“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
A question asked of me quite often is about which bible translation is best. The common question of which Bible translation to use is very important because it concerns the most important words ever spoken, the words of God the Creator. So, you want to make sure the version you use reproduces in your own language what God actually said.
Before I get to my thoughts on that however, I’d like to address another question which also comes up on occasion and relates to the same the question. “Is the King James Version (or Authorized version), the only true translation for the English-speaking world?”
I don’t personally have an issue with the King James Version, but I do have an issue with the “King James only” or the “KJ only” approach which suggests that the English translation of 1611 is inspired of God. Especially when statements are made such as in the October, 1978 issue of “Bible Believers Bulletin,” by Peter Ruckman “. . . the Holy Ghost, who honoured the English text above any Greek or Hebrew text. . .”
By this he meant that the KJV translators were guided more accurately in their translation by the Holy Spirit than were those men who copied the original manuscripts.
There is in fact a growing literature crusade which claims that “God wrote only one Bible.” By one Bible, they mean the King James Version Bible written in 1611. They conclude that the King James Version is the only English version which faithfully preserves the original writings. I find that troubling for a number of reasons but for sake of space I’ll only share my issue with the “Textus Receptus” claim.
One of the concerns brought up by the KJ only camp concerns 1 John 5:7-8. The claim is made that it was a part of the Textus Receptus manuscript (claiming that this is the only accurate manuscript) and should, therefore, be included in all translations – and where it’s not indicates that that particular version is in error. Of course, it’s found in the KJV and not in most others seemingly boosting the position for the “KJV only” advocates.
A major problem with this whole issue is that the term, “textus receptus” is often misunderstood and misused.
The Trinitarian Bible Society exists for the purpose of circulating uncorrupted versions of the Word of God (namely KJV). Terrence H. Brown, the TBS secretary, makes this honest admission.
“One problem is that many people use the term ‘textus receptus’ without defining it, and give the impression that this received text is available somewhere in a single manuscript or printed copy, but this is not the case. No copy, written or printed, was called the ‘textus receptus’ until the Elzevirs used this description in the preface to their addition in 1633. It should therefore be understood that the King James Version translators, who published their work in 1611, did not use an addition of the Greek text actually known by this name.”
Understanding this, it is very interesting that when explored further, the passage from 1 John 5, is found to be absent from every known Greek manuscript except four, and these four (which are dated very, very late) contain the passage in what appears to be a translation from a late translation of the Latin Vulgate.
Further to that, the passage is quoted by none of the Greek fathers, who, if they had known it, would certainly have used it in the trinitarian controversies of the early centuries. As well, the passage is actually absent from the manuscripts of all ancient versions and is quoted for the first in time not in a Bible text but in a Latin treatise about the Bible in the 4th Century A.D.
Its inclusion in the Textus Receptus seems to have come through the pen of Erasmus. When charged by Stunica, Erasmus replied that he had not found any Greek manuscript containing those words, but that if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained it, he would include it in a future edition.
The one manuscript that was later presented to Erasmus in substantiation of the inclusion of that verse has now been identified as a Greek manuscript written in Oxford about 1520 by a Franciscan friar who took the words from the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus then inserted the passage in his third edition of 1522 but indicated in a lengthy footnote his own personal suspicions that the manuscript had been prepared in order to refute him.
What I find curious is that the KJ Only movement claims its loyalty to be to the Textus Receptus. However, upon further examination, it can be seen that KJ Only advocates are not loyal to the Textus Receptus, but rather only to the KJV itself. The New Testament of the New King James Version is based on the Textus Receptus, just as the KJV is. Yet, KJV Only advocates label the NKJV just as heretical as they do the NIV, NAS, etc.
I think it’s important to remember that the Old and New Testaments were not originally written in the English language. They were first written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. We should also remember that God never promised the perfect preservation of the originals, but he did promise to preserve their content. They are preserved within the body of currently existing manuscripts, and so where there are textual variations they are almost always incidental and do not significantly affect the sense of what Scripture is saying.
As a matter of fact, once the easily solved variants are removed, 99.9 percent of what is in our various translations can be confirmed without question. It is usually easy to identify the cause behind a textual variant because the Greek New Testament has been preserved in far more existing manuscripts than any other piece of ancient literature. In actuality, we are faced with, “an embarrassment of riches.”
We should also recognize that when the Bible is translated for the first time into a new language today, it is translated into the language that culture speaks and writes today, not the way they spoke and wrote 400 years ago. The same should be true in English. The Bible was written in the common, ordinary language of the people at that time.
Bible translations today should be the same. That is why Bible translations must be updated and revised as languages develop and change. The KJ Only movement is very English-focused in its thinking. Why should people who read English be forced to read the Bible in outdated/archaic English, while people of all other languages can read the Bible in modern/current forms of their languages?
Our loyalties shouldn’t be to the KJV, but rather to the original manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Only the original languages are the Word of God as he inspired it. A translation is only an attempt to take what is said in one language and communicate it in another. The modern translations are superb in taking the meaning of the original languages and communicating it in a way that we can understand in English.
The question remains, which is the best translation (or version) to use? To help us navigate to a place of confident understanding, I believe it helps to know that behind each version is a fundamental philosophy of Bible translation.
How Do We Choose?
You can separate modern Bible translations into two basic groups – formal equivalency and dynamic equivalency. Formal equivalency attempts a word for word rendition, providing as literal a translation as possible. Dynamic equivalency is more like a paraphrase, trying to convey ideas thought by thought.
Since no one language corresponds perfectly to any other language, every translation involves some degree of interpretation. A translation based on formal equivalency has a low degree of interpretation; translators are trying to convey the meaning of each particular word. When faced with a choice between readability and accuracy, formal equivalency translators are willing to sacrifice readability for the sake of accuracy.
By its very nature, a translation based on dynamic equivalency requires a high degree of interpretation. The goal of dynamic equivalency is to make the Bible readable, conveying an idea-for-idea rendering of the original. That means someone must first decide what idea is being communicated, which is the very act of interpretation. How the translators view Scripture becomes extremely important in the final product.
Therefore, it’s vital that you find a translation that represents what the Holy Spirit actually said as faithfully as possible. We want to read what the author intended us to read, which is what the Holy Spirit originally inspired.
The most popular dynamic-equivalency translations, which dominate the evangelical world, are the New International Version (NIV), Today’s New International Version (TNIV), The Message (MSG), The Living Bible (TLB), the Good News Bible (GNB), and the New Living Translation (NLT). Of those, the NIV is the most reliable.
The NIV was completed in 1978. Its translators did not attempt to translate strictly word for word but aimed more for equivalent ideas. As a result, the NIV doesn’t follow the exact wording of the original Greek and Hebrew texts as closely as the King James Version and New American Standard Bible versions do. Nevertheless, it can be considered a faithful translation of the original texts, and its lucid readability makes it quite popular, especially for devotional reading.
The four most popular formal equivalency translations in English are the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the English Standard Version (ESV).
The KJV is the oldest of the four and continues to be the favorite of many. It is known as the Authorized Version of 1611 because King James I approved the project to create an authoritative English Bible. Although it contains many obsolete words (some of which have changed in meaning), many people appreciate its dignity and majesty. The NKJV is a similar translation, taken from the same group of ancient manuscripts, that simply updates the archaic language of the KJV.
The NASB, completed in 1971 and updated in 1995, is a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. It is a literal translation from the Hebrew and Greek languages that incorporates the scholarship of several centuries of textual criticism conducted since the original KJV. It quickly became a favorite translation for serious Bible study.
The ESV (the one I use most often) is the most recent translation, which stands firmly in the formal equivalency tradition. It is a very solid translation in updated language that aims to reproduce the beauty of the KJV. The result is one of the most poetic and beautifully structured versions that maintains a high degree of accuracy and faithfulness to the original languages.
Which version is the best to use? Ultimately, that choice is up to you. Each of the formal-equivalency versions has strengths and weaknesses, but they are all reliable translations of the Bible. If you want to read a dynamic-equivalency translation, the NIV is the most reliable.
Ideally, as a serious student of Scripture, you should become familiar enough with concordances, word-study aids, and conservative commentaries so that even without a thorough knowledge of the original languages, you can explore the nuances of meaning that arise out of the original texts.