“when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God,”-I Thessalonians 2:13
Why should I care what Bible translation I use? Aren’t they all the same? In reverse order, the answers are, “No.” and “Let’s talk about it.”
As New Testament Christians, we rely solely on the Bible for our teaching, faith, worship, and practice. The world of denominational Christianity relies on the traditions and teaching of men for at least part of their doctrine (Mark 7:7-9). They depend on creeds, catechisms, theories, decisions of human councils, and the word of charismatic leaders to guide them. For members of these groups, having a reliable translation of God’s word is only moderately important. They don’t rely on the Bible for all of their teaching, they rely on people. At North Second Street, we strive to be people of the Book who, “Speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent.” Therefore, we should seek English translations of the Bible that provide as clear a view as possible of the original, inspired words of God.
There are three translation models to consider: Formal Equivalence (word for word), Dynamic Equivalence (thought for thought), and Paraphrase. For purposes of this discussion, we will disregard the third option. Paraphrases (The Message, Contemporary English Version) are someone’s interpretation of what the text says and are not sure guides to God’s will. That leaves us with two options.
Dynamic Equivalence: The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), New International Version (NIV), and New Living Testament (NLT) fit into this category. They attempt to straddle the line between fidelity to the text and interpreting what the translators think God is telling us. If I had to choose one of these three it would be the HCSB (rebranded Christian Standard Bible in 2018). The NIV printed today (copyright 2011) is a completely different version from what was produced from 1978 through 2010. It forces gender neutral language onto the text, renders some passages into nonsense, and provides unfaithful translations in many places. The NLT is useful for alternative readings but is closer to a paraphrase.
But words do matter. If I read a Dynamic Equivalence Bible, I am counting on a man to tell me his opinion of what the text says. On the “Translation Philosophy” page at the Bible-selling website evangelicalbible.com, Bible scholar Raymond Van Leeuwen is quoted this way, “It is hard to know what the Bible means when we are uncertain about what it says1.” Christians who long to look purely into the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25), should demand a more rigorous approach.
Formal Equivalence: The American Standard Version (ASV), English Standard Version (ESV), King James Version (KJV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and New King James Version (NKJV) all fall under this heading. Each of these translations was produced by a committee of scholars resulting in an accurate rendering of the original Hebrew and Greek texts. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible (II Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”-John 6:63. Shouldn’t we want to read those words as exactly as possible?
The translation guide referenced above puts it this way, “The NASB, ESV, KJV and NKJV are superb choices for those who hold transparency to the original text, as a premium for an excellent translation.” My thoughts exactly. The “big four” are readily available, reliable windows into the will of God.