Which Bible?

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on January 2, 2002 under Ask the Pastor | Be the First to Comment

Someone from our church family writes:

I have two questions. The first one is, what Bible do you recommend? My eyes are getting worse as I get older, and I like to replace my old one to a large print version. The second question is, what is this Gender-neutral version I been hearing about? It all sound nice, but wouldn’t that alter the real meaning of what the Bible is saying?

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Dear Friend,

There are mainly three types of English Bibles currently on the market; and their differences have a lot to do with the approach to the work of translation that was used in making them. One type is a “literal” or “formal equivalency” translation (sometimes called a “word-for-word” translation). The translators of these Bibles sought to make a translation from the original Hebrew or Greek into English that followed the wording of the original documents as closely and as literally as possible – hence the name “word-for-word”. The translators of these Bibles recognized that this approach wouldn’t necessarily make for the smoothest reading in English; but the priority was to make sure that every word and phrase was translated as accurately and as literally as possible. Some of the most popular and respected of these types of Bibles would be the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New King James Version (NKJV), and of course, the old King James Version (KJV).

Another type of Bible translation is called a “dynamic equivalency” translation. In these Bibles, the translators didn’t so much seek word-for-word accuracy in their translation, but rather sought to accurately capture the broader meaning of the original writers. Their translation was intended to reproduce the same sort of experience and understanding in the modern English reader as would have been experienced by the ancient reader of the original Greek or Hebrew text. This means that, in some cases, a literal word-for-word accuracy would need to be sacrificed in order to create a smoother English reading that captures the meaning as a modern reader would understand it. The most popular and respected of these kinds of translations would be the New International Version (NIV), the New Living Translation (NLV), and the Good News Bible (GDB).

In addition to these, a third type of Bible is a “paraphrase”. This type of Bible isn’t really a “translation”; because it doesn’t try to make an accurate translation from the original languages. Instead, a knowledgeable Bible scholar sought to “re-express” what the Bible says in a way that would be meaningful to a modern English reader – sort of like putting it in their own words. These types of Bibles, while very good and helpful to read, are meant mostly for devotional reading, and should not be used for serious study. The most popular of these are The Living Bible (LB) and The Message.

There are a couple of things you might find helpful to consider in picking a translation of the Bible. You might consider, first, how you will be using this Bible. (A “formal equivalency” translation, for example, is the best to use for serious, accurate study. But a “dynamic equivalency” translation may prove easier to read for someone that is new at reading the Bible.) Second, consider which version will make it easiest to study with other people in church. (I believe it’s good and helpful for us to have a variety of translations to study from in discussion groups, because we can gain insights by seeing the differences. But it can also become a real distraction if the version you’re using is different from the one that’s being publically read from, or that’s being used in a sermon.)

Almost all of the translations I’ve mentioned have been published as excellent “Study Bibles” – that is, with helpful notes, maps, and charts that aid your understanding of what the Bible says. And almost all of them have been published in “large print” editions, that would make it much easier to read.

Personally, I use four different translations a whole lot. I enjoy comparing the King James Version, the New American Standard Version, and the New International Version; but the translation I have personally chosen as my “main” Bible is the New King James Version. It is based on a different Greek text than the NASB or the NIV (as well as than the old King James Version); but I appreciate its elegant style and its accuracy. Plus, it’s very similar to the old King James Version (which was what I read when I first started reading the Bible), but doesn’t use thearchaic language the KJV is famous for (the old “thees” and “thys”). Some of the best “Study Bibles” in the NKJV are the Nelson Study Bible, the New Geneva Study Bible, the Believer’s Study Bible (now published as The Holy Bible: Baptist Study Edition), and The MacArthur Study Bible. (For the other versions, I believe the New NIV Study Bible, and the Ryrie Study Bible in either the NIV, NASB, or KJV are excellent. The new NASB Study Bible is very good too, because it adapts the notes from the NIV Study Bible and applies them to the NASB.) Several of these, also, can be bought in a large print edition.

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This, obviously, relates to your second question. There have been several “Gender-neutral” Bibles introduced to the market lately. The motivation behind these editions of the Bible is to prevent someone from being turned-off from reading the Bible because of what seems like a gender bias in the Bible’s text. Some of the changes that are being suggested in these translations are legitimate and sensible. For example, when the Bible speaks of “mankind” (a word that has fallen out of favor with many today), the word in the original language can often be legitimately translated into the more gender-neutral terms “humankind” or “humanity”. If a word is truly non-gender-specific in the original language, then it’s certainly proper (perhaps even more accurate) to translate them into non-gender-specific English words.

But many of these translations go beyond “translating” and into the realm of “interpreting” – or, even worse, “changing” the original meaning of the text so that it wont offend anyone. Some of these translations choose to use non-gender-specific words (“people” or “persons”), even though the meaning and intention of the original word is unquestionably gender-specific (“man/male” or “woman/female”). This is to tamper with God’s word; and that’s something that should never be done!

Certainly, we should never “offend” people unnecessarily. But changing the meaning or intention of God’s revealed words in order to accommodate “political correctness” is wrong. No translator has a right to change what God has said – no matter how disagreeable it might be to modern tastes (Psalm 12:6-7; Matthew 5:18; 24:35; Rev. 22:18-19). To do so is to choose to offend God in order not to offend people. Translations that do this show a disregard for the sanctity of God’s word, cannot be considered reliable, and should be avoided. Modern readers of the Bible must change their thinking to conform to the word of God, rather than the word of God be changed to conform to the thinking of modern readers.

Pastor Greg

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