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Which Bible Version to Use?

Dear Mr. Harvey,

I am in need of honest advice. For several years I have been struggling within myself over which Bible version(s) to use. For a period of time, I fell for the King James only argument. I do not have every Bible version, but I do have many of them. My personality is such that I need to reduce the number of versions I own. I tend to like the more formal, word-for-word versions, but occasionally I feel drawn to the others. It doesn’t take me long, though, to feel like I am not really reading the Word of God. Could you offer advice? Are you willing to honestly suggest a version (or a few) that you really don’t care for?

Thank you in advance for any suggestions you may have.

God Bless,
Mrs. S T

Dear Stacey,

Please correct me if I am wrong, but I gather from your letter that you do not know — or at least know well — the original languages of the Bible.

The version which I primarily use is the New King James Version. Of all the versions available, it has the better qualifications.

First, the NKJV is translated from a more reliable textual base. It is largely based on the sixteenth century “Received Text,” and though this Greek text has many faults, in my opinion it has far fewer faults than the modern “accepted text” of the United Bible Societies. I have a sufficiently sophisticated knowledge of the facts and issues to cut through the confusion, and I believe Biblical rules for evidence for the most part eliminate the “testimony” of the minority manuscripts which are mostly relied upon to construct the modern “accepted text.” These manuscripts are significantly isolated in both time and location, their quality is poor, they significantly contradict each other, and their singular circumstances of survival are not commendatory. The claim that they are the “oldest manuscripts” means nothing because, as even their defenders openly admit, every significant textual corruption — even from their point of view — had already been introduced before the time that these manuscripts were ever written, hence these “oldest manuscripts” could just as easily preserve corruptions as preserve accuracies — and the evidence indicates that corruptions or worse are exactly what they do preserve. There are other arguments regarding preservation by divine providence and the like which are attractive because they bolster confidence in the majority of manuscripts which are widely represented in both time and location and which can clearly be demonstrated to reach back in time as far if not further than the minority manuscripts, are of good quality, do not significantly contradict each other, and whose circumstances of survival are commendatory. Nevertheless, the “providential preservation” argument can be — and is by some — subjectively twisted into an idolatrous worship of the sixteenth century “Received Text.” Much the same kind of reasoning is behind the English KJV only thinking, the Greek Septuagint only thinking, and the Latin Vulgate only thinking. Ultimately, the outward objective evidence and the inward testimony in the individual should sufficiently agree, and I believe that is where I am at — readings determined by Biblical rules of evidence (that’s the majority readings for the most part) generally ring much truer. The Lord has outwardly preserved the text of His Word in such a way as to give us objective confidence, yet we are nevertheless kept from proud idolatry because the text has been preserved in a multitude of manuscripts. The differences which remain amount to slight specks on a sheet of paper.

Secondly, the KJV tracks a close correspondence between the Greek text and the English translation. The following is my translation of 1 Corinthians 2:9-13. It is literal, word-for-word, but I do not hold myself to the minimal word equivalence of most word-for-word translations. I use as many words as necessary to convey more fully what the Greek vocabulary and grammar says, to supply the contextual antecedents (which we English speakers have a harder time keeping up with than did the Greeks), and to supply what is necessary to make it sound like English, but I enclose in brackets what “enhancements” I make on what would be a minimal word equivalence, and I underline the words being emphasized in Greek.

[2:9] Nevertheless {the case is} just as it stands written, “What thoughts {the} eye has not seen, and {what thoughts the} ear has not heard, and {what thoughts} have not arisen in the heart of man, {these thoughts are} what God has prepared for those who are devotedly loving Him.” [2:10] But God has revealed {these thoughts} to us {apostles} by means of His Spirit: for the Spirit {continually} searches all {thoughts}, even the deepest {thoughts} belonging to God. [2:11] For who among men {always} knows the thoughts belonging to a {particular} man, except the spirit of that {particular} man which {spirit is} within him? In the same way also, no one {always} knows the thoughts belonging to God, except the Spirit of God. [2:12] Now we {apostles} ourselves have not received the spirit which belongs to this {present} world, but rather, {we have received} the Spirit which {comes} from God, in order that we should know what {thoughts} have been graciously bestowed upon us by God; [2:13] {these thoughts} which we {apostles} are also {presently} speaking, not in words taught {characteristically} by human wisdom [literally: the ‘taught-by-human-wisdom’ kind of words], but rather, {in words} taught {characteristically} by {the} Holy Spirit [literally: the ‘taught-by-Holy-Spirit’ {kind of words}] — matching spiritual {thoughts} with spiritual {words}.

This text is talking about the verbal inspiration of the writings of the apostles, and we ought to emulate this in our translations of their inspired writings. The Greek word translated “matching” [sungkrinontes] means literally “to judge together,” and is elsewhere translated “to compare” and “to combine.” The idea is to compare things — thoughts — in order to combine them with weighed and balanced judgment, to sort and match, to fit things — thoughts — together properly. The Holy Spirit taught the apostles how to sort through human words in order to spiritually match the right word — the spiritual word — to the spiritual reality. In the same way, in translating, we ought to sort through English words in order to spiritually match the right word to the spiritual reality expressed by the Greek words of Scripture.

Those translators who practice “dynamic equivalence” like to transform what is said in Greek into what they think it means, then how they think they would say it, then how they think we need to hear it, thereby putting themselves very much into the translation. This makes them mediatorial priests. It is certainly true that the translator cannot avoid interpreting, but they use this truth as an excuse to take great liberties, whereas striving for a word-for-word equivalence imposes a discipline upon the process which keeps the translator within the borders of what the Holy Spirit actually said in Scripture.

I spent a year comparing the Greek text, the NKJV text, and the NASV text. Though the NASV is a more word-for-word equivalence translation, I have found it frequently uses transformational grammar (I would call it inversional grammar) to change the emphasis and even the sense of passages. Because the NKJV and the NASV so frequently translate differently, I could see value in a parallel Bible with these two translations. I am not aware of any such parallel Bible. The NASV is based on the modern “accepted” minority Greek text.

Thirdly, the NKJV is written in respectable modern English. I am disappointed that it dumbs down some of the vocabulary, and in places it holds to the original King James expressions where it could be more literally or more understandably expressed. That’s where a comparison to the NASV can be helpful.

Twenty years ago I made an executive decision for our family to switch over from the King James to the New King James. I still look at lots of other translations, and I am even writing my own translation, but for a modern English translation with minimal word-for-word equivalence, and plenty of study aids available, the New King James is still the one I would choose.

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