people who have been studying the Scriptures in-depth for decades.

The latest brouhaha is over a new Bible translation, the Christian Standard Bible, which is a revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) was completed in 2004, by a team of scholars, sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention.  The new Christian Standard Bible (CSB) is a modern revision of the HCSB.

Critics have charged that the Christian Standard Bible, produced by conservative evangelical scholars, have nevertheless “changed” the Bible to make it “gender inclusive,” thus hiding a liberal agenda. But as I wrote a few years ago, in one of Veracity’s most widely read posts, the issue of “gender accuracy” between the ESV and NIV 2011 translations, two of the most popular translations read by Christians today, tends to vary from passage to passage. In other words, sometimes the ESV is more “gender accurate” than the NIV 2011, but in other cases, the NIV 2011 is more “gender accurate” than the ESV. I tend to prefer the ESV, but I see a number of strengths in other translations, such as the NIV 2011, and the new CSB.

It is true that no scholar, even conservative evangelical scholars, operates without a personal bias. Even the best scholars can be wrong at times. Therefore, one should not take the message of the comic to mean that the average person, without a PhD, should never be able to make their own informed decisions, when reading the biblical text, in order to understand its meaning.

All I am saying is that we all need a little dose of humility, and not quickly dismiss a Bible translation, simply because one or two passages in a different translation do not conform to our own presuppositions. My suggestion would be to visit BibleGateway.com, and pick some passages in your favorite Bible translation, and then compare them to something like the new Christian Standard Bible. Who knows? Perhaps reading something in a different translation may give you greater insight into the Bible.

Here is an interview with Trevin Wax, publisher of the CSB, about the new Bible, and with Tom Schreiner, one of the lead translators, and then a brief comparison review at BibleGateway.com, with other translations.

The Final Update to the English Standard Version (ESV)

Plumb LineCrossway Publishers recently announced that they have arrived at a permanent revision of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. This last revision, conducted in the summer of 2016, involves just 52 words out of 29 Bible verses, as detailed on Crossway’s website.

I bought my first ESV translation of the Bible in 2008. Even though the first edition came out 2001, there had been rumors of a Study Bible being produced. I am glad that I waited. This is now my favorite Bible to use, as it contains a wealth of resources and maps to aid the student of Scripture (though I also really like the Zondervan NIV Study Bible, too). Unlike some other study Bibles produced by a single Bible teacher, the ESV Study Bible was produced by a team of evangelical scholars across a wide set of backgrounds, thus making sure the reader is not limited to one person’s view of the Bible.

The original vision of the ESV translation committee was to produce a modern, and yet permanent, alternative to the venerable King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, for English readers. The idea of having a fixed text that would stand the test of time was the primary reason why the church that I am a part of selected the ESV as our new pew Bible.

But not every initial printing of a new Bible is perfect, and so the ESV made allowances for some changes since 2001. The largest set of changes were announced in 2011, and while I could not find those changes listed anymore at Crossway.org, another blogger at Bible-Researcher.com has still hung onto them (PDF format), 500 words out of 275 verses. Before the ESV Study Bible appeared, another set of changes were made in 2007 (If you know of any other previous changes, let me know, as I would like to link to them here).

But it looks like the ESV translators are now finished with their work. Note that the “final” version of the King James Version of the Bible was not fixed until 1769, 158 years after the KJV was originally produced.

ChristianityToday has an article about the summer 2016 changes to the ESV here.   I blogged about how believers can navigate through their decision on what Bible translation they should use, the ESV vs. NIV 2011, in a earlier Veracity post. Blogger Jon Burnett details some of the recent 2016 changes. For you total Bible geeks, Old Testament professor Claude Mariottini has reviewed these changes (spoiler alert: Mariottini does not like some of the changes. One of his biggest gripes deals with an issue related to the complementarian/egalitarian debate, which is pretty current in evangelical circles and explored at Veracity here). And finally, blogger Scot McKnight addresses the most controversial change.

UPDATE: September 15, 2016. Dave Rudy, a faithful Veracity follower, sent me this link to a post by blogger/theologian Denny Burk interacting with Scot McKnight, defending the ESV’s permanent revision.

UPDATE: September 30, 2016. Crossway has reversed their decision. Details here.

Bono and Eugene Peterson on the Psalms

What do you get when you cross an Irish rock star with a Bible scholar/pastor? An interesting conversation between Bono and Eugene Peterson, the author of the English paraphrase translation of the Bible, The Message.

Navigating the ESV vs. NIV 2011 Debate

Does your church have a “pew Bible?” Through a generous gift years ago, an anonymous donor in our church gave hundreds of copies of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible so that everyone who comes to our church would be able to read from the Bible where they sit each and every Sunday morning for worship. What a great gift it is to have a copy of God’s Word at your fingertips!

The problem is that we use the 1984 edition of the NIV…. and the version’s publisher, Zondervan, is no longer printing copies of the 1984 NIV. So what is a church like ours to do if you want to get a new pew Bible?

Ah, so we enter into the world of contemporary Bible translation controversy. The controversy, though a bit nerdy for many in some respects, is important because lovers of Jesus are also lovers of Holy Scripture. We want to make sure we get God’s Word right!

Part of the philosophy behind the translators of the NIV is that the version should be re-evaluated over time to account for changes in the English language in order to make God’s Word more accessible to more and more people. Unfortunately, the English language has undergone some significant changes in recent years, and some efforts by newer versions in the NIV tradition have been met with resistance from some of the classic NIV 1984 original supporters.  The current version of the NIV, completed in 2011, has now found growing competition from other newcomers to the English Bible translation field, such as the New Living Translation (2013, most recently), but primarily from the English Standard Version (2011, most recently). What is the story behind the controversy?

And In One Corner, Weighing 1.6 Pounds…..

A little history is in order. For many centuries, the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible ruled the roost when it came to English Bible translations.  However, changes in the English language and the discovery of older manuscripts in the 19th century prompted efforts to revise the veritable KJV. After some early attempts at a new translation, in the United States in the 1950s, the National Council of Churches produced a major revision of the KJV, introducing the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible. But while the RSV was well received among mainline Christian churches, many conservative churches resisted some of the changes that came along with the RSV.

The New International Version was birthed in this effort to provide a more evangelical alternative to the RSV that nevertheless would capture an interdenominational spirit behind the new translation. The NIV would also be a more flexible translation, having a more thought-for-thought approach to the text than a more literal word-for-word approach, yet without going as far as the rather free paraphrase versions of the Bible. Hundreds of conservative Bible scholars from a wide variety of churches and denominations spent years in developing the NIV. The first completed version of the NIV came out in 1978, with the last major revision in the 20th century coming in 1984. The NIV became a huge success, outselling all other contemporary English versions.

Nevertheless, there was another crowd that still liked the more literal tradition of the KJV and RSV, but they still thought that the RSV needed some tweaking to make sure that evangelical doctrine was being clearly upheld. In the 1990s, Crossway Publishers eventually gained permission rights from the National Council of Churches to use the 1971 edition of the RSV to serve as a base for a new English Standard Version (ESV). The ESV operates with a different translation philosophy from the NIV.

But ever since the efforts to seriously update the NIV began in the 1990s, opinions were split among evangelical Christians.  Some have appreciated the NIV attempts to capitalize on newer scholarship and a better understanding of how the English language has changed over the recent years. Supporters of the newer NIV revisions consider the changes to be clearer and more accurate to the 21st century audience. On the other side, supporters of the ESV have thought that the NIV changes ironically have taken away from the accuracy of earlier NIV 1984. These supporters of the ESV have sensed that modern changes in language have become intertwined with ideological biases that threaten the integrity of Christian doctrine, thus undermining the intended efforts of the NIV 2011. In particular, the most controversial issue is over the claim that the NIV 2011 succumbs to a “gender inclusive” approach to language that tacitly approves of a feminist bias that is contrary to fundamental Christian belief.

Learning From the Debate

So, how does one evaluate the different positions regarding the ESV and NIV 2011 discussion among many Christians today?

In a clear and cogent fashion, it helps to hear the different sides of the debate regarding the various benefits and disadvantages of using the ESV vs. the NIV 2011. Along the way, you can learn about the philosophies behind different translations in general, not just the ESV and the NIV 2011.

Below are two excellent presentations that describe the issues very well. The first presentation is by Wayne Grudem, a theology professor at Phoenix Seminary, who is a scholar on the ESV translation team. He argues for the benefit of using more word-for-word translations, like the ESV, for use as a pew Bible and for personal study.

The second presentation is by David Whiting, lead pastor at Northridge Church in Connecticut, explaining why his church recently decided to use the NIV 2011 as a pew Bible instead of the ESV. Both presentations last about 50 minutes each.

For me, I like both translations, the ESV and the NIV 2011. People should read from a variety of translations whenever possible so that you do not get stuck in one particular approach, even if you find certain elements of another translation as being less appealing. Nevertheless, it can get cumbersome lugging around stacks of different translations to your small group Bible study! (Of course, you could just download multiple copies of different translations to your phone, tablet or laptop!)

Furthermore, having more than one pew Bible in your church can get pretty expensive. Picking a pew Bible is really important, so it is really valuable to take the time to hear both sides of the debate. After watching the presentations, I made a preliminary conclusion based on what I heard and took some notes that you might find helpful.

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The Reformation Study Bible 2015: A Brief Review

I have been waiting for this one for years. The Reformation Study Bible (2015) has recently been released.

There are dozens of really good study Bibles available in English today. But I always advise people to consider reading in different translations if at all possible to get various perspectives. The problem, of course, is that Bibles can get expensive, especially study Bibles.

However, these days one of the benefits of Internet technology is the access to great online resources, such as BibleGateway.com. BibleGateway.com is where you can read passages of Scripture in multiple translations.  Not only that, but BibleGateway.com has a few helpful commentaries. But the big news this week is that BibleGateway.com has added many of the study notes for the Reformation Study Bible (2015) to its online access. Essentially, you get the notes from this study Bible for free online! But you might want to consider the paper version as it has more material in it.

The story behind the Reformation Study Bible is that it is the product of a team of scholars led by Bible teacher R.C. Sproul, the leader of Ligonier Ministries and the Renewing Your Mind radio program.  R.C. Sproul was first inspired by the original 1560 Geneva Biblewhich was essentially the great English translation that mentored multiple generations of English Puritans in transforming 16th and 17th century Britain and the American Colonies, only to be eclipsed by the famous King James Version of the Bible. What set the Geneva Bible apart from other Bibles is that it had copious notes explaining the Bible text for the non-Bible scholar reader. The Reformation Study Bible carries on with that tradition for contemporary English readers.

The Reformation Study Bible was originally done with the New International Version (NIV) in 1988, but when the English Standard Version (ESV) became available, a slimmed down version of the Reformation Study Bible came out for the ESV in 2005. The 2015 is a greatly expanded resource with tons more material than the 2005 version.

Nevertheless, there are some things to keep in mind with the Reformation Study Bible. Because of its decidedly “classical” Reformed theological bent, readers who hold to more Arminian and Wesleyan perspectives might be put off by some of the theological biases. Furthermore, when it comes to issues dealing with the “End Times” and the question of the relationship between Israel and the church, the Reformation Study Bible will prove to be a challenge to readers from more dispensationalist backgrounds. However, when I reviewed the notes for some of the more controversial passages of the Bible, I was pleased that the editors showed a fairly generous view towards different theological positions while clearly stating their own.

Here is a short one-minute video promo:


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