Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Versions I have used

Michael Sly just asked me in a post comment:
which version(s) do you personally use for your own studies and devotional life?
Michael's question is timely since I've been thinking it might be helpful for me to give this information in a post, so here goes.

I was born in Alaska in 1949, not long after the RSV New Testament was published. But that was not an event celebrated in our church (my birth was, not the RSV publication!). In fact I remember hearing things about the RSV that made it sound like it was close to being a communist book. My church only used the KJV and considered the translators of the RSV to be liberal and to have some kind of communist associations. I look back now and consider the communist part rather humorous. In any case, I grew up with the KJV. I heard it read extensively in good sermons. It was read in our home in family devotions. I memorized huge portions of it and can still remember much of what I memorized.

When I was junior high age, I believe, I was briefly exposed to Living Letters and other parts of the Living Bible as they were produced. I read them a little but dismissed them, thinking that they couldn't really be a Bible because the English was so clear.

It was not until I began to attend Bible school that I really used any other Bible version. In one of my Bible classes the version assigned for us to use was the ASV of 1901, called the Rock of Integrity, because conservatives trusted it so much. It was very literal.

While I was in Bible school the New Testament of the NASB was published and I began to use that. I found the updated English refreshing. That began many years of using the NASB. Later, of course, I purchased the entire Bible in the NASB after the Old Testament translation was completed.

In the summer of 1969, when I was a counselor at a Bible camp in upstate New York, I began reading a New Testament published in paperback which was written in the kind of English which I spoke and wrote. It was called the Good News for Modern Man. That version really spoke to me in my personal devotions and other Bible study. When I got back home to my home church, however, I found tracts in the bookrack with titles like "Bad New for Modern Man." They and our pastor criticized the Good News Bible. Some people even suggested that it was a Satanic version. I found that difficult to believe since it seemed to me to be saying essentially the same thing that other Bible versions did, only with contemporary English words.

Also while at Bible school I attended some seminars at which the seminar leader encouraged us to memorize and meditate upon some important passages of the Bible. He suggested that we do so using the beautifully literary translation by J.B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English which was so meangingful to him in his own meditations. So I followed his suggestions and did that memory work. Still to this day I love the beauty and literary power of the portions I memorized in Phillips' translation.

Later I married and my wife and I became members of a Bible translation mission. We studied Bible translation principles as part of our training. I got to learn about how the different language forms in the Bible could be expressed accurately in naturally corresponding forms of the languages into which the Bible is translated. I found that exciting. We were invited by Cheyenne church elders in the fall of 1975 to help them produce a translation of the Bible into their language. We accepted and began this fulfilling work among the Cheyennes. The pulpit Bible in the cross-cultural church which invited us to live on their church property was the Good News Bible. This Bible had English was easier to understand by Cheyennes. (Most Cheyennes have been bilingual in their mother tongue, Cheyenne, then, later in English for several decades. But even though they could carry on basic conversations in English, they missed a lot of the English. This was especially true of the Bible. We did testing before accepting the invitation to work among the Cheyennes to see if they really needed a translation in their language, and the answer was yes, based on the difficulties in understanding the Bible in English.)

We have worked with the Cheyennes since 1975. It has been long, difficult work. But we have learned a lot, both about the Bible and about translation, but, also, about ourselves. God has been good to teach us things we needed to know about ourselves so that we could minister more effectively to the people to whom we have come to help bring the Good News of God's salvation and spiritual growth to them.

During our work we have consulted a number of different English versions to help us understand the meaning of verses before we could translate them. I would also use as much of the New Testament Greek that I could remember from my classes in Bible school. That was helpful, especially as I would consult commentaries which referred to the original Greek.

I never used the NIV as my personal Bible, other than occasionally to look at how it worded something while we were working on Cheyenne translation. I just never found myself attracted more to the NIV than I was attracted to versions I was already using. The NIV was often the pulpit Bible when we would visit various churches to talk about our tribal translation work and I was always grateful when I discovered that a church was using the NIV. I felt the NIV was so much better for people to use, to understand the Bible in contemporary English, than for a church to continue to use the venerable KJV which still sounded so good to me. But I had come to realize that I did not understand the KJV nearly as well as I understood versions which were written in more contemporary English.

My wife and I examined the CEV (Contemporary English Version) when it was published. We found that it answered even more of the translation questions than the TEV (Good News Bible). Translation questions are questions we needed to ask to try to get at the meaning of verses as we translated into Cheyenne. Ultimately we realized that the CEV had English phrasings that were even closer to the way that we ordinarily spoke and wrote than the TEV, so we began using the CEV for our personal use also. By that time, I believe, our children were mostly gone from home, for college. When our children were home we continued using the Good News Bible in our family Bible readings because it was our church Bible when they were used to.

As time went on I was able to get Internet access. I discovered the NET Bible posted on the Internet, along with requests for comments from Internet visitors. I appreciated that transparency with the public and the opportunity to help contribute to making the NET Bible better. I submitted lots of comments to the NET team and they even publicly thanked me in one of their website open letters after one of their major revisions was completed. I appreciated being able to consult the many translation notes in the NET which helped me in our translation work.

Today when I translate with Cheyennes I use a computer program called Paratext which has been designed for Bible translation work. Several windows can be open at once within Paratext. I do all our revision work for the translation from within Paratext. I have one window open for the Cheyenne translation. The next window contains the English "back translation," needed for us to check to see if we have accurately gotten all of the meaning of the Bible into the Cheyenne translation. Then I usually have two English versions open as well which I can easily consult. I have another Bible translation program which synchonizes verse-by-verse with Paratext which has many more English versions, and I often consult them. The two versions I usually have open in Paratext are the CEV and NRSV, the CEV in very idiomatic English which I like and which the Cheyenne translators can understand more easily than any other English version, and the NRSV because it is literal and highly regarded among biblical scholars.

Today my wife and I have our family (just the two of us now) devotions using The Message which has such vivid English. Of course we do find a number of passages where Dr. Peterson, the translator of The Message, didn't translated as accurately as we think the Bible should be translated. We take note of those places, and I am now trying to remember to post them to The Message section of this blog. We find ourselves moved spiritually by The Message.

So, as usual, when you ask me a question, you probably get a longer answer than you might have wanted. But all this tells you what versions I have used and also why we have used them.

If I were to list the versions which I find most helpful to me today, either for my personal devotions or work, they would be the CEV, the NLT, the NET Bible, and The Message (this last one not for our translation work). If I have room for only one Bible version when I am traveling I take the CEV. I have a pocket edition of it. I also have a HP Jornada PDA pocket computer which has many English editions on it. I often read from my pocket computer while traveling, since I like to be able to compare wordings in different English versions.

I have not yet found my "ideal" English version, or as I've seen in some Christian literature "the Bible I am waiting for." That ideal Bible would combine the accuracy of the NET Bible, NIV, and NASB with the contemporary English of the CEV, but I would like it to have more literary beauty than I find in the CEV (which isn't bad literary-wise, it just doesn't sparkle, as I like a Bible version to do, if possible). I find it painful to read any English Bible which uses obsolete English syntax and vocabulary. I find it a joy to read and be moved spiritually by a version which is written in my heart language, and which also appeals to my literary senses, as a poet and someone who appreciates good quality English literature. The NLT probably comes close but I am so keen on quality English (as I understand it, anyway) that I spot "seminary English" in some passages in the NLT (far less, of course, than in most other major English Bible versions) and my heart language is not seminary English. Fortunately, I have become friends with Mark Taylor and I can freely tell him about NLT wordings which I think lost some of the literary sparkle they had in the paraphrase done by his father, Ken Taylor.

Categories: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


At Fri Jun 24, 06:33:00 PM, Blogger Michael Sly said...

Thank you Wayne. Your explanation has give me a new interest in some of the translations I have purposefully overlooked (i.e. CEV, NLT, etc.). I have used literal translations (NASB, ESV, and NKJV), and after reading Leland Ryken's book it just added fuel to that fire. It must be time for me to get out of my comfort zone. ;)

I may be jumping to conclusions from your answer, but I am curious as to why you consider the NRSV more literal than the NASB?

Thank you.

At Fri Jun 24, 07:45:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Michael asked: "I may be jumping to conclusions from your answer, but I am curious as to why you consider the NRSV more literal than the NASB?"

Michael, I'm sorry I wasn't clearer. The NRSV is a literal translation, but the NASB is more literal. I refer occasionally to the NRSV because the quality of its English is better than many other literal translations, and also because it has such a good scholarly reputation. It was translated in as objective as way as possible, from what I can tell from the reactions of biblical scholars as well as from my own experience with it. By this I mean that the NRSV isn't translated in a more "evangelical" fashion than the Bible already is--and I believe the Bible is strongly evangelical, but some versions such as the Living Bible, the NIV, and now the ESV make the Bible even more evangelical than the original biblical texts already were. I personally think we should just let the biblical text say what it says and not increase its commitment to any doctrinal viewpoint (including the evangelical viewpoint). If any of this is confusing, you might want to read some of the scholarly reviews of these versions. I have included on my ESV links webpage all the scholarly reviews of the ESV which I could find on the Internet. The url for my webpage is:

I say these things as a strong evangelical myself. But there is within me a deep desire for honesty and fairness and total accuracy in Bible translation work. That means, for me, allowing the Bible to say what it says, and not increasings its tilt toward any theological viewpoint.

At Sat Jun 25, 06:13:00 AM, Blogger Phil (Col 1:27-28) said...

"and now the ESV make the Bible even more evangelical than the original biblical texts already were."

Wayne could you give some examples of where specifically this is true in the ESV? :)

So, As I read your answer to the question of which translation you use, primarily, your answer is... none or is it the CEV?

So let me ask the same question another way. If you were pastoring a church and you were responsible to teach/preach at least two times and possible three times a week, week in and week out, which translation would you use?

I know what you wouldn't use from what you have said above, but what would you use for consistancy before and with you congregation?

Just curious.

Blessings in Christ Jesus!

At Sat Jun 25, 09:01:00 AM, Blogger Trevor Jenkins said...

Phil (Col 1:27-28) raises an interesting point with his questions about what version to use for the "pulpit". I'm not a pastor though for many years have served as a small-group leader. Neither do I have the privilege of being involved in translation work. So my observation may be different from those who are ordained. I should also declare that, like Wayne, my prefered choice for personal devotions and private study is the CEV. (Having used the KJV+LB, RSV, NEB, GNB/TEV, and NIV as my main study editions for several years each.)

In a small group setting I often use a different translation from the one favoured by the group. Of late this group's favoured translation has been the NIV because it is the "pew" Bible at our church. Although
one of the group does use David Stern's Jewish Bible arising from an interest in the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and another uses the NLT because they can't understand the NIV let alone truly literal translation. The fellowship itself is evangelical (affiliated with the UK's Evangelical Alliance) my different translation has occasionally been the Catholic Jerusalem Bible. But even in this setting I normally use the CEV. However, for preparation purposes I will consult other translations (especially the NLT and NIV, sometimes, the NCV or LB, but never the KJV); on one occasion when we were studying some of the Psalms I extracted the text of the chosen Psalm from the online Bible search engines and produced a parallel version with 12 different translations --- though that was a little excessive! For myself I can't prepare, even for the shortest study, using just one translation.

If I were preaching regularly to the same congregation then my choice for that occasion would depend on what the membership already used. The use of the KJV would be a stumbling block for me (and from experience is also a stumbling block for many regular attenders too) so most likely to use the NIV but try to persuade them to switch to the NLT. I'd probably not go all the way and recommend the CEV with very careful consideration of the demographics of the congregation. In an inner city situation I might go for the CEV whereas in a univserity chaplaincy I'd make it the NLT.

Ultimately whether for an individual or small group or congregation my desire is that people understand the biblical text. I've seen and heard too many people struggle to read from a translation that they do not understand. I've heard too many sermons predicated on the use of a specific translation by which the preacher has inadvertantly twisted the meaning.

In the end I would encourage each member to find a Bible translation that they understand and I'd preach from a translation that could be understood when read aloud. (Ah that means I had to go with either the KJV, which I won't, or the CEV these being the only two version where the translation committee actually considered the aural nature of their work.)

At Sat Jun 25, 11:54:00 AM, Blogger Phil (Col 1:27-28) said...

I have never checked out the CEV. I may a look at it, just to see. Thankyou for the input.

Blessings in Christ Jesus!

At Sun Jun 26, 09:03:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Phil quoted from my earlier comment and then followed up:

Wayne: "and now the ESV make the Bible even more evangelical than the original biblical texts already were."

Phil: "Wayne could you give some examples of where specifically this is true in the ESV?"

Yes, I would be glad to do this, Phil, but it will take some time to gather the details. I started the process yesterday soon after I posted that comment which I figured would prompt followup questions such as yours, appropriately so.

I don't want to just give generic comments. There is too much of this being done in the debates today, overall generic condemnations of a version without specific wrestling with the Greek or Hebrew behind the translation decision. I'll try to be as detailed as possible. Then readers can have a better basis on which to judge whether my comments are true to the facts or not.

It is difficult to assess the truthfulness of generic comments. Typically, people just go along with their favorite expositors or authorities when it comes to generic comments.

Facts, facts, facts. These are needed in the current debate.

I'll get back to you on this, as soon as I can. My time is very limited since my first priority is completing editing of the sound files of our Cheyenne Bible translation. This is very time-consuming work. I hope to average two chapters of the Bible per day, editing the files, but recently I have not met this goal, and if I do not meet this goal, I may not make it by the end of our fiscal year, which is a deadline for a grant supporting this work.

At Sun Jun 26, 09:09:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Perhaps others can also help in providing the evidence to support the claims made that the ESV, NIV, and Living Bible have made the Bible more evangelical than it already is (which is highly so, IMO).

I can say, Phil, that one of the primary areas where this evangelical bias (or "tilt" if you prefer) is seen in the ESV is the same area is seen in the NIV, namely, translating the Old Testament retroactively on the basis of New Testament understandings, especially for passages which can have prophetic implications and also passages which can be viewed as having messianic implications, in both cases interpretations besides the "local" real-time interpretations that the human author had for what he wrote. Now, those are generic statements which I prefer not to make, so I want to support them with evidence. But maybe this foreshadowing of where the evangelical bias is especially evident can be helpful for now. (Please do not forget that I am a strong committed evangelical. I simply believe that we should let the Bible say what it says and not make it more evangelical than it already is.)

At Sun Jun 26, 09:25:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Finally, Phil (I learned this clever rhetorical trick at the feet of Gamaliel. My friend Saul, later known as Paul, picked it up also!!), I should note that there isn't necessary anything "bad" about putting an evangelical slant in Bible translation. I prefer not to do so for the sake of translation accuracy and objectivity. But many conservative Christians believe that that there is nothing improper about translating the Old Testament on the basis of further revelation in the New Testament, and trying to harmonize Old Testament "prophetic" passages with New Testament passages which quote them. Many conservatives want their Bibles to sound as evangelical as possible. Conservatives want to have Bible versions which they can trust, and they like to look at the roster of scholars who worked on a version, as well as how various passages were translated to see if the version is as evangelical as they want it to be. I am not at all suggesting that a better alternative is to have "liberal" translations. Far from it. My belief is that our Bible translations should be as free from all theological bias, wherever it comes from, as possible. The RSV was largely rejected by conservatives because of how it translated some passages which conservatives felt should be more christological or messianic. The ESV has changed those passages to reflect a conservative theological viewpoint. This attracts conservative evangelicals to the ESV, along with its retention of the generic "he" pronoun and other linguistic forms which are promoted as better reflecting the masculinity of the Bible.

It is important to use a Bible that we can trust. In my opinion, however, we should be able to trust a Bible which has been translated objectively, without any theological bias. Of course, what some people call bias, others call objectivity, so we are left, again, with subjective decisions tied to one's own theology or ideology. So much of our view of truth is tied to what we believe. It's true of those who believe in various versions of evolutionary theory. They believe in it. It is a belief system based on data which the believers believe support their belief system.

At Sun Jun 26, 09:51:00 AM, Blogger Phil (Col 1:27-28) said...

I whole heartedly agree with your statement that we should let the bible say what it says.

The problem is simply the question of that really being possible, since what we are all see, hear and interpret of life is built up around the paradigms and or presuppositions that we bring to life and therefore the scriptures.

Bias cannot help but exist so is the question really about eliminating bias, tilts, slants, etc. or is it about some bias, tilts, slants being better than others?

Thankyou for taking the very real time and effort to answer these and the other questions.

Blessings in Christ Jesus!

At Sun Jun 26, 09:54:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Phil also asked:

"So, As I read your answer to the question of which translation you use, primarily, your answer is... none or is it the CEV?

So let me ask the same question another way. If you were pastoring a church and you were responsible to teach/preach at least two times and possible three times a week, week in and week out, which translation would you use?"

First, Phil, let me requote the original question to me:

"which version(s) do you personally use for your own studies and devotional life?"

which is also quoted at the beginning of this blog post we are commenting on. The important symbols here are the parentheses around the letter "s" at the end of the word "version." This means that Michael Sly was asking me which version or versions (plural) I personally use for my own studies and devotional life. I answered Michael's question about the versions (plural) I have used and still use for both.

I cannot answer your question, stated as ""So, As I read your answer to the question of which translation you use, primarily, your answer is... none or is it the CEV?" because there is an assumption behind it which doesn't work, in this case, since I answered Michael's question about the plural versions I use. I made it clear in my blog post that I do not use a single version. I stated at the end that I have not yet found my ideal version. But there are a number of English versions which are good and which I am happy to use for different purposes.

Now, I can answer your second question because it lacks the assumption of your first question. If I were "were pastoring a church and [was] responsible to teach/preach at least two times and possible three times a week, week in and week out, which translation would [I] use?"

My answer would be somewhat similar to how Trevor Jenkins answered this question, also. My answer would go back to how I blogged in an earlier post. If I became pastor of a church which already was committed to using the ESV as its pulpit Bible I assume that I would use that version in my sermons. If the church had the NIV as its pulpit Bible, I would use the NIV. Etc. And I would not be regularly saying during my sermons that the translation says this, but the Greek or Hebrew actually means this. I personally do not believe that that is appropriate for sermons. Those in the congregation need to be able to trust their Bibles, and all of the major English versions are trustworthy. Pastors need to be careful not to engender distrust toward Bible versions in the hearts of those whom they are shepherding, IMO.

If I came into a pastoral situation where there was no pulpit Bible yet, the answer to your question would depend on answering a number of other questions, including:

1. How spiritually mature is the congregation?
2. How familiar is the congregation with "church English" (the syntax and vocabulary used in churches but not outside of churches)?
3. How many non-native speakers of English are in the congregation?
4. Has the congregation expressed a desire for a Bible version which they can more easily understand or one which sounds to them like a traditional English Bible version.

If I could start from scratch and the congregation was eager to understand the Bible from reading it on their own, I would probably use either the CEV or the NLT. My preference would be the CEV, but if there was a high percentage of the congregation with reading skills much higher than the 3rd or 4th grade reading level of the CEV, I might need to go for a more literarily sophisticated version, and hope that the congregation could still understand that Bible from reading it themselves.

Please do feel free to follow up on these comments, Phil. You are asking good questions.

BTW, my mileage will vary from yours and from that of others who pastor and visit this blog. There are some who are much more committed to a certain ideology and so prefer some specific Bible version based on that ideology. I, however, am more committed to total accuracy (an accuracy not found in all of the linguistic forms of the more literal translations; see my posts about inaccuracies in literal translations) and linguistic understandability of the Bible for readers themselves. I believe that the Bible should be in the heart language of each speaker of a language so that they can understand the Bible for themselves--linguistically, anyway. They will need help from pastors and other Bible teachers to understand the fullness of concepts described by the words of Bible versions.

At Sun Jun 26, 11:44:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Phil responded:

"Bias cannot help but exist so is the question really about eliminating bias, tilts, slants, etc. or is it about some bias, tilts, slants being better than others?"

Phil, what you have said is true, but it need not be the last word. We need not resign ourselves to living with bias, if we do not have to. The key is to try to become aware of our biases. With regard to Bible versions, the key is to try to become aware of the biases in them. When we become aware of them, we can decided what to do about it. My own preference, when we become aware of biases in Bible translations, it to try to remove them and have greater objectivity. Allowing the Bible to simply speak on its own terms, without us making it more or less ideological in any direction, is what I prefer. I believe this is the role of objective translation. Granted, it is an ideal toward which we should strive. But it is not simply an ideal when we are able to tune in to biases. And this is possible, with the help of trustworthy and objective Bible scholars and the role of the community of faith, "iron sharpening iron."

We can remove from our Bible versions biases when we become aware of them. We can pray asking God to help us see where we have gone beyond what the biblical text says. It works all ways: we need to correct liberal biases, we need to correct conservative biases, we need to correct egalitarian biases, and we need to correct complementarian biases. God's Truth can survive Bibles which are translated just with what is there in the text.

At Sun Jun 26, 03:34:00 PM, Blogger Phil (Col 1:27-28) said...

I have taken far too much of your time, but I want you know that I really appreciate you and your feedback.

Blessings in Christ Jesus!


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home