Bible Translations: Are they really Trustworthy? Part 3

11 09 2009


In the first two blogs on Bible translation, I have dealt with such questions as how we got our current Bible, the translation process, revelation, and inspiration (Bible Translations I).  We then looked at how we got our current canon of 66 books, preservation of the Bible, and transmission (Bible Translations II).  In this article, I want to look at how we can get the most out of our current English translations through understanding different Bibles that are available to us today.  Choosing the Bible translation that is right for you can be difficult.  I’m hopeful that my blog will be helpful in your understanding and evaluation of our current modern translations.


If you were to enter any Christian bookstore today, you could be overwhelmed by the plethora of Bible translations available.  While there are literally hundreds of Bible translations, there are three versions that account for probably 90% of all the Bible sales worldwide.  They are: the New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard Version (NAS), and the much loved and respected King James Version (KJV).  These three translations are very accurate, readable, and faithful to the original languages of the Bible.


English Bible translations tend to be governed by one of two general translation theories. The first theory has been called “formal-equivalence,” “literal,” or “word-for-word” translation. According to this theory, the translator attempts to render each word of the original language into English and seeks to preserve the original syntax and sentence structure as much as possible in translation.  The second theory has been called “dynamic-equivalence,” “functional-equivalence,” or “thought-for-thought” translation.  The goal of this translation theory is to produce in English the closest natural equivalent of the message expressed by the original language text, both in meaning and in style.


Word for Word Translations


Word for Word translations make a special effort to translate each word from the original languages as accurately as possible.  The philosophical perspective of Bible translations through word for word translation was the guide of Bible translators up to the middle of the 20th century. 


These translations are excellent for word studies and accuracy, though the poetic style and nuances of the original languages can sometimes be lost.  Probably the most well loved and popular versions available today would be the New American Standard Version (NAS), the English Standard Version (ESV), and the New King James Version (NKJV), which I currently use the most often at Mountain Springs Church.


New American Standard Version (NAS)


Originally translated in 1971; updated in 1995, the NAS was produced by 54 evangelical protestant scholars sponsored by the Lockman Foundation.  This version is very literal in vocabulary and word order, although the criticism has been that the English seems a bit stilted at times.  Of all the literal word for word translations, I believe the NAS to be the most literal of all.  I like this translation and it is the favorite of my wife.


English Standard Version (ESV)


The ESV is the newest literal translation on the market today.  It is growing rapidly in popularity among the reformed crowd.  I was recently at a conference where this translation was hailed as the best word for word translation available today. This excellent translation was published in 2001 by Crossway and developed by a team of 100 scholars with the goal of accuracy and readability.


New King James Version (NKJV)


In 1982, the old King James Version (KJV) was updated with more modern english. Although the choice of words make it easier to read, it still maintains the beauty of language with its unique poetic style and 17th century sentence structure.  This is my personal favorite as a study and preaching Bible.  I find the word for word translations to be accurate most of the time and the ease in word studies to be on the level of the NAS.


Thought for Thought Translations


In the category of thought for thought translations, the primary purpose of scholars has been to keep the meaning of the languages of the original authors and translate it into the same pattern of thought in the readers language.  In deciding on a thought for thought Bible, you might want to consider the grade level of the reader.  The most popular thought for thought Bible would be the New International Version (NIV) which is written on an 8th grade level, the New Century Version (NCV) written on a 4th grade level, the Contemporary English Version (CEV) written on a 5th grade level, New Living Translation (NLT) on a 6th grade level, and Today’s English Version (TEV) on a 7th grade level.


New International Version (NIV)


The NIV is considered to be the most popular translation of the Bible today.  It is most admired for its straight forward and accurate style.  Completed in 1978, it was the product of 115 evangelical scholars from all over the English speaking world.  Over 150 million have been sold since 1978, making it by far the best selling translation today.  Its language is easy to read and its accuracy very well respected.


New Century Version (NCV)


The NCV reads like a newspaper.  It targets the 4th grade reading level and is an acceptable balance between literalism and paraphrase.  Some paraphrasing is used to avoid words no longer in common use.


Contemporary English Version (CEV)


The CEV is a new translation published in 1995 and was originally intended to be a children’s translation.  Thus, it is quite readable and easy to understand.  It is excellent for the unchurched and non-native speakers of English.


New Living Translation (NLT)


The NLT is a completely new translation of the Bible first produced by in 2005.  It contains more than 60,000 notes by the translators to help readers understand the process of translation.  This version seeks to retain the easy reading style of such thought for thought translations as the Living Bible and splits the difference between the paraphrase and the literal translation.


Today’s English Version (TEV)


Completed in 1976, the TEV was translated by Robert G. Bratcher and six other scholars.  Over 118 million have been sold and this translation is very free-flowing and fairly accurate.  This translation tries to avoid traditional biblical vocabulary and looks at the passages of the Bible in more nontraditional ways.  Excellent for non-christians and the unchurched. 


Which Translation?


I believe that all the translations we have looked at above are accurate, readable, and produced by fine scholarship.  I would recommend all of the above.  The question for the reader in selecting a Bible translation is one of purpose.


If you are interested in a serious study of the Bible, including grammar, vocabulary, and word studies, I would highly recommend one of the three word for word translations of which I have just written.  If, on the other hand, you are using your Bible for more devotional reading, or reading to your children, you may want to consider one of the mentioned thought for thought translations.


All of these translations are excellent.  Let me encourage you to pick up the Bible translation you love and then love it!  Love the Bible!  Read it, study it, and memorize it.  The purpose of reading the Bible about God is that we might come to discover, love, and obey the God of the Bible!  Go for it, jump in.  Have fun.


Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,





The ELCA Misstep

1 09 2009

I grew up as a pastor’s kid, with my father being in the clergy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). I have many fond memories of my formative years in the Lutheran heritage. My father and mother love Jesus and love the history and liturgy of the Lutheran Church. They taught me to love God and revere the Scriptures. Most of my deepest convictions about life, work, family, and God were formed by these two precious saints. I went to church every week and, due to the high church style of my dad’s churches, I learned by heart the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, and Luther’s shorter treatise on baptism. Now, that’s not bad upbringing.

But the ELCA that I grew up in has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. Like a tiny leak in the upstairs bathroom that, unattended, will cause the ceiling to cave in, the ELCA has gradually and slowly been moving further and further from the Bible that Luther so loved. As of a week ago, the slow theological leak has now become a flood. A week ago the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) during its national convention in Minneapolis voted to allow practicing gay and lesbian pastors to be ordained. The following are excerpts from the Bishop Julian Gordy, the bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Synod, explaining the new policy on homosexual clergy.

This past Friday, after hours of heart wrenching discussion and debate, our church, meeting in Assembly in Minneapolis, voted to ease limits on gay clergy and to allow congregations which wish to do so to recognize committed, life-long, publicly accountable same-sex relationships. It was a time for dancing for some, a time for mourning for others.

Some feel that they are finally included fully in the life of our church. The day for which they have worked and prayed for years has arrived.

Others find this change to be deeply troubling. They view the actions of the Assembly as contrary to the Bible and Lutheran teaching and practice.

During the weeks and months to come, I hope that both those groups and all those who find themselves somewhere in between will be able to talk with one another as we continue to discern the Spirit’s direction for us and for our church.

The implications of the Assembly’s actions will unfold more fully over time. Over the coming months, processes to implement the Assembly’s decisions will be worked out by church-wide leaders and staff, in consultation with the Conference of Bishops. This will not happen right away, but will take some months.

We know this much for sure: Whereas persons in committed same-sex relationships formerly were barred from serving on any of the official ministry rosters of our church, a way is now being opened for such persons to serve in rostered ministries, but only if they are otherwise qualified, as determined by the synod’s candidacy committee, and if a congregation chooses to call them. The call process will operate in the same way that it has since the beginning of our church, with congregations free to call that person to whom the Spirit directs them…

In Galatians, St. Paul admonishes us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This mutual burden bearing is one of the things that separate the church of Jesus from the world in which we are each required and expected to bear our own burdens.

Playing on the ELCA tag line, “God’s work. Our hands,” Dr. Ishmael Noko, a Tanzanian pastor and the outgoing executive director of the Lutheran World Federation reminded the Assembly that unity is a work of God. Our hands are called to serve that unity. The church of Jesus Christ is not ours to dismember. I am convinced that no church in the world has put the gospel into practice any better than the ELCA. We are bound to do all that we can to preserve its God-given unity and health.

Thank you for your prayers and for your support.

Julian Gordy
ELCA Southeastern Synod

I believe the ELCA has made a profound theological and missiological misstep with this decision. Like the Presbyterians and Episcopalians before them, this decision will lead to more disunity than the denomination ever bargained for. Disunity is most pronounced when churches have no plumb line for determining truth and unity. When the hermeneutic for truth, life, and vision is surrendered to majority vote, a denomination is in deep trouble.

The culture is changing. Never has a nation so quickly abandoned the ideals, foundations, and mission as America in the past 40 years. The disunity of our nation politically, spiritually, and culturally is evidence of a nation that is anchorless. Even the mainline churches that once stood strong as a “light on a hill” have now abandoned their source for truth, the Bible. The Bible has become a dusty old historical book that, like the so called “progressives” in Congress and their view of our constitution that it is a living document that is open to anyone’s interpretation based on the wants and whims of the culture. Praise God this was not Moses’ view of the Law when he returned from Mt. Sinai.

It is true that methods for proclamation of the gospel must change to fit our landscape, but our message remains rock solid, based on the foundations of truth through a literal historical hermeneutic of God’s holy writ. Contextualization means just that. We study to understand our changing context, so that we can present the ageless truths that never change. If we abandon our foundations and traditional convictions, upheld with blood through the centuries, we abandon the anchor for truth.

I’m disappointed by the ELCA’s decision but I am not surprised. I told my dad five years ago that I saw this coming to the Lutherans. Now the ELCA has joined the ranks of most of the mainline denominations who bought into Barthian, neoorthodox, slightly less liberal theology of the 40’s and 50’s that has now proverbially become the chicken that has come home to roost. I’m sad to say that God will not be mocked and the Bible is still inerrant and infallible.

So, the great heritage of biblical commitment of Luther and Melancthon will gradually fade away in the ELCA. These are the gasps of a dying denomination. It will not happen overnight because there are still many of the Builder generation and late Baby Boomers who love the liturgy and the style of Lutheranism, but the younger generation will not be impressed. They are not persuaded; and this decision will continue the trend in the ELCA of young people leaving the church. Why? Because the ELCA (and all of the more liberal denominations) are looking more and more like the culture they have grown up in. The standards being lowered only lowers the commitment and faith of the adherents, and there will be fewer and fewer to be found.

I do hope that some Bible-centered evangelicals that are left within the pastoral ranks of the ELCA will choose to stay and fight, but I would not blame them if this is the last sign on a winding theological road that spells “exit.” For many the vestiges of a biblical standard for judging culture, the nature of man and the mission of God, will seem to have faded away in a momentous vote in Minneapolis that will leave them frustrated and depressed. And they will leave in droves.

The good news is that new denominations and new relational church networks will be formed. This is already happening within the Presbyterian and Episcopal evangelical churches, and it will certainly happen within the ranks of the ELCA. And Jesus will still be Lord and He will still continue to build His church and the gates of hell will still not prevail against her!

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,