Which Translation of the Bible should I use?


A lot of folks have asked me about modern English translations.  Which one is best?

(Click image for John 1 in NIV 2011)
John 1 in the King James Version 1611

Which one is worst?  “That NIV ain’t a version, it’s a PERversion!”  🙂

This post will be a short one in terms of the ink spilled on this topic, but I hope to answer it fairly well in a few paragraphs.  I have been attracted to the NIV 2011 ever since mid-2010 when it was released on Bible Gateway.  There are quite a few video tutorials out there to see and take the words of the translators themselves, as well as a host of critical writers out there.  (Watch the NIV 2011 video here)
Below is a quickie table showing the year, translation, and my quick two-word opinion on them:

Year           Translation             Strengths   Weaknesses

1611             King James Version                           Largely Distributed        Awkward
1901             American Standard Version       Extremely Literal           Very Awkward
1952             Revised Standard Version            Ease of reading                Some bias
1963             New American Standard               Literal                                  Readability
1966             Today’s English Version               Easy to read                      Less accurate
1971             Living Bible                                            Readability                       Very Inaccurate
1973             New International Version         Easy to read                     Bias/Inac.
1979             *New King James Version            Easier to read                  Rev. KJV
1989             *New Revised Standard                  Easy to read                    Gender inclusion
1995             *NASB Update                                        Literal/Accurate           Readability
2001             *English Standard Version          Literal/Accurate           Readability
2010             *NIV 2011                                              Easy/Conversational    Somewhat Biased

*All reliable translations, and capable of teaching the lost about Christ with great accuracy.

While “somewhat biased” is my weakness label for the NIV 2011, I am a fan of it.  It is largely accurate it seems, and it has re-placed original text in many of the controversial biased spots of the 1984 NIV.  For example, sarx (flesh) in Greek is translated “sinful nature” in the 1984 NIV, which indicates a definite bias toward a doctrine of original sin.  Although I am not offended by the phrase, “sinful nature”, it is not necessarily the Biblical meaning for the term flesh.  If you are referring to a general state of being lost in the human condition, I’m cool with it.  If you’re referring to the idea that I was born as a sinful infant, inheriting the guilt of my fathers, I disagree.  However, I’m a fan of the 2011 because although there are a few liberties taken, they appear to be driven by a desire to be combination literal word-for-word, and also phrase-for-phrase.
To answer your question… Romans 5 does utilize “flesh” in the NIV 2011, rather than “sinful nature” – although – it does use “sinful nature” in that chapter several times.  When I say “somewhat biased,” that’s what I’m referring to.  They respect the desire to allow the reader to establish his own meaning for the term, flesh.
Another specific example for consideration.  In 1 Cor. 6:9, the quite literal NASB (New American Standard Bible) states, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,…”  – feel free to look it up by the link and read it in context.

HOWEVER, the NIV 2011 translates it like this:  “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men…”  
Footnotes:  1 Corinthians 6:9 The words men who have sex with men translate two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts.
For that matter, the ESV (English Standard Version) does the same thing for the verse, stating, “nor men who practice homosexuality”.  See that verse HERE.
Clearly, literal translation in the NASB is somewhat vague in terms in modern English, and misses the Greek meaning of the term malakos.  Some of us think we know what “effeminate” means in English; however, the Greek terms malakos and arsenokoites are extremely graphic, and are clarified in the footnote above (taken directly from the NIV 2011 text).  Combining those two terms – clearly meaning two different things – does help in the NIV 2011.  It helps in the sense that it states unequivocally that homosexuality is sinful in either case; whether one is malakoi (a receiving male prostitute, or youth who is in a relationship with a man) or arsenokoites (one who sodomizes, or lies with a man like he would a woman).  In this case, the English of the NIV 2011 spares us some terribly graphic details of Greco-Roman sexuality, and accomplishes the meaning of the passage at the same time.
Graph & bottom paragraph below courtesy of:  Dan Wallace – A Review of the NIV 2011: part 3 of 4

Elegance, Accuracy, Readability

in Major English Bibles

(scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best score)

Elegance Accuracy Readability
KJV

9

5

3

RV

1

9

2

ASV

4

9

5

RSV

7

8

8

NASB

4

8

4

NRSV

6

8

6

ESV

8

8

8

NIV (whole tradition)

4

8

10

NET

7

10

6

At bottom, there is a variety of factors that one must consider when choosing a translation. The three basic translation philosophies—which, incidentally, correspond to the three periods of English Bible translation: elegance (1536–1881), accuracy (1881-1971), readability (1978–present)—are just one way of looking at these translations.

So which translation should you use?

Do you have an affinity for the lack of understandable English, yet the more Regal and Beautiful language of the King James Version?  Or would you prefer accuracy, yet more readable NIV 2011?  This post hasn’t explored the inaccuracies of the KJV, but rest assured there are several there as well; particularly 1 John 5:5-8 and Hosea 11:12.

It depends on how well you memorize scripture, and how you use the Bible you have in your lap.  At any rate, serious students of the Bible do need to consider translations, when reading.

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4 thoughts on “Which Translation of the Bible should I use?

  1. If anyone wants to know, my favorites for use are:
    ESV – study, accuracy, knowledge
    NIV 2011 – study, general reading, personal studies
    the Message – NOT a translation, but a pure paraphrase by Eugene Peterson. Great to read for an off-the-wall, “nother way of saying it” kind of read.

  2. I am greatly put off by The Message, largely because there are people who use it as their primary Bible, when it cannot be that. I use NIV when working with a new believer or someone without great English skills. I use NRSV and NASB myself. I want to get an NET because of the fab translation notes.

  3. I’ve used NKJV and NIV for many years but have recently been giving the ESV a trial run. I like it a lot (I can’t say that sentence w/o “Dumb and Dumber” coming to mind!). The ESV reads well, seems to be quite accurate, and I haven’t found much bias, at least not in the biblical text. I bought the ESV Study Bible, which could be described as…”Text by God; Notes by Calvin.” To their credit, they do state that the notes reflect Reformed thought. The first thing I liked about the ESV was the typeface. It’s so clear and easy to read compared with many of the other versions.

    • Mike, I totally agree about the ESV Study Bible. It’s fantastic- and I love the hardback. God bless you in your work bro! Looks like I’ll be back in Nashville this spring three times, to finish some grad work. See you then?

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