Question: Are there any “bad” versions/translations of the bible? (KJV, NIV, etc.)
Why does Ridgecrest use ESV?
When it comes to Bible versions there is a wide range of understanding from totally oblivious to militant. Before I became a serious student of the Bible I was firmly in the oblivious category thinking that the different labels we used to designate Bibles KJV, NIV, NASB were simply brand names. KJV was to the Bible what NIKE was to shoes. You have the gold standard KJV=NIKE and then you have the rest NIV or NASB = Reebok or Adidas.
In my journey from oblivious to being someone people asks about Bible versions I have met the militant. The militant would include people who believe that since the KJV was good enough for Paul, it should be good enough for the rest of us :). Personally, I find those who argue passionately for the KJV as the only preserved Word of God to be misguided and divisive. If the KJV is your personal favorite that is one thing, but to say it is the only version of the Bible ordained by God opens up a pandora’s box of ignorance and errors.
I said all that to say this – I will try to answer your question concisely without getting into the entire debate over versions or the entire dynamic of how we bring a text from Hebrew and Greek into the language of the people which is, in our case, English (which is its own massive yet fascinating discussion). Yet in doing so, please understand there is much more that should be said and there is also a wrath I expect from the militants to which I will not be able to respond adequately on this forum.
In answer to your question, yes, there are “bad” translations of the Bible. I would say this is the case for two reasons:
1. There are versions that are poorly translated. This may be so for the following reasons.
- The translators did a poor job handling the original languages. AND/OR
- The end product is difficult to understand for a contemporary audience. The point of translating the Bible is so that people can understand it. When the people fail to understand a translation we have failed to achieve the purpose of translation.
2. There are versions that are theologically misguided. It is impossible for one to perform the task of translation without bringing to the table his or her own experiences and presuppositions. This does not mean that every version of the Bible is then necessarily corrupt, but it does mean that if we are to render a faithful translation of the text that it should be done with careful critique and the checks and balances of the church at large. This being the case we should be careful of:
- Versions that are strictly denominational in nature, as it may be a version that simply seeks to affirm a particular set of beliefs or theological leanings.
- Versions that seek to attract a particular cultural sub-group such as teenage girls or people who love rap music. I have seen some examples of this and the end result is nothing but unholy gobbeldygook (itself a word that needs no translation).
- Versions that have a decided theological agenda whether it be to give us an image of “god” more palatable to modern culture, a certain philosophy, psychology, or political agenda or perhaps a version that seeks to remove negative language references such as sin, wrath, or judgement. This is nothing short of carving images and the end is pagan idolatry.
With this said what I seek in a Bible translation is one that is readable, understandable, and faithful. I want to know that a large group of scholars have applied a great deal of work to it with an even greater degree of oversight and accountability. These are the reasons I am currently using the ESV (English Standard Version). That is not to say that I believe that the ESV is the “best” in all points, but I do believe it satisfies the criteria as well as the best few and far better than most. For a good article on the ESV translation follow this link: http://www.esv.org/esv/translation/about/
Ridgecrest as a church has not chosen the ESV as the “official” Bible version of the congregation, but it is the version that I have chosen to use week to week in the pulpit. As a result many of our people have also purchased the ESV and many of our teachers choose to teach from the ESV (which is not required of them). Personally, this is a choice I made in 2008 after studying the ESV for a year. Prior to that time, I preached from the New King James Version (NKJV).
If I could make one ringing endorsement for the ESV it is the ESV Study Bible. I am not a “study Bible” guy. I find them cumbersome yet lacking. The Bible is a big book. Adding notes to it makes it mammoth. Thus it is difficult to say a lot with a little (which seems to also be my trouble with this blog). The end result then, for most study Bibles, is a mammoth Bible with lots of notes that say little to nothing at all. What I love about the ESV Study Bible is that every note and article seems to be precise and the end result is a set of concise notes along with the text that are capable of helping anyone become a serious Bible student.
Thanks for your questions. Keep them coming.