My Stance on Translations

Over the last couple of years, I’ve devoted several posts here to the issue of Bible translations. While, in my personal seminary training, I do not yet have enough of a grounding in languages to comment first hand on one-to-one correspondence in English translations, I have sat under several professors here at Southern Seminary well-versed in the languages (indeed, they are some of the best scholars in the contemporary evangelical world), as well as having close friends much more advanced in this study than I, and also doing much reading on issues regarding Bible translations. Moreover, my background in English has played a heavier role than any in my assesment of a translation’s final product. If we can’t understand it in English, what is the purpose of translating it into English. And, after all, there is never going to be such thing as a fully literal (that is, a fully word-for-word) translation, as the languages themselves would not allow it.
So, after going through a long process of travel through various translations and issues regarding translation, what Bibles am I drawn to today? Drum roll, please.

Today’s New International Version – After having fairly drastically reversed my position on this translation, I am now finding it extraordinarily readable and accurate. Idiomatic, though not as much as the NLT, it strikes a wonderful balance between extremes of literal and dynamic translation. It is a vast improvement over the original NIV, even if one does not agree with 100% of its updates regarding gender language. Those are a small portion of the revisions, and most of the complaints about those are truly unreasonable when looking at both modern English and the fact that the TNIV is, after all, dynamic-equivalent and is thus at liberty to make clear in English what is clear in the underlying text and not be so rigid. It is a real shame that protests by the Southern Baptist Convention and others have undercut this work that may just be, by accuracy and readability standards, one of the very best all-around modern English versions. I would have absolutely no problem preaching or teaching from this version. In fact, depending on the circumstance, I could think of no better one for me to use. Its clear, modern English is powerful and true, and I don’t hesitate to admit that it stands among the translations I now read most often, especially as of late.

New Living Translation, 2nd Edition – I like this one, I really do. I’ve had to get used to it. The English is modern and, much of the time, quite colloquial, but there are instances where it really shines. Especially in narratives, the translation really comes alive (hence the title) because of the powerful, clear, concise English usage. This translation is the fulfillment of all that dynamic-equivalent translation should wish to obtain. The scholarship is top-notch, and the translation powerfully conveys the message of the Bible’s truth in clear, moving everyday English. I would preach and teach from this probably more comfortably in some circumstances than others, but for narrative passages (which are my favorite to work with, anyhow), I could see some real strengths in using the NLT.

English Standard Version – Just because I have gained an appreciation of the TNIV and NLT does not mean that I have any love lost for the ESV. The English used in this translation in certainly literary, but it is far from unreadable, and stands head and shoulders in that regard over the other “literal” giant, the NASB (which often would not constitute as being real working English at all). The biggest draw, in my opinion, to the ESV is that it captures a cadence – a phonetic ebb and flow – in its wording, a legacy owed to the Tyndale/King James/RSV tradition. That makes it really great to use in corporate reading. I still am fully convinced that this is an excellent, well-rounded version and, having used it without issue teaching a youth group for well over a year, would preach and teach from it without reservation.

Revised English Bible – The tragedy about this version is that it has never received widespread use in the United States. However, it is the translation I most enjoy reading, as it reads like a good book. Indeed, C.S. Lewis was a literary consultant on the previous edition (the New English Bible), and his influence remains in the revision. Slightly but not intrusively British, literary but not lofty, the REB is accurate while making the Gospel story sound like what it is – a story, the greatest story ever told, with all of the emotion and power therein. There is a beauty to this translation that is unmistakable. The wordsmiths were as good at crafting the English as they were dissecting the Greek and Hebrew. This is one that is essentially a great read among Bibles.

All of the translations above have certain things in common. All of them are highly accurate in their representation of the Bible text and are trustworthy as such. All of them have an excellent use of the English language and are quite readable, whether they be totally contemporary everyday English (TNIV, NLT) or modern but literary English (ESV/REB). Outside of these criteria (accuracy to the original languages and accuracy in English), much of the decision comes down to personal preference and ministerial context. And that is for each of us to be the final judge.