March 15, 2006

So Many Versions

eaders frequently write us with inquiries or concerns about various Bible translations. They want to know if we prefer the New International Version (NIV), or who is pushing its use from church world headquarters. They point out flaws in Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message, or the dangers of preaching from Jack Blanco’s The Clear Word. And some take the Adventist Review to task for departing from the King James Version (KJV).
The Adventist Review does not endorse any one version. We use a variety of translations in the church paper. On a personal level, the passing years have cemented certain convictions and cautions. As I share these here, I find it helpful to go back to Martin Luther to gain perspective.
Among the many achievements of the great Reformer, the most important and longest lasting was his translation of the Bible into German. Luther went back to the original Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) texts, and employed a felicity of language that captured the minds of the people.
The Luther Bible, aided in its propagation by the invention of movable type in the previous century, had a huge impact. Luther aimed at a version that would make the man at the plow more conversant with the Scriptures than pope or prelates, and he succeeded. And not only this: his translation profoundly changed the German language itself, setting it on its course into modern times.
A parallel development took place with the English Bible. Tyndale and others had translated the Scriptures into English, but the advent of the KJV in 1611 swept aside all contenders. Its majestic expression set it apart as superior. Like Luther’s Bible, it circulated widely, influencing its readers for good and likewise shaping the language.
Early in life, as a boy of 10 or 11, I began the practice of reading the Bible through every year. The KJV was my first Bible and remained my Bible for many years. It blessed me immeasurably; I praise the Lord for it.
I still read through the Bible every year, but not from the King James. As grand as its language is, the vocabulary is more and more out of date, and even misleading in places. Some words in the KJV have changed in meaning and give the reader a wrong understanding; for instance, “he who now letteth will let . . .” (2 Thess. 2:7). Today “let” means “to allow or permit”; in King James’s time it meant “to hinder,” just the opposite. Further, older manuscripts of the Scriptures have been discovered, taking us closer to the “autographs”--that is, the actual writings in the original, none of which survived.
Some saints become exercised over any departure from the KJV. When they insist that this version must be used, I want to ask them: Which one? The KJV itself has been revised several times; the version of 1611 is incomprehensible today.
To the many people who still prefer the KJV, I say: Fine, and God bless you. You will be blessed. For members seeking help in selecting a Bible from the many versions available today, I offer some suggestions: 

        1. For close adherence to the original text, select from translations rather than paraphrases. The latter seek to convey the meaning of the text in modern idiom, but take more liberties with it. Generally, paraphrases read better but are less accurate. 

        2. Translations I recommend include: NIV, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and New King James Version (NKJV). The NRSV uses inclusive language; the NKJV updates the language of the KJV.
        3. The most popular paraphrases are The Message, The Clear Word, and The Living Bible. They succeed in making the Bible come alive to modern men and women. But use these versions for devotional purposes only, not for teaching doctrines. For example, The Message translates “The Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10) as “Sunday.” The Clear Word is an “Adventist” paraphrase, incorporating insights from Ellen White.
       4. No version is perfect. The NIV, for instance, is in general a fine translation, but watch out in Hebrews 9:8, 12 and 10:19, where the original suggests “sanctuary” rather than the NIV interpretation “Most Holy Place.”
Above all, remember that in any language and in any version, the Bible is God’s Word. Let that word speak to your heart!
For more on paraphrases, see the cover story, “Bible Paraphrases--Their Possibilities and Perils,” in the April 1995 Adventist Review.