Bible Translations

Limited Time to Stock Up on 1984 NIV

Some of you may not be aware, but this year (2011) there was a major revision of the NIV. This revision makes the NIV less faithful to the original text by making it “gender-neutral.” For more details about this revision, see here (http://www.dennyburk.com/critiquing-gender-language-in-the-new-niv/).

The point of this post, however, is to let you know that if you see yourself using the NIV in the future, you should probably stock up on the 1984 version. The bad news is that you won’t be able to get these for long, because they are being replaced with the new 2011 version. The good news is that you can get the 1984 edition for deeply discounted prices as they are being closed out.  See here for special savings from CBD on the 1984 NIV.

As most of you know, my preferred translation is the ESV and I recommend that you switch to using it or the HCSB. I believe that these two translations will be those most widely used for at least the next generation. They both maintain the readability of the NIV while at the same time being closer to the original text. But, if you want to stay with the NIV (which is perfectly fine in many ways), I recommend that you stock up with the 1984 edition currently being offered at CBD.

For those concerned with those reading anything other than the KJV, please see my series on Bible translations from several years ago linked below. I know this series doesn’t answer every question, but it could be a good starting place to think about these issues.

1.  The Necessity and Purpose of Bible Translations

2.  The History of Bible Translations

3.  Why Are There So Many Bible Translations?

Audio of Dr. Haykin’s Lectures at Farmdale Baptist Church

Yesterday at Farmdale Baptist Church, we had the privilege of welcoming Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin. Dr. Haykin serves as professor of Christian history and Biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.  He also serves as the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at Southern Seminary (in which I serve as his Research and Administrative Assistant).  Dr. Haykin gave three lectures/messages yesterday and you can access the audio below:

On Using Revelation 22:18-19 to Support King James Onlyism

One of the favorite verses used by advocates of King James Onlyism is Revelation 22:18-19 which says, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:  And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (KJV). Here are a few pastoral responses to the King James Only people’s misuse of this verse:

  • I agree that no one should add or take away from God’s Word.
  • That’s not the issue here. We’re talking about translation of the original text into English.
  • If the KJV contains verses not in the original manuscripts then it is guilty of violating this verse.
  • There were other English translations before the KJV. Those who used those translations could have used the same argument against the KJV.
  • The KJV itself has gone through a number of editions. The currently used edition differs substantially from the original 1611, thus it should be rejected as adding and taking away from God’s Word by this standard.
  • Rev. 22:18 is technically about the book of Revelation “this prophecy” not the whole Bible.
  • To use this verse to argue KJV only is to assume that the KJV is the original and that everything else is a distortion of the original.
  • We have access to thousands more (and older) Greek manuscripts than the translators of the KJV had access to. Scholars use these manuscripts to try and produce a translation which is closer to the original. It can be argued that the modern translations are closer to the original than the KJV, thus the KJV may be guilty of adding and taking away from God’s Word.
  • We should strive for the most literal, accurate, and readable translation possible. This is the best way to express the spirit of Revelation 22:18, not by requiring people to read from a translation which uses archaic words which they cannot understand.

For more of what I have written on the necessity, purpose, and history of Bible translations see here.

Why Are There So Many Bible Translations?

This is the third in a series of three based on a teaching series on Bible translations which I recently taught on Sunday nights. For the first post on “The Necessity and Purpose of Bible Translations” click here. For the second post on “The History of Bible Translations” click here.Some translations exist for a specific agenda . For example, the New World Translation was specifically translated by Jehovah’s Witnesses to deny the deity of Jesus Christ. Another example of a translation with a specific agenda is the TNIV which was translated in order to replace masculine references in the Greek text with gender neutral terms in the English. Some translations are seemingly being made in order to make money.

But there are two major reasons for the variety of translations that are available today: textual issues and translation issues. I will deal with the translation issues momentarily, first though I would like to address the textual issues that have resulted in the different translations that are available today.

The English translation of the New Testament in the Bibles of the 16th and 17th centuries (including the KJV) were all based upon the Textus Receptus or the “Received Text” that was compiled by Desidirius Erasmus from about six different Greek manuscripts. In the late 1800’s, as the result of the abundance of new manuscript evidence (which was in fact older than what Erasmus used), new translations in English were desired which took into account the new but older manuscripts. That’s why in the last 100 years there has been an explosion in the availability of English Bible translations similar to the explosion of new translations in the 16th and 17th centuries. Instead of being a sinister plot, it is an altogether natural and understandable development. Just as Erasmus work with the Greek text of the New Testament resulted in a desire for English translations based thereon, the new Greek text of the late 1800’s resulted in new English translations that took into account the new findings. The KJV and NKJV are the only major translations available that are based upon the Textus Receptus. All other modern translations are based upon the Greek text that has incorporated the new findings of the last hundred or so years.

The other major reason for the number of English translations available today is due to translation issues. There are two major different philosophies of translation. One is called formal equivalence. The other is called dynamic equivalence. It is the difference between a “word for word” translation (formal) and a “thought for thought” translation (dynamic). Among the major English translations available today, the KJV, NASB, NKJV and ESV were all translated based on the philosophy of formal equivalence (“word for word”) and the NIV, NLT, TNIV, GNB and CEV were all translated based on the philosophy of dynamic equivalence (“thought for thought”). In the last twenty years the emphasis in Bible translation has been in the area of dynamic equivalence.

Now before we jump to any conclusions about the superiority of one method over the other, let me suggest that it is not as simple as it may seem. For example how would you translate figures of speech like: “He’s pulling my leg.” from English into a language where “pulling one’s leg” means only someone is literally pulling on your leg. Would you translate that word for word or thought for thought? When someone says “thank you”, the English response is: “You’re Welcome!” But in Spanish the response is: “De Nada!” which literally means “of nothing”. How would you translate it? What if you’re listening to the radio and you hear the football announcer say of the quarterback: “He really put some mustard on that throw.” Would you translate it word for word or thought for thought? Any time you translate from one language to another you have to deal with this issue. All translators have had to make these decisions, even the KJV translators. For example, in Isaiah 15:3 the KJV says, “And in their streets every one shall howl, weeping abundantly.” But the Hebrew phrase is literally translated “descending into weeping.” Another example is in Hebrews 7:3 where Melchisedek is described as being “without father, without mother, without descent”, the Greek phrase is literally “without pedigree”. In Exodus 4:10 Moses is recorded as saying, “And Moses said unto the Lord, I am not eloquent.” but the Hebrew word is literally translated “a man of words.” 3 John 14 says “And we shall speak face to face.” but the Greek literally translated would be “mouth to mouth.” In the Old Testament, in many places which speaks of God becoming angry, the literal Hebrew phrase is “God’s nostrils enlarged.” So all translations (even the KJV) translate some phrases which contain figures of speech in a “thought for thought” manner, otherwise they would not be understood in the English language.

“Thought for thought” translations like the NIV are very readable. This is their main value. However, I believe these translations sacrifice accuracy and precision for readability!

Therefore, I think the best translations are those which strive for as close to word for word literalness as possible. This translations include the KJV, NKJV, NASB and ESV. Here are a couple of reasons why I believe this:

One of the most helpful things I’ve ever done in my own personal Bible study was to read through the Bible in a translation other than the King James. The reason this was so helpful to me is simple. I know the language of the KJV. I can anticipate the next word in the sentence. Therefore, it was easy for me to mindlessly read Scripture because of its familiarity. Reading through the Bible in a different translation, however, forced me to focus on the words of the text. This dynamic together with the increased understandibility of the English language and grammar resulted in a more fruitful encounter with the Word of God. I would recommend a similar approach to anyone. Choose from one of the good translations mentioned above a translation different from the one you are most familiar with and read through it. You’ll be glad you did!

The History of Bible Translations

John Wycliffe


This post is the second in a series of three based on a teaching series on Bible translations which I am teaching on Sunday nights. For the first post on “The Necessity and Purpose of Bible Translations” click here.
George Santayana is credited with having said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Interestingly, much of the controversy over modern Bible translations today is a repetition of mistakes made in the past by previous generations.
When we study the history of Bible translations a lot of the disagreements about Bible versions just melt away. Studying the history of Bible translations serves to clarify many of the issues while correcting many misunderstandings.

There is no virtue in accepting something just because it is new. Neither is there any virtue in rejecting something just because it is new. There are two extremes that we need to avoid. They are the extremes of novelty. First, we need to avoid the extreme of novelty. Just because something is new doesn’t mean that it is better. This is true in the area of Bible translations. We don’t need 100 different translations of the Bible into English. We don’t need a Bible specifically translated for left-handed diabetics. But on the other hand we need to avoid the extreme of tradition that says everything new is bad, just because it is new. As James White wrote in his book called The King James Controversy, “Believers have to walk the narrow path between these two extremes” (p. 9). According to Jesus in Mark 7, it is possible to reject the Word of God by man’s traditions. This has happened before in church history and I believe it is happening today in some circles. Here are a couple of examples from history:

The Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek by 70 scholars at Alexandria around 200 BC. It is called the Septuagint from the Greek word for 70. Also known as the LXX (the Roman Numerals for 70). The LXX was the translation of the Old Testament used by the authors of the New Testament.

Many Christians believed the LXX to be an inspired translation of the Old Testament. When Jerome began translating the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin some were upset. In fact, the great St. Augustine opposed the reading of Jerome’s translation. His explanation went as follows:

[M]y only reason for objecting to the public reading of your translation from the Hebrew in our churches was, lest, bringing forward anything which was, as it were, new and opposed to the authority of the Septuagint version, we should trouble by serious cause offense the flocks of Christ, whose ears and hearts have become accustomed to listen to that version to which the seal of approbation was given by the apostles themselves.
Quoted in James White’s The King James Only Controversy, pp. 11-12

Sound familiar? The same argument is being used today in defense of the KJV.

The Old and New Testaments were translated into Latin in the early 400’s (5th Century) by Jerome. This translation is called the Latin Vulgate and was the official Bible of Christendom for approximately 1200 years! Then along came Desiderius Erasmus. Erasmus went back to the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Using six or so manuscripts, Erasmus put together something called the Textus Receptus or the “Received Text”. This was the Greek text from which the English translations of 16th and 17th centuries translated the New Testament (this includes the KJV). Interestingly, just as many had opposed Jerome’s Vulgate for leaving the LXX, now many opposed Erasmus for leaving Jerome’s Vulgate. Erasmus, like Jerome was accused of changing the Word of God. Every time in Church history when a translation of the Bible has become the traditional accepted Bible after centuries of use, the result is a strong reaction against the new translation as changing God’s Word. This is what we’re seeing today in our generation with the KJV. After one translation of the Bible has been dominant for 400 years, all new translations are now considered to be an attempt to change God’s Word. This should not be the case, especially when considering that the real issue is not how a particular translation measures up to the KJV but how it measures up to what is actually in the Hebrew and Greek texts!

Perhaps, it is very possible that sometime 400-500 years from now there will be a group of people who are NIV only or ESV only. I hope not, but if they fail to learn from history it could happen!

After introducing the topic of the history of Bible translations, I continued by providing a brief historical survey of English Bible translations. For this purpose I used the history and timeline available online at greatsite.com. This is a great resource for the study of the history of the Bible. To access the English Bible history and timeline click here. Below is the section of the timeline which I used in my study:

1384 AD: Wycliffe is the First Person to Produce a (Hand-Written) manuscript Copy of the Complete Bible; All 80 Books.

1455 AD: Gutenberg Invents the Printing Press; Books May Now be mass-Produced Instead of Individually Hand-Written. The First Book Ever Printed is Gutenberg’s Bible in Latin.

1516 AD: Erasmus Produces a Greek/Latin Parallel New Testament.

1526 AD: William Tyndale’s New Testament; The First New Testament printed in the English Language.

1535 AD: Myles Coverdale’s Bible; The First Complete Bible printed in the English Language (80 Books: O.T. & N.T. & Apocrypha).

1537 AD: Tyndale-Matthews Bible; The Second Complete Bible printed in English. Done by John “Thomas Matthew” Rogers (80 Books).

1539 AD: The “Great Bible” Printed; The First English Language Bible Authorized for Public Use (80 Books).

1560 AD: The Geneva Bible Printed; The First English Language Bible to add Numbered Verses to Each Chapter (80 Books).

1568 AD: The Bishops Bible Printed; The Bible of which the King James was a Revision (80 Books).

1609 AD: The Douay Old Testament is added to the Rheims New Testament (of 1582) Making the First Complete English Catholic Bible; Translated from the Latin Vulgate (80 Books).

1611 AD: The King James Bible Printed; Originally with All 80 Books. The Apocrypha was Officially Removed in 1885 Leaving Only 66 Books.

1833 AD: Noah Webster’s Bible; After Producing his Famous Dictionary, Webster Printed his Own Revision of the King James Bible.

1846 AD: The Illuminated Bible; The Most Lavishly Illustrated Bible printed in America. A King James Version, with All 80 Books.

1885 AD: The “English Revised Version” Bible; The First Major English Revision of the KJV.

1901 AD: The “American Standard Version”; The First Major American Revision of the KJV.

1971 AD: The “New American Standard Bible” (NASB) is Published as a “Modern and Accurate Word for Word English Translation” of the Bible.

1973 AD: The “New International Version” (NIV) is Published as a “Modern and Accurate Phrase for Phrase English Translation” of the Bible.

1982 AD: The “New King James Version” (NKJV) is Published as a “Modern English Version Maintaining the Original Style of the King James.”

2002 AD: The English Standard Version (ESV) is Published as a translation to bridge the gap between the accuracy of the NASB and the readability of the NIV.

This English Bible History Article & Timeline is ©2002 by author & editor: John L. Jeffcoat III. Special thanks is also given to Dr. Craig H. Lampe for his valuable contributions to the text. This page may be freely reproduced or quoted, in whole or in part, in print or electronically, under the one condition that prominent credit must be given to “WWW.GREATSITE.COM” as the source.

The Necessity and Purpose of Bible Translations

This past Sunday night I began a series at the church where I pastor on the issue of Bible translations. You may ask, Why this series? I choose to teach this series because there is a lot of misunderstanding and therefore needless divisions among Christians about the issue of which translation one uses. There is a small segment of Christians who believe and teach that the King James Version of 1611 is the only Bible for English speaking people and many of them are actively opposed to anyone who uses any other translation of the Bible.

Some have associated new translations with those who deny essential doctrines of the Christian faith. But those who deny the authority and inspiration of the Word of God are, by and large, not committed to translating it into English. They are too busy denying what the Bible actually teaches in any translation: Creation, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Christ, Miracles, the Resurrection, Salvation by Grace through Faith, and the Second Coming. They are not, by and large, committing their time to providing a translation of the Bible into English to make the Word of God more accessible to others.

Do you realize that to be King James Only, you have to believe that gifted preachers like:

  • John MacArthur
  • Adrian Rogers
  • R.C. Sproul
  • Charles Stanley
  • John Piper
  • Chuck Swindoll
  • Billy Graham
  • David Jeremiah
  • W.A. Criswell
  • John R. Rice
  • Jerry Falwell
  • D. James Kennedy

are or were either all dummies, deceived or deceivers, because none of them were King James Only. That’s ok, they could all be wrong! I think it’s very unlikely, but it is a possibility. But they are not the final authority, I just want you to realize what those who are King James Only have to affirm, albeit it many times unconsciously.

What all those men have in common is a commitment to the inspiration and authority of Scripture! They’ve devoted their life to the study and proclamation of God’s Word! I too, am committed to the Word of God! Why else would I put such an emphasis on it? Why would I spend 20+ hours a week to studying to know exactly what a particular passage of Scripture teaches? Let’s look at 2 Timothy 3:16 which states, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” In this passage we find that Scripture claims for itself that it is “given by inspiration of God”. This means that all the words were given by inspiration of God. The word translated “scripture” in this verse is the Greek word graphe. It literally means the “writings”. They are all theospneustos “God-breathed” (which is how the phrase “given by inspiration of God” is literally stated in the Greek). This means that all the “writings” of Scripture are the very breath of God. In other words, all the words of Scripture come from the mouth of God! While I affirm this teaching of Scripture, I realize that this inspiration applies only to the original manuscripts (the “writings” graphe) and does not address any translation in any language.

The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy (which was signed by over 300 Christian leaders who were seeking to defend biblical inerrancy against the trend toward liberal and neo-orthodox conceptions of Scripture) states this concerning the inspiration of translations:

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original. (Article X)

John R. Rice, popular editor for many years of the Fundamentalist paper The Sword of the Lord wrote:

A perfect translation of the Bible is humanly impossible. The words in one language do not have exactly the same color and meaning as opposite words in another language, and human frailty and imperfection enter in. So, let us say, there are no perfect translations. [John R. Rice, Our God-Breathed Book — The Bible, pg. 376]

The translators of the King James Version of 1611 were not King James only either. They wrote in their preface to their translation:

We affirm and avow, that the very meanest [poorest or least esteemed] translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession… contains the Word of God, nay, is the Word of God. Though it be not interpreted by every Translator with like grace, the King’s speech is still the King’s speech; no cause therefore why the word translated should be denied to be the word, or forbidden to be currant [used], notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting forth [translating] of it. Variety of translations is profitable for finding out of the sense of the scriptures.
[Translators to the Readers Preface of the King James Version 1611]

In other words, even though some translations of the King’s words are better than others, they are still the King’s words! Implication: Even though some translations are better than others, they can still be said to be the words of God!

There is nothing wrong with liking the King James better than other translations. That’s a matter of personal preference. But there is something wrong with forcing everyone else to only use the King James!

The Necessity of Bible Translations
Let me begin by saying something really simple. I hope this doesn’t insult your intelligence, but it can’t be assumed and must be stated: “The Bible was not written in English. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament was originally written in Greek. Therefore if anyone besides Greek and Hebrew speaking people are going to be able to read and/or hear the Word of God intelligibly it must be translated into other languages.”

This is nothing new, the Greek speaking authors of the New Testament used a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint (LXX). Quotes used in the New Testament of the Old Testament were mostly taken from this translation, not from the original Hebrew.

The fact that the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek has caused many throughout history who have been committed to the importance of the Word of God to translate it into their own language. In the 1300’s, John Wycliffe prepared the first English translation of the New Testament from the Latin Vulgate. In the 1500’s, William Tyndale first translated the Bible into English from the original Hebrew and Greek. Also, in the 1500’s Martin Luther translated the Bible into German for the first time and a translation of the Bible in Spanish was made for the first time. Up to this point in history, the Bible had only been available in Latin (I’ll say much more about this next week when we talk about the history of Bible translations.). This work of Bible translation continues today. There are still people around the world who do not have a translation of the Bible in their own language. There are missionaries whose life work is to translate the Bible into their languages.

But why do we need new Bible translations today? Isn’t the King James good enough?

This brings us to discuss the changing English language. The English spoken today is not the English spoken in 1611. This is why between 1629 and 1769 there were five major revisions of the King James Version resulting in approximately 100,000 changes (mostly spelling, some words). But the English language has continued to change, even since 1769.

I recently heard the phrase from the King James Version of Matthew 19:14, “Suffer little children” in a movie quoted by a person who wanted to harm children. Obviously, the word suffer has changed meanings since 1769.

In fact, 300 words in the King James Version have changed their meanings since 1769. Here are some examples:

Numbers 12:7-8 My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. (8) With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?

In 1769, the word “apparently” meant “clearly or plainly.” Today it means “something that appears to have happened , but may not have.”

Luke 10:41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:

In 1769, the word “careful” meant “anxious or worrying.” Today it means “cautious.”

2 Thessalonians 2:7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.

In 1769, the word “let” meant “to hinder or prevent.” Today it means “to allow or permit.”

Question: Why was the language allowed to be updated for the first 160 years, but not in the last 230 years?

The Purpose of Bible Translations
The purpose has always been to get the Bible into the language of the people. This goes all the way back to the fact that the New Testament was originally written not in Classical Greek, but in Koine Greek: the Greek of the average person. The purpose of the Latin Vulgate was to get the Bible in the language that people spoke. The English translations of the 17th century were translated in order to put the language in the common language of the people. 17th Century English is not the language of the average person today. We don’t say, “If thou wilt, thou mayest come hither.” We say, “Come here!”

This is not to make fun of KJV, people used to speak that way. It’s still a good translation! In fact, when the KJV was first published, it was resisted because it was too easy to understand! Note on 1 Corinthians 2:13-16. This is not about who is spiritual. The reason why the unsaved do not understand the Bible is because they reject its teachings! I love the King James. All the Scripture I have memorized is in the King James. I have trouble reading anything else because I automatically read the King James. But the King James is not the only translation and it is not even the best translation for modern English speakers.

Here are a couple of stories from two of the most important translators of the Bible into English that highlight the purpose of Bible translation:

John Wycliffe (1330-1384), the first translator of the Bible into English, believed:

that every Christian should have access to Scripture (only Latin translations were available at the time), he began translating the Bible into English, with the help of his good friend John Purvey.

The church bitterly opposed it: “By this translation, the Scriptures have become vulgar, and they are more available to lay, and even to women who can read, than they were to learned scholars, who have a high intelligence. So the pearl of the gospel is scattered and trodden underfoot by swine.”

Wycliffe replied, “Englishmen learn Christ’s law best in English. Moses heard God’s law in his own tongue; so did Christ’s apostles.”
From 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, p. 212

William Tyndale (1494-1536) was burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English. The following account details his commitment to providing the common people a copy of the Bible in their own language.

A clergyman hopelessly entrenched in Roman Catholic dogma once taunted Tyndale with the statement, “We are better to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s”. Tyndale was infuriated by such Roman Catholic heresies, and he replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!”

The purpose of Bible translation has always been to put it in the language of the common people. The common people of today do not speak the English of 1611 or even of 1769. Therefore new translations of the Bible into English are still necessary today.

In conclusion, what’s the best translation of the Bible? The one that is read and obeyed, not the one that is gathering dust on the shelf!