Bad Bibles

I’m often asked to make recommendations for the Bible.  Meaning, which one should I buy?  Not being a linguistic genius or blessed with the time to read every available translation or paraphrasing and compare and determine for myself what is best, I rely on old standbys.

The King James Version is beautiful and classic but largely inaccessible to people uncomfortable with an antiquated English language.

The New International Version is fine up  through the 1984 edition, but the more recent edition makes deliberate choices to omit masculine pronouns in reference both to God as well as humans, I imagine in a play to not offend anyone obsessed with gender issues these days.

I prefer the English Standard Version.  Readable but still with attention to detail and accuracy.

But I’m grateful when I come across thoughtful critiques of different translations.  I’m not personally familiar with the New American Bible but the author of this series of blog posts makes some excellent points.  His critiques are aimed at translational decisions made by the editorial team of the NAB.  He critiques some of the unpoetic, clinical language chosen for this translation, which loses both beauty as well as great theological significance in some passages.  He critiques editorial choices that blur or narrow great theological significances conveyed in the original languages and maintained faithfully for literally thousands of years in translation.  And he critiques changes in verbiage that obscure or even hide the actual meaning of the original languages, perhaps with an eye towards making the Word of God less offensive to contemporary cultural preferences.

All of which seem very legitimate reasons to me NOT  to suggest the NAB, even if it is approved and endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church.  Thoughts?


5 Responses to “Bad Bibles”

  1. Doug Says:

    I also prefer the English Standard Version, but am now using it in conjunction with the Evangelical Heritage Version (EHV) offered this year by Northwestern Publishing House. The EHV was created in a multi-year effort (the Wartburg Project) by Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and Evangelical Lutheran Synod pastors and theologians. The EHV provides more of a balance between literal and dynamic translation than the ESV which tends more to the literal side of the translation spectrum.

    • mrpaulnelson Says:

      Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll need to check into the EHV!

    • mrpaulnelson Says:

      Another thought – I normally warn people away from “in-house” translations. Things like the Jehovah’s Witnesses bible. While I’d be happy to use this translation in conjunction with the ESV, it would make me a little nervous to use a Bible exclusively translated by Lutherans, for fear that doctrinal issues could influence translational decisions.

  2. Doug Says:

    You have a good point and further study with the EHV will indicate if the Wartburg team has been successful in avoiding these issues. I believe the ESV provides a good baseline for doing this, although the ESV itself does have some issues too.

    Another perspective that needs to be considered is the possibility that a more “homogeneous” translation team may actually have advantages over cross-denominational teams. When Luther translated the Bible into German, his translation “team” was composed primarily of fellow Wittenberg professors and peers. I would argue that his team was predominantly, if not entirely, “Lutheran”. It is an advantage if the team is correctly grounded in doctrine. I think this has been the case, like the LCMS, for the WELS/ELS.

    • mrpaulnelson Says:

      I’m sure the smaller the committee, the smoother the process. The difficulty is that any particular sect or group could claim to have a proper (or superior) doctrinal grounding, justifying their translation with the doctrine rather than visa versa. I try not to hold out for my own denomination an exception to a caution I automatically would bring to any other such ‘in-house’ venture. Granted that translation is always going to involve a certain amount of decision-making, I’d like to think Lutherans would do a faithful job because our doctrine depends on accurate translation!

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