I am back from the Evangelical Theological Society, Institute of Biblical Research and the Society of Biblical Literature meetings. These are always full of interesting conversations and papers. One of the presentations I had to give was a response to chosen readings in the TNIV.
I am back from the Evangelical Theological Society, Institute of Biblical Research and the Society of Biblical Literature meetings. These are always full of interesting conversations and papers. One of the presentations I had to give was a response to chosen readings in the TNIV. I also met for meals with people associated with the ESV, NLT, and the Voice, translations I have worked on to one degree or another. The people reponsible for the NET Bible (from Bible.org, of course) were also there. One of the key people in my own seminary training now heads up the Holman Christian Standard Version. All of this translation activity got me to wondering how confusing all of these choices must be for people. Throw in the hype of the publishers claiming that their translation is the one (like looking for a spouse?), and the pressure to find the right one is on. Add onto that study bibles, which the versions all produce, and it gets even more complicated. (This year the ESV, NLT and HCSB all produced study bibles).
So which one is THE one? Well, this blog will disappoint you because Bibles are not like spouses. It is OK to have more than one, and it can be helpful to use more than one. I do. Translation is always a tricky business because it forces a singular choice. The presence of different translations allows one to get a sense of what the options are for reading the text (even in a choice among synonymous terms in a specific passage). The NET was created to allow the reader to know what choices one has to face in rendering the text. The NLT is a lovely rendering of the English in a style that we are sued to in our language. The ESV has produced not only a solid update of the RSV, but a first class study Bible to go with it. The Voice has paid special attention to the presentation of change of genres and speakers in a text. The TNIV and NIV also do a solid job of trying to make the resultant force and meaning of a text clear in English. Just as solid is the HCSB. And I have not even mentioned all the good ones out there. With any Bible, someone who knows the language can and will disagree with a reading here and there, preferring an option not chosen for the text. This is why the marginal notes giving alternate readings are helpful.
My point is that there is no perfect Bible out there. Each has its strengths and benefits. One of the key elements is the text that underlines the translation. That is why the KJV and NKJV are so different than other translations. They are based on a different prioritizing of the Greek families of manuscripts (one most scholars today do not see as the most likely priority). Among the rest, some translations are more dynamic (read try to give you the full sense in the English with English style- NLT, Voice, TNIV), while others are called more formal (tend to render more like the Greek with less expansive renderings- NASB, ESV). Formal translations claim to be more literal but that is really not true. They simply are more circumspect about how far to press the implications of their translation choices in wording. Dynamics are less shy about such moves. Some fall inbetween (NET, HCSB). Either a formal or a dynamic rendering might do a better job on a verse depending on the verse in question and the accuracy of the judgment made about the translation's force. This is why teams of people contribute to a translation, even to the point of having specific people work on specific books which they know in more detail than other biblical books. They are trying to get it as right as they can, given what they are trying to do. It is not easy. We should be grateful to all those who have worked seriously on translation, as well as remember the need for some people in other languages to have a Bible, since the Bible does not yet exist in their language (So thanks, Wycliffe Translators).
So my point is to be a little skeptical when someone hails one translation as far superior than another, or especially when they hype it as THE one. Relax, more than one version might be good for your Bible study now and again. Often the best rendering will depend on the verse or unit in question and will shift fromversion to version. Most do a pretty good job as a rule. Where translations differ on a verse, you can know that there is an interpretive or textual wording issue present, if the difference is not merely the choice between different synonyms.