May 20, 2018

Who Translated the New Living Translation? (And More Thoughts on Advocating English Translations)

For starters, let’s have a full accounting of my participation in the Great Translation Circus.

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 “more literal” 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 “easy” Bibles like the NLT. People who don’t read NAS/ESV just don’t “get” 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 “the most literal,” 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.

Tyndale Press editor Keith Williams responded at the NLT blog, taking issue with Challies’ presentation of the weaknesses of dynamic equivalence translations.

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.


  1. Yes, Michael, but isn’t a good bit of the clinging to a particular translation just an attempt to finesse around the “elitist” need to give precedence to the original Greek and Hebrew, especially when one’s ecclesial group doesn’t have a magisterium one can trust?

  2. I confess that I had bought into the Peterson criticism, until I read “The Jesus Way.” I agree with your assessment of his respect for scripture.

  3. Michael,
    Thanks for this post and especially for this sentence:

    Evangelicals have connected discipleship and buying stuff in a way that is completely alien to the New Testament.

    We had this discussion in a Bible study a few months back. As Christians we succumb to the temptation to show our faith by the stuff we buy all too often. I had never considered how this affected Bibles before.
    I am one of those “Bible geeks” who reads the translators notes in the introduction before I commit to using a version of Scripture very much. I loved your list and have most of the versions that you mentioned. Of course, I have also picked up a Holman version along the way and recently bought the Complete Jewish Bible as well. But I think the most important thing in our reading of Scripture is the Holy Spirit as you have said. Since we have access to the Author of the Book and He speaks our language, then He can help us sort it out.

  4. For all those who engage in the dynamic equivalence/literal debate, I propose the following: just try translating a single book yourself and see how you turn out. Or just update a public domain version yourself (like the ASV). You don’t really have to be a complete expert in the languages to get the flavor behind the effort involved. So many Greek/Hebrew computer helps are available that a good portion of the work is done for you.

    I started my Context Group Version project thinking to make a good “literal” translation, with the same Greek/Hebrew word consistently associated with a single English one. The result often was unreadable. So I always — and still am — smoothing out the work to make it intelligible.

    So I have a great respect for all translators of whatever version.

  5. Great post, and I’m glad to hear you use the NLT.

    It should also be noted that the other side of your annoyance #1 is that sometimes advocates of dynamic equivalency can tend to look down on more literal translations for their “stilted language” and “biblish,” which is also an unfair oversimplification. I’m going to be careful to try to avoid that trap in my blogging about the NLT.

    As for #2, it is an undeniable fact that publishers are in the business of selling books. There is certainly a tension there between consumerism and Holy Writ. I’m certainly glad that I work to support a translation that I believe is faithful to the originals and clear for our readers. Even so, I do spend time agonizing over the relationship between God’s Word and profit margins. It is helpful to know that a portion fo NLT royalties support worldwide Bible translation efforts through Wycliffe Bible Translators, and the the copyright for the NLT is held by Tyndale House Foundation, a non-profit organization that distributes millions in grants each year (TH Foundation also owns Tyndale House Publishers).

    Thanks for the link.

    Oh, and don’t forget to pre-order your NLT Study Bible, too. 🙂

  6. Thanks Michael! This post was exactly what I had hoped to hear, and you didn’t disappoint! As a young pastor I am asked regularly which translation is “best.” I used to work at a Christian bookstore (in Bibles, primarily), and was constantly asked the same question. “Which gets closest to what the Bible REALLY says?” In the end, though, all of those questions boil down to “which will make me the best Christian; which gets me closest to God?” And of course the answer is “any.”

    I preach on a fairly regular basis. I use the NRSV for my pulpit bible. But in study, I use TNIV, NIV, Nestle-Aland, NRSV, NKJV, NASB, the Message, all sorts of versions (though i confess i have not yet bought an esv, and probably won’t for a while). God seems to speak through all. no biggie for me!


  7. I agree completely – for me it has come down to ease of use – I use the NET in dead tree format, and the NEXT online, and the NET in Esword.

    But I teach SS with the NIV (it’s our pew bible)

    And I give out the NLT to new believers.

    I guess I am hopelessly not as great as others.

    I will just have to live with that

  8. I think we’re pretty damn lucky it’s not the Latin Vulgate. And that has nothing to do with the RCC … we’re lucky because we don’t have to do the work of translating every time we sit down to read. Someone else has done that for us. And we have a plethora of choices … if it doesn’t make sense in one version, try another. We’re so damn lucky we strain gnats to swallow camels. What else can we think of to rip the Bride’s dress apart with?

  9. Scott Eaton says:

    Amen, brother! It seems that some of the TR’s are rather bored with nothing better to do than sling mud in the name of “truth.” NLT, The Shack,, etc. What’s next?

    My primary reading and teaching Bible is the ESV. But man does God speak to my heart powerfully through the NLT and The Message.

    It seems to me that the best translation of God’s Word is the one that is read and understood and works to really affect one’s life.

  10. I think I’m on the same page as you, generally–all translations use some measure of “dynamic equivalence”, there isn’t a clear black-and-white distinction between “essentially literal” and “dynamic equivalence”, and paraphrases have their place. (Note: I am also sympathetic to Challies’ previously-expressed concerns with Eugene Peterson’s philosophy of translation.)

    For people who have a very strong–even condemning–dislike of paraphrases, I wonder if a shift in perspective would be helpful. I view things this way:

    Any translation involves some measure of interpretation. When producing a translation of the Bible, we should avoid (as much as possible) inserting our interpretation. We should stay as “essentially literal” as we can. (And we should remember that the most “literal” translation will have flaws, about which we must exercise discernment.)

    BUT–and this is a rather huge but–who would argue that interpretation has no place? Every commentary and every sermon involves interpretation. And pastors & commentators will often paraphrase a text after exegeting it. Even the hardest conservatives don’t typically mind, because it’s clearly identified as paraphrase. As long as it’s presented as, “This is what I think the sense of the passage is,” it’s fine. It’s commentary.

    By that token, I view The Message as far closer to a commentary than to a translation. And I also think it would be helpful if heavy paraphrase translations were actually labeled as commentaries. I realize there might not be a sharp dividing line, but I think making an effort in that direction would alleviate some valid concerns.

  11. I get asked which translation is best all the time. My pastor even asked me once; that’s when I found out he skipped the language classes in college.

    After Greek 3—the semantics course—I cut out all the silliness about which translation was the best. Besides, worrying about it indicates that you don’t trust the Holy Spirit to do His thing despite an unclear, vague, idiomatic, or even erroneous translation.

    Although I don’t really have a favorite translation anymore; I read the original and translate it myself. I’m not wasting those thousands of hours and dollars I spent getting a minor in biblical languages. I’m surprised so many other former Greek and Hebrew students do.

  12. Good post, Michael.

    I think I have all the translations you mentioned except the ESV. I came to Christ as a result of the ministry of a church whose philosophy was, “If the KJV was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us.” I got caught up in that nonsense, too, I’m sorry to say. I teach Sunday School at a Southern Baptist church, and we use Lifeway curriculum. Of course, they push the Holman CSB. For that reason, I don’t have that translation either. (I tend to be a little rebellious.) I use the KJV for teaching because my Bible has so many of my personal notes, it makes teaching much easier. However, if I had it to do over again, I’d probably start out using the NLT. It’s so simple. As a matter of fact, I think it’s written on a grade school level. (Perfect for an adult Sunday School teacher. 🙂 ) When I first got my hands on the Message New Testament, I absolutely could not put it down. I use it and the NLT for my personal devotions. I’m with you concerning controversies about translations. Come on, folks, get over it!

    You and I seem to be walking down the same path regarding our relationship with Christ. My journey started a couple of years ago when I found Steve Brown on-line (, and got hold of two of his books “Born Free” and “Living Free.” I started to rethink all the things I’d been taught since becoming a Christian. I realized that I was pretty much caught up in the “religion” aspect of it all. Now, I like to refer to myself as a “Grace-man.” I’m excited about what the Lord has in store for you, and for me, as well. I look forward to reading about your Jesus-Shaped journey.

    God Bless you Bro.!

  13. Besides, worrying about it indicates that you don’t trust the Holy Spirit to do His thing despite an unclear, vague, idiomatic, or even erroneous translation.

    That seems very similar to saying, “Worrying about unbiblical teaching indicates that you don’t trust the Holy Spirit to do His thing.”

    You may be right that “worrying” is bad… But caring surely isn’t. It’s good to care about good teaching–knowing that the Holy Spirit gives gifts of teaching to the church.

    Yeah, we should remember that the Holy Spirit works directly–but we should also remember what He has told us about how He works mediately.

  14. I needed to read this. I’ve been critical of the NLT before, not because any professor of mine was, but because I’ve rolled with a lot of Calvinists and I’m quite Reformed myself.

    I checked the NLT translator list and Kenneth Matthews, Tremper Longman, Craig Blomberg, Douglas Moo, and Gerald Borchert are all there. I used their books on a few papers for my B.A. at North Greenville University.

    Like all young Reformed-types, I need a good smack across the head every now and again. Thanks, Michael.

  15. A.R.,

    You had a typo: “Like all young Reformed-types, I need a good smack across the head every now and again.”

    Fixed it: “Like all human beings, I need a good smack across the head every now and again.”


  16. As an NASB Updated-Only believer, I am deeply, deeply offended by this post!

    Keep up the good work, Michael.

  17. What the majority of American Christians need to do is learn a second language, any second language. (What is the definition of monolingual? Answer: An American.)

    Then read the Bible in the second language! I was thrilled with the insights I gained in reading the Bible in Chinese.

    And you will quickly see all translation is dynamic equivalent translation.

  18. Michael,

    Thank you for this post. Since the time I read “Eat This Book”, the over-zealous translation bigotry, usually from those people who despises any translation other than ESV, KJV, or NASB has been annoying me as well. And I was concerned with those Christians who seemed completely ignorant to the marketing of the publishing companies.
    For me, I would still choose the ESV if I had to choose only one translation for myself, however, the ESV hasn’t been, and will not be the only version that I will recommend to other Christians.

  19. I wrote a post not too long ago on why I use the ESV ( but I of course have other translations as well.

    One thing I found odd about the statement you pasted by Ryan Cordle: he mentions an ESV carrying fellow could be his friend, but an NRSV made one a clueless liberal. The history of the ESV suggests the two are very akin. The ESV is in a sense the most recent RSV revision. Am I far from the mark on this?

    (BTW, Ryan Cordle once observed my U.S. History class. It’s a small world.)

  20. My understanding is that Crossway bought the rights to use the “old” RSV as the basis for the ESV (but a fresh translation team did review everything.)

    The NRSV went in a much different direction, especially on the issue of gender inclusive language.

    The NRSV is perceived as a “liberal” translation, while the ESV is perceived as a “conservative” one.

    Jesus uses the LXX.

  21. And now can you clear up for us which is the best translation of children’s bibles… and are they inspired the same?!?!

    What of the cartoon bible that taught me all about Ezekiel and the kings in the OT? Don’t tell me there was a better version I should have had…

  22. Jeremiah Lawson says:

    Woah, Klyne Snodgrass … never thought I’d run across that name again.

  23. GranpaJohn says:

    I spent over two years translating several books a few years ago. Then as I examined the works of other newer translators, I discovered we were all pretty much on the same page. We struggled over the same difficulties, preferred our own understanding to that of others and joyously proclaimed our new found insights. Yet for all of our proclaimed differences I found so very, very little doctrinal distinction between them.

    Yet in all of it, I found translation much easier than obedience…
    He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be 😉

  24. I do use the God’s Word Translation a lot for first Bibles and long congregational readings. I have some issues with it (as I do with all translations), but I find that it manages to make things “readable” in a similar way to the NLT, but with less words. Sometimes, however, their desire to avoid “lingo” makes things more confusing than they need to be.

    I also use the NLT for public readings frequently – since the language flows like an English speaker….speaks…it can be helpful. Of course, this is one of the stated objectives of the ESV as well – that it “sounds good.”

    I try to avoid the NIV like the plague though, after wrestling with a passage in Greek or Hebrew for a while – it’s just so dang BLAND. To me, reading it gives me that same mildly depressed feeling that I get when watching a partially deflated balloon. Let me be clear here, however, this is a matter of personal preference as much as anything else.

    I pretty much gave up on civility in this conversation during the whole TNIV brew-ha-ha. You do a nice job with it iMonk – but its’ kinda depressing that we’re doing this AGAIN.

  25. As far as I am concerned, it is the duty of every Christian to improve their ability to read complex text so that they can think for themselves when reading scripture.

    This means that I prefer more literal translations. But it also means that I am willing to use dynamic equivalent translations for those who need to improve their literacy.

    In my own personal life, I use the ESV exclusively (I don’t know Greek). But I am using a Good News Version when reading the Bible with my son. That might seem semi-heretical, but God used the GNB in my own young life (despite its flaws) so I trust that God will use it in my son’s as well.

  26. Ummm…ever come across people in a conversation and find yourself in way, way, way over your head? Kinda like walking on on a conversation between Stephen Hawking and John Polkinghorne….and the only thing you can contribute is something you heard on NOVA. ‘Bout how I feel after reading the comments…..”dynamic equivalance”…huh?….I couldn’t seem to find it in my concordance :). I stumbled across this blog from Steve Brown’s site.

    I was never quite aware of the polarity involved in my choice of Bible (e.g. conservative, liberal, independent?). Sure, I’d heard stories of folks who touted the KJV only, but I never really met any of them. To be honest, I wouldn’t know any of the names of any of the translators. I usually just read the first one I happen to grab…sometimes NIV…other times NLT……when I’m curious about what a particular word might have been, I click over to Strong’s KJV.

    Keep in mind, my simple-minded approach comes from someone who has never been to seminary, never preached a sermon, and never taught a Sunday school class. So maybe I’m just not as sensitive to these “battles’ that rage within Christendom. Perhaps this ‘controversy’ is really more notieceable to those that do the studying(in seminary), teaching, and preaching. I see similar ‘battles’ in about any field of study…to those within the particular field they folks seem to enjoy the debating and arguing with their colleagues. To those outside the more academic nature of any given field-of-study the ‘battles’ and debates remain largely unseen.

    But what do I know, I’ll just keep reading anyway.

  27. First,
    I am linking to this post. Great job.

    I heard a comedian the other day talking about people being bilingual and this post reminds me of it.

    He said something like:

    Heck, I’m barely monolingual! I can hardly speak English. Maybe I dont give myself enough credit. I mean, I know enough to order in restaurants but that’s about it.

    Since most people have no understanding of what it takes to translate from one language to another, they have no idea what a task it is to translate the scriptures, especially with itsmultiple sources.

    As Steve Martin used to say, “I just got back from France. It’s like those French have a different word for everything!”

  28. Thou hast made a noble post. Verily, verily I shall ruminate upon thine wisdom, or to quote the masses, “Good job dude”.

  29. I think most of us here would agree that the New World Translation is a less than accurate translation of the scriptures (understatement for sure). However, there are numerous testimonies of former Jehovah’s Witnesses who have left the watchtower simply from reading the NWT and realizing that what is taught in the Kingdom Hall is different from what is taught in the Bible (even in the NWT).

    Perhaps that could give us an idea as to how much energy we want to expend in fighting the war over translations. I’m fine with KJV only people reading the KJV exclusively, just don’t put down those of us who do not. Those who are reading the Message or the Living Bible have my blessing as well. In all honesty these people are spending more time reading the Bible than I do.

    We can argue endlessly over which translation is superior to all others. But whichever it is, it is better to have an inferior translation and read it, than to have a superior translation and not read it.

  30. Great post! I always find it remarkable the way people will so vehemently defend one particular version as the best or attack one particular version as wrong. Assuming there is one perfect translation out there I don’t see that it matters. It would take a perfect person to interpret everything in it without error anyway. Haven’t found a perfect person yet.

  31. rampancy says:

    w00t! MacSword FTW!

    One of my good friends, a philosophy associate prof-cum-part-time InterVarsity staff worker, got me interested in Concordance (apparently the Last Word in Bible study apps on the Mac), but apparently to make it really worth your while you need to get the Scholar’s Package, the price of which made me (a poor M.Sc student) choke.

    I really do love MacSword – it’s not only free, but it’s Open Source too, which satisfies my inner pinko commie lefist. It’s a shame I can’t get any modules for it for the newer commercial translations (NIV, NRSV, etc.)

  32. rampancy says:

    Oops, I meant to say Accordance, not Concordance.

  33. Nicholas Anton says:

    I have never cared much for Bible paraphrases such as the NLT, or the “Message”, because I do not appreciate someone else attempting to think for me. “To think” is one thing, “to think on my behalf” is another. I also very much dislike plagiarism. I would like to think of myself as being an “original” thinker. And yet, not to be influenced by one’s culture, language, training, piers, etc., is virtually impossible. We frequently speak and think like those who have mentored us and those around us even when we believe we are cutting our own swath. Yet, objectivity is possible in translating and interpreting the Bible. I also personally shy away from attempting to make the Bible more culturally relevant through filling in, reconstructing, contemporizing (If you can’t find this word in a dictionary, don’t worry about it, I can’t either.) and paraphrasing it.

    After reading Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life”, because of the plethora of “versions” he used as references, due to his constant misapplication of Scripture in it, my repulsion to them has dropped another few notches. I have never seen worse! If you think the cults are bad at this, think again. All one needs to footnote in this fashion is a computer with all the Bible versions, a general memory of some semi related catchy words and phrases found in them, an underpaid secretary to retrieve and document them, and a Groto in Antarctica in which to store them, which requires the stamina of a marathon runner to retrieve them, so that most people will never realize the sloppy scholarship. I looked up all the references and nearly died of exposure in the process.

    Instead of the pre digested paraphrases, give me a good translation in contemporary English that is accurate, scholarly, and that avoids stereotypical, loaded and leading words and phrases.

  34. I grew up using the NKJV for my own use, so I have a soft spot for the translations in the Authorized lineage. I still read from my pocket ESV occasionally even though I have some problems with it’s translation agenda, especially when it comes to ecclesiology. It’s a good translation, gives a good sense while achieving a good level of literary style. The RSV is also good, and the NRSV isn’t too bad either.

    When I was in high school, I was involved with Bible Quizzing. As such, I memorized many parts of the Bible in the NIV, which is somewhat akin to memorizing an especially bland office memo. I don’t know about how accurate to the originals the NIV is, but as an English text it is abysmal. In the California Evangelical culture I was raised in, it was the translation of choice, with only a few KJV-only dissenters to be found. As a result, for corporate worship it was the only option, which saddened me.

    Right now I’m taking a Latin course, so for practice I am reading the Bible in the Vulgate. Now there’s a good translation. :p

  35. Stephanie says:

    Thanks to Keith Williams above for his reference to Wycliffe Bible Translators. I work for them. Please let’s have equal concern for the people who can’t read God’s Word in their own language yet.

    “Lord, You’ve given me the whole Bible. I’ve got multiplied versions. I’ve got more versions than I know what to do with! But what about that poor guy out there? He’s one of a little group of 300. He’s got nothing.” What should I pray for him, “Lord give him some crumbs, please”?! And I’m stuffed with a gourmet meal. “Give him some crumbs!” I can’t pray that, it chokes in my throat! I can only ask that God give him the same as He’s given me. And I just hope that no one will ever be able to say in Heaven that, “they stopped before they’d come to my language.” George Cowan, former Director Wycliffe International

    Take a look at and get involved in making God’s awesome Word available to the 200 million people who are still waiting for the ‘crumbs’ to fall from our table.

  36. Bob Sacamento says:

    Evangelicals have connected discipleship and buying stuff in a way that is completely alien to the New Testament.

    Thank you. That sums up in one neat, clean, easy-to-remember sentence what I have never managed to say clearly in a hundred different rants over the past twenty years.

    F.F. Bruce, an NLT translator? I’m confused. He passed away in 1990. Has the NLT actually been around for twenty years now????

    Thanks for the post. Please, write more on this. There really is too much rough and tumble over Bible translations now. A KJV-only friend of mine always refers to the NIV as the “HIV”. And, frankly, I like the idea of dynamic equivalence. I think there is an argument to be made that it is actually more respectful of the intent of the original authors than strict literal interpretation. But I won’t make that argument, because I respect the folks who want to use the NASB, and because I find the “literals” helpful too.

    All that being said, there are some truly atrocious translations out there — the CEV being at the top of the list. Sadly, as was pointed out in First Things several issues back, the problem with many translations these days is not the translators lack of familiarity with ancient Greek and Hebrew, but that they lack ability with modern English.

  37. Great post, and great comments too!

    To Adam who was wondering about “dynamic equivalence”, here is an example that I always liked.

    Let’s say that you are translating the Bible for a fairly primitive tribe, like my Grandfather did some 50 years ago. You come to the verse “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” Wait a minute, you have a problem, the culture to which you are communicating has no doors. What do you do? Try and explain the concept of door in your translation or use the dynamic equivalent, “Look, I am standing outside your hut and calling loudly!” This is the sort of the issue faced by the translator.

    But then you have a further problem. A subset of the group that you are translating for does not use the word for “hut” that the majority does. They use a different word, lets call it “home”, which the majority also understand but in a slightly different way that is intended in the original Greek. So do you go with “hut”, a word not understood by some of your readers, or “home” a word understood by all, but some will have a slightly different understanding of it.

    These are not easy choices for the translators to make. My Grandfather, using a manual typewriter, ended up having to type out the entire Bible seven times before he had a version of the Bible that understandable by all of his intended audience, and was able to be published!

    A couple of unrelated comments on the NRSV. It has been unfairly called a liberal translation because of its use of gender inclusive language. I would like to note that the gender inclusive language is only used of humans, and never of God. Also the gender inclusive language is only used when the audience is clearly both men and women. If that makes a translation liberal then I guess I am a liberal. Boy is my wife going to be surprised!

    I should also note that the NRSV is popular among Greek and Hebrew professors as it tends to be low on the dynamic equivalence scale and as such is closer to the original languages. (This at least has been my experience.)

    Finally I will leave you with this thought. If Hermeneutics is the science of Biblical interpretation, would a gender inclusive science of Biblical interpretation be called Hiswomeneutics??? 🙂

  38. I tried to send this already, but I think it went off into the void. I apologize if it ends up being a duplicate comment.

    I have a friend in Wycliffe Bible Translators named Dr. Andy Ring. For more than thirty years, Andy and his wife Kate have lived in Ghana, West Africa, with their ten children, one of whom died there from complications of dengue fever. So far Andy has been instrumental in translating the New Testament into the Buem, Lelemi, Selee, Sekpele, Siwu and Tuwuli languages (and a few others whose names escape me at the moment).

    While we sit around in fortress America debating which English version of the Bible is best, Andy and Kate have spent a lifetime going into their corner of “all the world” and reaching people with the gospel who have never heard it in their native tongue (what Wycliffe calls their heart language) even once.

    Maybe you think this is off-topic. I don’t. Shame on us.

  39. Michael Bell stated….

    “Let’s say that you are translating the Bible for a fairly primitive tribe, like my Grandfather did some 50 years ago. You come to the verse “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” Wait a minute, you have a problem, the culture to which you are communicating has no doors. What do you do? Try and explain the concept of door in your translation or use the dynamic equivalent, “Look, I am standing outside your hut and calling loudly!” This is the sort of the issue faced by the translator. ”

    I’m not sure I agree with this reasoning. The greek word for door, thura, had a broader meaning than a door as you or I would think of it. It could mean gate, portal, entrance of a tent, etc. Similarly, the Hebrew cognate deleth…could mean tent entrance.

    EVERY culture has an “entrance” or “way” or “portal” regardless of whether we are talking of a 21st century house, an ancient middle eastern tent or a primitive hut.

    The translation would not have anything to do with “hut” but rather the “entrance” into it.


  40. David A Booth says:

    The difficulty with recommending translations like the NLT is that, while often excellent, when it falls short – it really falls short. This is an unavoidable aspect of this sort of translation.

    That said, much of the translation is truly superb. For example, many of the Psalms (which I believe were primarily done by Van Gemeren) are noticeably better in their translation than in the NASB or ESV.

  41. Hi B.B.

    I think you somewhat missed my point. In our culture when you want to be invited into someone’s house, you knock on their door. The dynamic equivalence in this particular culture was to “stand outside your house and call loudly.” I was not looking for the equivalent of door, but of the equivalent of what do you do to be invited into someone’s dwelling.

    I agree however that the translation would have to do with entrance.

    My point I think is still valid. The translation would be “Look, I am standing outside your entrance and calling loudly.”

    I just used “hut” versus “home” to further illustrate. I could have used words like “entrance” versus “entry-way”. We have numerous examples in English where different words mean different things to different people. I know one Pastor who told his congregation that “thongs were optional” for a church event. When he sat down, his wife quietly informed him that he should have used the word “flip-flops”. 🙂

  42. Here’s a monkey wrench in the machine for everyone:

    What is there to say that the actual “quotes” (for lack of a better word) in the Bible are not paraphrases of what people said?

    How amny times does someone make a statement and when we repeat it we chnge the wording or simply tate the point that they made without quoting them verbatum?

  43. Michael B. stated…”In our culture when you want to be invited into someone’s house, you knock on their door. The dynamic equivalence in this particular culture was to “stand outside your house and call loudly.””

    I don’t know that I would be comfortable with translating “he knocked on the door” to “he stood outside and called loudly” when dealing with the Word of God.

    You are mixing the categories of translation and commentary which is a dangerous road. We need a literal translation, and then we need good commentary.

  44. David A Booth says:

    Michael Bell,

    It isn’t true that the NRSV uses gender inclusive language only when the audience is clearly both men and women.

    For example, in 1 Timothy 3:2 the NRSV reads “married only once” where the Greek says “husband of one wife”. Whether or not someone thinks that this is what 1 Timothy 3:2 “means” – it is by no means self-evident that Paul could not be referring to male only Bishops.


  45. Just for the record, and apropos of nothing, Bob Brague and B.B. are two different people.

  46. David A Booth,

    I stand some what corrected. (I knew I might get myself into trouble my making such a blanket statement 🙂 ) I think however that we are looking at a different dynamic in this particular verse.

    You say that in 1 Timothy 3:2 “The Greek says ‘husband of one wife'”. Allow me to quibble a bit. That is what your translation of the Greek says, and that is what we are discussing here. The Greek is (and excuse my transliteration) “mias gynaikos andra”, or most literally, “of one (as opposed to many) women a man”. I think in this case the literal translation is very good, “a one woman man” That is, a guy who is above reproach (the purpose of the whole passage) and one that won’t fool around on his wife.

    So the primary task then of the translator is to say how best to communicate this message. Is the intent of the author to restrict leadership to only men with one wife, or is the intent of the author to call for a marriage that is above reproach. Seeing as the whole passage is about being above reproach, translating it as “husband of one wife” actually clouds the meaning of the passage and might lead people to believe that Paul is making an injunction here against female leaders. However, since Paul’s intent of the passage is for a leader to be above reproach, starting with the marriage relationship, then “married only once” communicates that quite well without assigning to Paul a position on a topic that he was not even discussing in this passage.

    Mike Bell

  47. B.B

    I should note that I was merely defining “dynamic equivalence” and not arguing that we always needed to use it.

    I agree with you up to a point. There is a danger if dynamic equivalence is taken too far. But you have to realize that all our translations use dynamic equivalence in some form or fashion.

    Take the King James version of Psalm 21:9 “Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger: the LORD shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them.” The word that we see translated “wrath” is actually the Hebrew word for nose or nostrils. We have an image here as God as fire breather. “The Lord shall swallow them up in his nose and the fire shall devour them.” Notice the similar language in Isaiah 65:5 which says in the KJV – “These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.”

    The Hebrew word that is translated “nose” in Isaiah (and many other places in the Bible), is translated “wrath” in Psalm 21. Why? Dynamic equivalence. God swallowing people in his nose while literally correct, doesn’t really communicate in English that well. So the translators use the dynamic equivalent. God is angry, and his wrath consumes them. Not nearly as cool an imagery as fire breathing nose, but what all the translators thought would be more meaningful to an English audience.

    Besides, you wouldn’t want to confuse God with a fire breathing dragon would you? 🙂

  48. David A Booth says:

    Mike Bell,

    I agree with you that “one woman man” (or more dynamically “a one woman sort of man”) is a better translation.

    As you write: “The Greek is (and excuse my transliteration) “mias gynaikos andra”, or most literally, “of one (as opposed to many) women a man”. I think in this case the literal translation is very good, “a one woman man” That is, a guy who is above reproach (the purpose of the whole passage) and one that won’t fool around on his wife.”

    I disagree that “married only once” communicates the Greek well for two reasons:

    First, to a contemporary English reader – “married only once” could easily sound like it is intending to rule out a Widowed Elder getting remarried. Contemporary English speakers don’t understanding getting married more than once to refer to polygamy (a very real possibility in the text) they most likely would take the idea of getting married a second time as implying that the man had been widowed or divorced.

    Second, and to my point, the NRSV takes the gender out of the text. The Bishop in the Greek is male (andras). The NRSV doesn’t like this, so it makes the text gender neutral. While it is certainly possible that Paul is using male terms to refer to both male and female – this is by no means certain/obvious. But that was your claim (“Also the gender inclusive language is only used when the audience is clearly both men and women”).


  49. David A Booth,

    I think our little exercise here is probably like what translation committees go through. Little bit of give, little bit of take.

    I totally agree with your first point about Widowed Elders. I think both of us would be happier with the translation “one woman sort of man”.

    I think we are not that far apart on the second point. I would have modified my original statement to say “Gender inclusive language is only used when the audience is clearly both men and women, or when using gender specific language would mask the meaning of the text“.

    In the case that we are talking here you agree that it is “possible that Paul is using male terms to refer to both male and female”. Yet, by phrasing the text the way you want to phrase it in English, many people would certainly come to a different conclusions and would exclude women from leadership based upon this verse.

    Now based on my modified statement, maybe someone will come along and prove me wrong again. Its hard having to keep cleaning the egg off my face. 🙂

    Michael Spencer,

    I hope we haven’t been hijacking the thread here. I think what we have written is of some interest to those who wonder about the dynamics behind the different translations.

  50. Hey, David A. Booth,

    Just had a quick thought. How do you like “faithful to his marriage” as a translation?

    It covers both the concept of being a one woman sort of of guy, and reduces the likelihood that people would interpret the verse as an prohibition against women leaders.