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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Criteria for choosing Bible versions

What are some of the criteria that people use to decide what Bible versions they will use? There are, I think, many. But there are some which are quite common which I would like to summarize in this post. The criteria in this list are not mutually exclusive. That is, it is entirely possible that someone will use more than one of the criteria to select a Bible version to use. This list is not intended to be exclusive, but it does include criteria which seem to me commonly used. If I leave out any criteria which you can think of, please add them in comments to this post.
1. Meaningfulness: Some people choose to use some Bible version because it communicates the messages of the Bible clearly and meaningfully to them. It speaks their language. It is written in a form of English which is like the English which they speak and write.

2. Accuracy: Sometimes a Bible version is used because someone believes it is more accurate than other versions. Perhaps that version has been promoted as being highly accurate.

3. Ideology: Sometimes a Bible version is used because it seems to support an ideology with which one agrees. Today some people select a Bible version because it may seem to them to give greater support either to the ideology of complementarianism or egalitarianism. This is one of the hot issues among those who debate English Bible translations today.

4. Theology This can be related to #3 (there is often not much difference between ideology and theology). Some people choose to use a certain Bible version because its wordings support a doctrine which they believe is important. Conversely, some people will not use a certain version because it seems not to support a doctrine which they believe is important. For instance, some people will not use the NWT (New World Translation) because it never translates in such as way as to communicate the idea that God and Jesus are equal in divinity.

5. Classical language: Sometimes a version is used because it uses "classical language." Today some people like to use Bible versions which are within the classical Tyndale-King James Version literary tradition. They like the sound of the older cadences of the language reflected in that tradition. The ESV is the newest version which maintains that older classical tradition.

6. Style: Some people choose to use a version because it is worded in a literary style which they are comfortable with. Sometimes they choose to use a specific version because it uses a higher register of language which they believe is more appropriate for communicating spiritual concepts. Conversely, some people prefer to use a version which is written in Plain English. Plain English typically lacks specialist jargon from any discipline, such as legalese from the legal profression.

7. Endorsements: Some people choose to use a version because it has been endorsed by people who they trust. They want to use a version that they can trust and they find these endorsements credible and helpful as they decide what Bible version to use.

8. Objectivity: Sometimes a version is used because it seems to be more "objective" than other versions. This would be conversely related to # 3 and 4. Many academic scholars consider the NRSV to be a more objective English translation than many other versions available today.

9. Scholarship: Some people use a version because they believe that those who produced it were better scholars than those who produced some other versions. Scholarship sometimes includes taking into account discoveries from the Dead Sea Scrolls or from other developments in our understanding of the biblical languages and the cultures in which they were spoken.

10. Documentation: Sometimes a version is selected because it does a better job documenting its translation decisions. Some people today use the NET Bible because it has a plethora of footnotes explaining its translation decisions.

11. Impact: Some people use a Bible version because its language impacts them more than other versions do. They appreciate the emotional and/or spiritual impact that that version has upon them. Some people use The Message paraphrase today for this reason.

12. Transparency: Some people use a Bible version because it more easily allows them to see the literary structures used in the original biblical language texts. This is sometimes called transparency. A translation which is transparent to the biblical language texts is sometimes called a direct translation.

13. Messianism: Some people choose a Bible version based on how its translators interpret passages in the Hebrew Bible which might be messianic. Messianism as it relates to choice of a Bible version might mean, for some, using a Bible which does not promote the idea that messianic passages in the Hebrew Bible speak about Jesus Christ, who Christians consider to be the promised messiah. For others, messianism in choosing a Bible will mean that they do choose a version because it actively promotes a messianic interpretation pointing toward Jesus as often as possible in the Hebrew Bible.
Why do you use the Bible version that you do? Which criteria for choosing a Bible version are most important to you? Can you think of other criteria which I did not include in my list?


At Sun Jul 02, 11:15:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Sun Jul 02, 12:31:00 PM, Blogger Milton Stanley said...

For me personally, transparency is fairly important. That's one of the reasons I like the NASB. I can't think of any other meaningful criteria. Looks like you've covered the bases. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

At Sun Jul 02, 04:52:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Anon., yes, your additions are important criteria for many people. Thanks.

At Wed Jul 05, 04:22:00 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

Consistency. Some people specifically seek Bible translations that translate according to the same principles all the time. Often of particular importance is a consistent degree of literalness (the NIV is sometimes - rightly or wrongly - criticized for lacking this). This is directly related to transparency, accuracy, and objectivity.

At Thu Jul 06, 11:29:00 PM, Blogger David McKay said...

Some people read a bible version because of all the bad publicity it has received! That's partly why I boguht and am enjoying the TNIV.

I have enjoyed reading the NIV for 25 years and only recently replaced my original version for one with references and wide margins for note-taking.

When all the publicity about the ESV hit, I decided to see if it was superior to the NIV, as the promoters were saying. I discovered that many of their complaints about the NIV were equally true of the very version they were promoting.

I was reading the ESV through the BibleWorks software program, but have recently purchased a copy of the ESV Reformation Study Bible. As I do a read-through of the whole bible, I can't help noticing how often the ESV clarifies the Hebrew or Greek by translating with words that will help us to understand the meaning, but not with a literal translation.

One example of many is translating a Hebrew word that means "foreign woman" as "prostitute," because this seems to be who the writer of Proverbs is warning us about.

When the NIV/ TNIV does this, it is thought to be "interpretive," but apparently it is completely different and perfectly acceptable when it occurs in the ESV!

I have recently completed a read-through using the TNIV and found it a worthwhile update to the NIV.It is easy to read, and frequently takes account of recent scholarship concerning the best way to render various passages.

It is occasionally unnecessarily gender inclusive, but mostly this enhances one's understanding of whom the writers were intending to include.

The negative publicity about it means that the folk in the churches I am associated with have been frightened off from using it. It will be interesting to see if it is adopted "down the track."

My wife and I read from it before breakast, and find it a great way to start the day.

At Fri Jul 07, 07:19:00 PM, Blogger exegete77 said...

Transparency of the original language, particularly verbs for detailed English study (NAS95).

Clarity for oral reading (GW, unsurpassed in this aspect)

Natural English (GW)

Litirgucal adaptability (ESV, NKJV, GW). GW as an excellent oral translation might work well in a liturgical context, but I don't know of anyone who is pursuing that. I spoke with Rev. Michael Hackbardt (Ex. Dir. of GWNBS) at our National Convention two weeks ago, but did not ask him specifically about liturgical use; I may have to follow up with a call.

Reflection of underlying style changes in original language texts (NAS95, but also GW, and I have to read more in HCSB to evaluate it for this purpose). I think this is where many Meaning-Based translation fail, i.e. CEV. Short sentences tend to reduce everything to the same style, so it is difficult to know whether a specific text is typically pauline or johannine.

These crieteria are all very subjective, reflective of my theological education and background.

In my regular reading, I use NAS95, GW, HCSB, and occasionally NKJV, ESV, NIV. And today I received a complete TNIV, so I may add this to my regular reading list (at least for a while).


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