Historically, Baptists in general and Southern Baptists in particular have been known as “people of the Book”; meaning that we hold the Bible in high esteem and surrender to its authority over our lives, our faith, and the practice of our faith. The choice we make for the Bible you and I read in English is an important choice. It can be terribly confusing because when you go to the Christian bookstore, multiple choices abound. The impact of what we might call the “Wal-Mart” mindset where there are lots of options has found its way into how bookstores & publishers market books and Bibles. When I was a child, there was basically one choice, the King James version of the Bible. It was and is still a good translation, but it’s biggest drawback is that we don’t speak in old King James English today so it can be difficult to understand and therefore people quite reading it because they didn’t understand it. Thankfully, scholars recognized this and have worked diligently in most cases to give us newer, accurate translations. I spent weeks in seminary classes understanding all the translation philosophies but I won’t test your patience with all the details of that. I thought I would however; share a few highlights that will help you choose a translation that works for you.
First of all, I have a news flash for you; the Bible as originally inspired by God was not authored in English. The Old Testament was primarily written in the Hebrew language. The New Testament authors primarily wrote in the Greek language. You need to make sure that you choose a Bible that is translated directly from the original languages into English that faithfully expresses in English the words and meaning of the original text. The original manuscripts from the Hebrew or Greek that are used for translation basically can be divided into two camps, the Byzantine text and what is known as the Alexandrian text. I won’t go into all the details of what this means, but the most popular English translations all use one or the other of these texts to translate the Scriptures into English. They will typically footnote well any differences between the texts. For example, the King James (KJV), New King James (NKJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB) all used the Byzantine texts. The New International Version used the Alexandrian texts for translation. Both the Byzantine & Alexandrian texts match about 90% of the time. In the roughly10% of the places where there are differences, those differences don’t change the overall meaning and message of the text. The bottom line is if you currently have an English Bible that is a translation and not a paraphrase, you have an accurate version of the Bible from the original manuscripts.
Secondly, readability is something you should consider when choosing an English Bible. I personally like the New King James and use this version when I’m preaching. Since I grew up memorizing the KJV, the NKJV has the same “feel” to it without all the “thee’s” and “thou’s” of King James English. It reads on about a 10th grade level and my preaching Bible is sized and formatted in a way that helps me communicate God’s word effectively. However, in my personal devotions, I’ve used a NASB, NIV, Holman Christian Standard but most currently I’m using the ESV or the English Standard Version. The ESV uses simple plain English and reads on about an 8th grade level and I enjoy the simple, clear reading of Scripture I find with it in my personal devotions. With the simplicity of the ESV, I’ve found I don’t need the aid of commentaries to explain what I’m reading and it allows God’s Word to speak on its own without someone’s opinion telling me what it means and this is a wonderful blessing.
As a Pastor, I have a duty to the Lord to warn fellow believers of dangers that can lead them astray. One of these dangers I’ve learned is in the new 2011 version of the New International Version of the Bible. I hesitate to justify calling it a Bible because I am of the conviction this should not be held on equal footing with other faithful translations. First a little background is in order. Several years ago, Zondervan publishing published the TNIV or Today’s New International Version. This translation made headlines because it was dubbed as the “gender-neutral” version. Bowing to political correctness, this translation did away with much gender language such as “he”, “him” or “she” and “her” using terms like “they” or “them.” The obvious problem is this changes entire meanings of the text. Since all Scripture is inspired by God according to 2nd Tim.3:16; we must accept that God inspired the authors of Scripture to use the gender language we’ve been given. There was much conservative outcry against this version and rightly so because it undermined what God intended to be said.
This brings me to the 2011 NIV. This version retains about 75 % of the language used in the TNIV. It’s a repackaged rerun of the same thing that once again should be rejected by conservative Christians. I’m pleased to say the problems with the 2011 NIV were brought to the attention of the Southern Baptist Convention last month in Phoenix Arizona. A resolution was adopted by a large majority of convention messengers expressing our disapproval of this translation. Part of that resolution reads as follows:
“WHEREAS, Seventy-five percent of the inaccurate gender language found in the TNIV is retained in the 2011 NIV; and
WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention has passed a similar resolution concerning the TNIV in 2002; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011 express profound disappointment with Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House for this inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we encourage pastors to make their congregations aware of the translation errors found in the 2011 NIV; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we respectfully request that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.”
(You may read the full resolution by clicking here) http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/amResolution.asp?ID=1218
If you have an older copy of an NIV Bible, don’t go out and throw it away as it is still a good translation. I have a small NIV New Testament I keep in my truck for soul winning or hospital visits. I just want to caution you if you plan to purchase a new Bible that you research what you are buying before you plunk down your hard earned cash so that you don’t buy trash. In the front of most Bibles, they will explain their translation process for you so you can make a wise decision. I’d be happy to help you further if you have questions.By the way, if you have a study Bible, let me remind you the study notes are someone’s insights and they are not inspired Scripture. Regardless of what version you prefer, let me encourage you to read it, study it, meditate upon it and apply it to your life daily. After all, it cannot be hidden in your heart so that you might not sin against God by osmosis. Encouraging you to be vigilant from my little corner of the world to yours…
Pastor Ralph Green
Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church www.calvarybelair.com