Right behind me is the Thompson Chain Reference KJV that I used in preaching from high school up into college.
Not too far from it is a shelf where I have many of the Bibles I’ve used in my adult life. There’s a Thompson New King James, a nice red leather NASB original, a well worn NIV single column that I used for many years, two ESVs (one of which I am giving away), an NRSV Access Study Bible that I really like and several gift Bibles, including the RSV I received at my ordination.
In my classroom I have my old high school Living Bible, a worn out NASB paperback and a completely disassembled first edition NIV Study Bible. Love those notes.
Right behind me is my “devotional stack.” I have an ESV personal sized single column, the Message and an NLT second edition. All are small and fit in my satchel nicely. (Michael Card, William Lane and Noel Heikinnen got me to take a serious look at the NLT second edition, so if I am an apostate, blame them.)
On my computer I run Macsword with ESV and some greek tools. On my laptop I run Accordance and several translations. I regularly access several online translations, but most of the time I copy and paste the NLT second edition into what I write.
When I go to men’s Bible Study twice a week, I take my two small Bibles and my Greek New Testament. When I teach, I use the ESV. When I preach to students, I usually read and project the NLT. In churches around here in southeast Kentucky, the KJV is the only safe pulpit Bible.
Now that I’ve come clean, let’s talk about Bible translations a moment.
One of the stranger acts going on in evangelicalism these days is a variation of straight out team sports. I’m speaking, of course, of the debate over which Bible translation you “ought” to use to “really” get God’s Word.
Bible translations are….translations. No one I know of except KJV Only types try to make a case that God has endorsed an English translation. But the rhetoric of some evangelicals for their favorite translation’s superior qualities does get well past a calm exchange of views and into a kind of divine advocacy of one translation over another. There’s a bit of the Islamic approach to “inspired language” in some Christians’ attachment to their translation of choice.
Many times I’ve experienced someone being angry and/or uncomfortable that I was not using “their” Bible. I would have been happy for all of us to adopt and stay with the RSV. But with the proliferation of translations available today, it makes sense to access different English translations and paraphrases rather than depend on just one and suggest it’s God’s favorite.
But what is even stranger about this game is the way translations operate as identifiers for complete descriptions of the individuals using them. Ryan Cordle from the BHT described this well.
“…sometimes I wonder if the insistence of some on the â€œmore literalâ€ translations is a form of academic/spiritual elitism. It is as if those who would rather avoid the awkwardness of the NASB (which I read most of the time, with the NET) are not quite as intelligent as those who need to rely on â€œeasyâ€ Bibles like the NLT. People who donâ€™t read NAS/ESV just donâ€™t â€œgetâ€ it.
The reason I bring this up is because that is exactly how I was my first couple of years at college. I could judge someone based on their chosen version: NASB or ESV meant I could be friends with you; NRSV meant you were smart, but cluelessly liberal; KJV meant fundamentalist; NIV or NKJV meant you were probably clueless about translations and therefore not as great as I was; NLT or the Message meant you were a hopeless youth ministry major. I was able to put myself above everyone because I chose to read â€œthe most literal,â€ and I understood Greek better than the unwashed.
All of that was before I took my Greek exegesis classes, and realized all of the judgment calls that go on with translating/textual criticism anyway, and no version is free from interpretation. Therefore, you might as well pick the one you will read and feel comfortable with.”
Reformed blogger Tim Challies devoted considerable space to advocating the superiority of “essentially literal” translations to translations such as the NLT in a lengthy post yesterday. Challies is a layman, but he makes much the same case as men like Leland Ryken and others for the superiority of the “essentially literal” translations, which usually means the ESV/NASB.
My own views on translations were deeply influenced by the experience of teaching a semester of Greek several years ago. I immediately realized that every translation- including the ESV- used some examples of dynamic equivalence. Some translations use more and others less, but all translations participate in the various less-than-perfect processes of word and idiom translation.
I’ve found myself considerably annoyed recently by two things.
1. One is the idea that those who have produced dynamic equivalence translations are somehow making a “mockery” (Challies’ word) of inspiration.
There is no one on the face of the earth I respect more for his knowledge of Hebrew than Eugene Peterson. Long before he produced The Message, he was demonstrating his linguistic acumen in his many older testament expositions.
The “young, restless and reformed” never stop portraying Peterson as one of those “mockers” of God’s word. I’d ask these hecklers to read Peterson’s Eat This Book and get back to me on that one. Peterson is the most reverent, scripturally hungry person I’ve ever read.
The fact is that The Message is a completely idiomatic project. People who don’t know that are few. People who ignorantly vilify Peterson as one who “changes God’s words” are many.
And then we have the issue of who translated the New Living Translation. Careful there young, restless and reformed. Some of your favorites have been doing some dynamic equivalence translation behind your back.
Here are the names of the NLT translators. Let me point out a few of them.
Dr. Robert Stein, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. (If you know Stein at all, you will know why I put him on this list. He’s Mr. No Nonsense on the Bible.)
Dr. D.A. Carson, TEDS (I think some of you may have heard of Dr. Carson.)
Dr. Tom Shreiner, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Isn’t Dr. Shreiner a Calvinist hero?)
Dr. Moises Silva, Gordon-Conwell (I hear James White cite this man all the time, and White was a consultant on the original NAS.)
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass, North Park
Dr. F. F. Bruce, University of Manchester (Ahem)
Check out the entire list of NLT translators. I’m not sure the young, restless and reformed have taken stock of who some of those “mockers” of inspiration happen to be.
2. The other annoyance is the consumerism at the base of all this rhetoric. We’re publishing and selling books here, and don’t think it’s anything less than that. There’s nothing wrong with it, and I buy a bunch of them, but let’s stop acting like consumerism isn’t part of this discussion.
Evangelicals have connected discipleship and buying stuff in a way that is completely alien to the New Testament.
If today’s Christians were around in the Biblical era there would be ads for the Septuagint with endorsements from famous Jews and announcements of new “Glow in the Dark” covers.
If I buy an ESV and that’s my only Bible- and I actually read/use it- I’ll be blessed by the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit isn’t frustrated with the NLT. Both the ESV and NLT are human efforts to translate an eclectic scholarly text. The process is imperfect. It’s pursued with various assumptions and choices. The final product is a translation.
But toss this process into the Christian publishing business and suddenly I have to have an ESV to be a junior John Piper and every NLT comes with a coupon for a free eyebrow piercing.
Give me a break. You’re selling a book, marketing an image and making a profit. Let’s not gussy all that up with “Real Hairy Chested Manly Christians Use The _____________” or “The Emerging Bible Comes With All Propositions Removed.”
Just stop it. Make your case. Delete the needless mischaracterizations of good scholars. Stop labeling Christians by their translation.
And yes, I’ve pre-ordered an ESV Study Bible, just to be safe.