on Bibles and translations

Over at Abberation blog there is a post regarding Christian incivility toward the Bible with a few examples as:

#1  During the holidays at our local Christian retailer, customer walks in and examines the Bible section to see if they carry The Message Bible. Customer finds they do so he orders the clerk to come over. He begins to berate her for the store carrying it and stated it’s not a Bible and it belongs in a garbage can. Long story short, he ends up flicking a couple Message Bible’s off the store shelf onto the floor. At that point she threatened to call the police and he leaves.

#2  Over on the Puritanboard this was written about the Today’s New International Version,

the TNIV is a TERRIBLE translation. Its novelty is NO reason to trust it…look at how the original languages are represented (and look at the motivations of the translators!)

Do you have a wood burning fireplace? You might remove the covers from your TNIV and use the pages to help start fires.

…TNIV is the most accurate reflection of contemporary western society’s declining morals…

The Nearly Inspired Version?

yesTerday’s New International Version.

Truly Non-Inspired Version

#3  The New Living Translation (NLT) has a new fanpage. Considering the source, I don’t take this one very seriously. It’s announcing that it’s “straight from Hell.”

Then there is Gary sharing about his dilemma about what translation to go with for his regular Bible.  He also describes an instance where he couldn’t just sit with one Bible and read it – he kept switching around

Then, one person commented on TC’s blog post about if the unreached will be saved or not, stating in part:

“Of course if we read the NLT only all this would be clearer and we wouldn’t need to think so hard…. Or we could be ESV-onlyists, and be none the wiser, but at least bathe in the glow of our illusion that literal = accurate.”


Whew, where to begin?  I want to suggest as well that you read this article on The Art of Manliness blog about the problem of consumerism creating a lack of creativity and even commitment – more choices hasn’t help creativity it’s inhibited it, in fact even blocked it because it takes too much work to create – it’s easier just to consume and toss out – and I think this problem of consumerism as other Christian philosophers and scholar/pastors have noted, has completely consumed the church even to the point it is inhibiting our ability to really and faithfully live out the Christian life and witness to Jesus. 

How does this relate to the post and my title?  Well, I think the problem of incivility towards the Bible is possibly a part of this problem with consumerism on two fronts.  One  front is some are getting worn out by the consumer mentality and it is showing in the example #1 above – though this man’s temper tantrum reveals another problem of a general lack of understanding about Bible languages and how they work, thus the comment about our illusion that literal = accurate.  


In my opinion proper understanding of the biblical languages and how they work (linguistically, syntactically, etc) should lead to a more or less dynamic and smooth translation not a more literal one (e.g., TNIV, NLT, etc).   A literal translation only leads to one feeling as if one is reading his or her Greek Bible in English, not necessarily to a better understanding of the text at hand per se.


Which leads to the problem on the other front: we want to badly to be right that we have trouble dealing with any sense of inaccuracy or even ambiguity – which is leading to the problem of being willing to just stick with ONE Bible and go with that one – to read it through and through, to know it well. 

I wonder if the whole issue of multiple Bible translations and the vast array of types or editions of Bibles is a result of this consumer mentality – we want our choices and so much so we are not willing to stick with one Bible for fear a more accurate one might come out and so on.

This is the same problem with Church life – we can hardly stay at the same church for too long anymore because we want freedom of choice and to be able to consume and move on and he same with Bibles, as I mentioned. 

Well, mymind is still reeling on this issue but these are some thoughts for now.


7 responses to “on Bibles and translations

  1. Brian,

    1. I loved that article from the Art of Manliness. I get their posts on my Reader and really have enjoyed the past few articles.

    2. Thanks for the encouragement again. I liked how you tied in the jumping from one translation to another and jumping from one church to another. It’s our consumer mentality.

    I find myself consistently coming back to the TNIV when I read, study, and preach. One personal drawback I can accommodate with the NRSV is the use of the Apocrypha. It’s odd for me, as a Pentecostal, to want that included, I know. But, there is something working in me from a historical perspective that is calling me to at least keep it close. So, I keep using the TNIV, praying and hoping the 2011 version will be very close to this work!

  2. I’m not trying to get into the debate on which translation is best, because I just want people to actually read the Bible, but I still enjoy the ESV. I like it as a translation and I generally agree with some of the translation theory. However, part of the reason I think I enjoy it so much is because I’ve been a Christian a long time and it’s less difficult for me to understand! But, even more so than that, before I used the ESV, I was using NKJV (don’t laugh), and then I discovered textual criticism. I’d never even really thought of that subject, so such a discovery was very influential in my moving from a version using a certain family of manuscripts to a more modern version. So, you can see the jump from the NKJV (from the KJV) to the ESV, since the family is related through the RSV.

    However, I am increasingly a fan of the NLT. Last year I got to spend almost a week with Dr. Grant Osborne and, well, I hadn’t really considered it as a “real” translation before that. Then I decided to give it a longer look, due to my respect for Osborne as an exegete, theologian, and “church” man (I hate that term, but it gets my point across). I was surprised. It’s great. I like it.

    But I’m fortunate enough to use Bibleworks, so I generally have the ESV, KJV, NET, NAU, CJB (Complete Jewish Bible), CSB (Holman), NIV, TNIV, NLT, and the original languages. I go back and forth between them.

    The consumerism of western Christianity is a great insight, by the way. Consumerism and novelty are more influential than we would like to think. Anyway, another issue to consider is the idea that the means by which God uses to reveal Himself to people generally becomes “sacred” beyond what is healthy. For instance, consider how many people, when they become followers of Jesus in a Baptist church, seem to think that Baptists are the only people who have it right. I’ve seen my share of people in Pentecostal circles, Reformed circles, and many other traditions fall into the same trap. As they grow in their understanding of the faith and interact with other people’s views, they tend to move away from that opinion (or become more committed, ha ha!). I think the same can be true about translations. That is why some people still absolutely love the King James Version. It was the translation that their grandfather read to them every night up until he passed away. It is the translation that the evangelist used when they came to Christ.

    I really appreciate your civility here, Brian. It’s much more helpful to the discussion. I’ve found Don Carson to also be equally helpful as he has friends on both “sides” and has done a wonderful job of pointing out some of the problems within both camps while supporting the TNIV and respecting the ESV and having worked on the NLT.

    I would really like to find a small bible that has the ESV, NLT, and the original languages. That would be great. But only if it is small and portable. Okay, find, I’m getting an Ipad!


  3. Dan, I understand how you feel about use of the Apocrypha. I have one of these.

    Luke – I am jealous you spent a week with Grant Osborne – was that at the YWAM Base in WI that you mentioned a while ago? Did you know I am a YWAM’er too? I did a DTS at the Lakeside, MT base many moons ago.

    As to translations – my take is there is no one “best” translation – rather each has their purpose (and flaws) – though as I shared I do feel the more dynamic ones are on the right track. As I see it, no one Bible is “closest to the Greek” as people like to say – that’s silly and people who are familiar with the biblical languages should know better than to make such a comment – which is what frustrates me to no end about the ESV marketing. It’s fine of one wants to use it, nothing wrong with it, just don’t go off knocking other translations as some how less biblical or less accurate. I have never seen a TNIV or NLT advocate advocate knock the ESV the same way I see ESV Onlyites kock he TNIV, NLT, The Message, etc.

    So for me which is the “best” translation to use? The one people will actually read and feel comfortable with – that or the one their church uses so everyone can more or less be on the same page so to speak. But, that is how I see it.

  4. I think Brian that the consumerism point is quite on the spot. In my opinion one of the greatest aspects of the KJV in its day was that ALL of the English speaking world used it. It formed a common grammar of faith and devotion. Consider how ingrained the KJV Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 are even still (In the BCP there is always a KJV Lord’s Prayer next to any NRSV version).

    I wish that we as various churches had hung on a bit longer to the RSV which is in almost all respects a spectacular translation which opened up its scope to include even Roman Catholics.

    I read the NRSV because it is what my church reads. As anyone who knows anything about this debate knows, any and all translations will have various drawbacks. What we’ve lost is a common vocabulary of devotion and praise; for memorization, for public reading, for meditation. In its own way the NIV did that for the Evangelical world which was its greatest triumph.

    What’s funny is that I know a lot of evangelicals who really like the NRSV but would never use it in their service!

    • True about the NRSV – I like it too and have used it in our services though I like my TNIV too so I tend to use that more. The NRSV has sort of hurt itself though in not having decent editions for people to consider purchasing.

      YOu make a good point too Tony about the lack of a common vocabulary.

      I know the RSV may have been seen as liberal by some but I really do’t know why – like you say it was a fine translation.

  5. Brian,

    Yes, it was at the Northwoods YWAM. The SBF director did his M.Div. at TEDS, so he’s got the hook ups on having great speakers. I hung out for that week and was able to pick his brain a lot! It was fun. This month I’ll have the chance to spend a week with Dr. Richard Averbeck from TEDS! 🙂

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