Choosing a modern Bible translation

Posted: 20th April 2007 by ElShaddai Edwards in Translation

My bookshelf has a number of different Bible translations on it, ranging from the NASB Open Bible that my parents gave me on my 13th birthday to a copy of the New Living Translation that our church has standardized on. To be specific, I have the following:

The NASB has been my primary translation for as long as I can remember and I currently use a reference edition from Foundation as my primary study and note-taking Bible. I had initially bought into Crossway’s marketing about the ESV being a “more readable NASB”, but kept drifting back to the NEB/REB (that I had used in college) for a reading Bible. Through reading various online blogs, I’ve since also added the NLTse, TNIV and HCSB as modern Bibles that bridge the literal and idiomatic translation philosophies.

While I would never say that I have “too many Bibles”, I would like to find one of these modern translations to use as my “everyday” Bible for both reading and study. So I am going to make a meandering survey of some of my favorite passages, comparing translations and posting my comments here. The four translations that I will be especially focusing on are the NLTse, REB, TNIV and HCSB. Since the NASB has been my point of reference for as long as I can remember, I will refer to it when needed.

I am not a Bible scholar and have no background in or understanding of biblical Greek or Hebrew, so this will not be primary research. This survey is primarily about choosing the translation that is written and reads most like how my brain works. Where significant differences in translation occur, I will try to find experts to help clarify. My hope is that by the time I make a decision, my chosen translation will be available in a Reference edition, preferably with wide margins, that I can make it my primary Bible and transfer notes from my NASB. In the meantime, the economical hardbacks are perfect for comparing translations.

  1. Wayne Leman says:

    I will be very interested to learn the results of your survey of favorite passages in different versions.

  2. R. Mansfield says:

    So I wonder what your time frame is for making a decision. At least we’ll get to enjoy interesting posts from you. As I know you know, in your short list only the HCSB comes in a wide margin. And the margins really aren’t wide enough and the paper is way too thin.

    Yeah, I’d like to transfer notes from my wide-margin NASB to a wide-margin TNIV, but no such creature exists. So it’s difficult to call the TNIV my primary Bible, although I’d be willing to let it be if I could replace my current Bible for note-taking.

  3. elshaddai says:

    Ha! Some days I wonder about my timeframe too… I’m probably going to wait and see the new NLTse and TNIV Reference editions coming out this year. The NLT is supposed to be out next month, but the TNIV not until September or October, right? We’re also thinking about doing some “church shopping” this summer, so I want to keep an open mind to what translations are being used at other churches in our area.

    Both of those translations have impressed me so far in terms of the actual text, so I don’t think I’ll have a major issue adopting either as an “everyday” Bible along with my wide-margin NASB that’s always on my desk right now. Rick, I was just rereading your NASB “review” and chuckled at how many similar Bible experiences we share – after initially being exposed to The Living Bible, I received the bonded-leather Nelson Open Bible NASB for my 13th birthday and used it exclusively until 5-6 years ago – I love how the pages are “fluffed” from use. And you’re right – the “cyclopedic” index at the front is excellent!

    One nice thing about the “budget” hardbacks is that they generally seem to be printed on thicker paper than the more expensive editions. The paper may not be as nice and the binding may not be as durable in the long run, but for general reading or textual reference I don’t have to worry about the distracting bleed through.

    Some passages from Isaiah and Psalms are next, but hopefully will be short nuggets instead of the Job missive (that one’s been rolling around in my head for a while and the blog was an excuse to get it down on “paper”).

  4. Will says:

    Just curious… why did you decide to switch from the NASB anyway? Readability?

    I’ve recently started using the NASB and have found it much more accurate than my previous translation (NIV) and easier to read than I expected. Perhaps you might want to check out the NASB95. The Lockman Foundation released an updated version of the NASB in 1995 that is somewhat more readable (from what I hear) than the previous version.

  5. Will asked:

    Just curious… why did you decide to switch from the NASB anyway? Readability?

    Good question… I was given a NASB’77 for my 13th birthday (still have it – a NASB Open Bible Edition from Nelson). I used that almost exclusively through college, except for some time with an NEB that a class required. That combination, NASB + NEB (and later the REB), really have been my mainstays, the NASB for well over 20 years now.

    It’s only been in the last 5 years or so that I’ve gotten the translation bug, a condition made much worse this year by blogging and meeting other “bibliojunkies”. Basically I’ve been trying to see if any of the new versions offered greater readability without sacrificing the formal approach that I’m used to from the NASB.

    I got sucked into the ESV when it first came out, but have cooled on that. As most of my posts will illustrate, I’ve been bouncing between the HCSB, TNIV and REB translations, with some consideration to the NRSV as well. That said, I will always have an NASB available to me – I also have a NASB95 Wide Margin Reference Bible from Foundation and recommend it very highly.

  6. Will says:

    Thanks for the quick response. Like you seem to believe, I think it’s great to have multiple translations available for comparison. I like the HCSB but I am not familiar with the REB. The TNIV is a little too paraphrase-like for me to use as a study bible (and I’m a little wary of the gender-inclusive translation idea). Once again, thanks for posting about you translation search… this is that many of us undergo and your comments + insights are very helpful.

  7. Thanks for your insight, Will. If the TNIV is too paraphrase-like for you, then you probably wouldn’t like the REB. While nowhere near true paraphrases like The Message, the REB has definitely emphasized its literary qualities over a formal word-for-word translation approach. I love it for devotional reading because the text just flows, but agree that it might not make the best study bible.

    I’m torn on the TNIV. As a NASB devotee, I never warmed to the NIV, so it’s hard for me to say that this is a significant improvement, other than to take the word of those more familiar with the changes. Compared to the REB, the language is “flat”, but probably more accessible to the average reader. The gender language changes are nowhere near as extensive as the NRSV.

    I honestly believe that a passionate modern revision of the KJV would sweep away a lot of the fragmentation in the translation market. The idea of the ESV is good, but it’s not nearly as extensive an update as it should have been. Maybe down the road there’ll be a RESV that will keep the Tyndale-line literary qualities, but update the grammar to modern standards.