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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thinking on Bible Translations

There are many people who have no use for a modern language Bible translation.  I am not in their camp and if you will be patient with me I will tell you why.  In my father's last couple of years of life he was in and out of the hospital and the nursing homes (for rehab) frequently.  He was at home when he could be but often that was not possible.  The pattern would be the hospital, the nursing home, and then back home where we would start the whole process all over again.  

One day when Dad was in the nursing home I asked him if I could bring him some reading material as it would help him pass the time.  His response was he would not know the words and would not know what they meant.  It was an honest answer.  While my father was a great math student he was a horrible English student and his grades in school reflected that.  Reading was very difficult for him. 

My grandfather on my Dad's side was born in 1879 and all my other grandparents were born in the 1880s.  My grandfather on my mother's side was off on his own when he was 13 working for one farmer and then another in the state of Illinois.  His education ended, I believe, in the 5th grade and one must also remember the school year back then was very abbreviated compared to today.

None of my grandparents got past the 8th grade.  I know the family purchased for my grandfather on my mother's side a Revised Standard Version of the Bible just because of the reading difficulty issue with the King James Version with one of so little education.  This purchase was made way back in the 50s or early 60s when for all practical purposes there were only 3 translations available to most people—the KJV, the ASV, and the RSV. 

As for today, I have spent nearly 40 years in classrooms either as a full-time teacher or as a substitute teacher.  I can assure you that even to this day many kids, and I am talking about high school kids, cannot read satisfactorily.  Reading is difficult for many of them and reading with comprehension is even more so.

My experiences with my own family and with kids in school have led me to have sympathy for those who have difficulty reading and understanding what they read.  I will never forget the words of my Dad that he could not understand the words.  Are we to deny people the opportunity to read a modern-day language Bible that they just might have a chance of understanding versus the King James Bible where chances are they just give it up as hopeless?

I personally gave up the King James Version when I came across the phrase "evil concupiscence" (Col. 3:5) one day in my reading.  I felt like there was probably not more than 1 person in 1,000 ordinary everyday Americans who knew what the word "concupiscence" meant.  I switched over to the New King James Version which I have now used for years.  (I might add that the NKJV and the NASU translate the Greek in Col. 3:5 as "evil desire" which even I could understand). 

Is making the Bible easier to read a sin?  Which translation, if one would learn its teaching and follow it out in his life, is so bad that it would lead one to hell?  Would it be the New King James Version, the New American Standard Version, the English Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, the Holman Christian Standard Version, the Christian Standard Version, which one would it be?  Yes, they all have passages they have not translated well as judged by those qualified to make such judgments but so does the King James Version. 

My plea would be to have sympathy for those who find reading to be difficult.  Don't judge a man by the translation he carries and uses but by the life he lives.  "By their fruits you will know them" (Matt. 7:20 NKJV) and not by the Bible translation they carry.  Let me offer you a challenge.  Read the book of Job in the King James Version and then read it in say the New International Version and then tell me which one you got the most out of.  I'd say you already know but try it and see. 

[For those interested in reading up on the subject of Bible translations I can recommend the following books which I suspect are all on Amazon but you will have to check and see:  (1) How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss, (2) King James Only?:  A Guide To Bible Translations by Dr. Robert A. Joyner, (3) The King James Version Debate:  A Plea for Realism by D. A. Carson, (4) The King James Only Controversy:  Can You Trust the Modern Translations by James R. White, (5) Questions You’ve Asked About Bible Translations by Jack Lewis, (6) and saving perhaps the best for last One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? by Dave Brunn.] 

(While I originally wrote this article in 2013, I add this update in 2022.  I have expanded the translations I read and study from since 2013 to include the Christian Standard Bible, the English Standard Version, the New International Version, and occasionally I even consult the New Living Translation.)

[To download this article or print it out click here.]