Choosing a modern Bible translation, Part 2

Posted: 25th April 2007 by ElShaddai Edwards in Translation

I was gently prodded in the comments of a previous post about whether I had decided on a “modern” translation after comparing a number of verses between various translations. As of yet, I’ve not compared any New Testament texts and will probably start to do so after one or two more Old Testament comparisons. My conclusions so far have fallen equally to the New Living Translation (Second Edition, 2004) and Today’s New International Version (TNIV). I’ve been modestly surprised at my response (or rather lack thereof) to the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), though perhaps it will score differently in the New Testament texts. My preference for the NLTse or TNIV over the older REB doesn’t surprise me, but the NEB/REB will always have a place on my shelf for sentimental reasons.

The question has also prompted me to think again about what approach to take with my Bibles. As much as I like to have a stack of various translations on my desk, it’s far too easy for me to suffer “paralysis by analysis” if I give myself too many options (see also my golf game….) and get derailed by the minutia rather than focus on the message. And I know that I will always question myself if I choose a primary translation on either end of the literal vs. idiomatic spectrum, so that eliminates my NASB as a primary choice.

Interestingly, it also probably eliminates the NLTse as I want something a little more formal for my personal use. That decision was driven home when I was looking at 2 Corinthians 12:9 (at the top of this blog) in various translations and the NLTse read: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” I like the word “sufficient” and I think I understand “made perfect” in this use. To not see them there threw me off, even though it probably makes sense for someone new to the Bible.

So as of today, my approach probably will be to use the TNIV as my everyday reading and study Bible, with the NASB and NLTse as my secondary choices, representing “more literal” and “less formal” alternatives. As I’ve mentioned before, our church uses the NLTse as its pew Bible, so that translation will always be available for reference. Because I want my primary Bible to also be usable in a study environment, I’m waiting to see what the forthcoming TNIV Reference Bible looks like (see proof pages here on This Lamp). I really REALLY wish it had wide margins for taking notes, but that seems to be an impossible effort for publishers these days.

  1. R. Mansfield says:

    The value of the TNIV is that it’s going to be in the middle of the spectrum. I use it when I’m teaching, but I’ve used the NLT a bit more lately when I occasionally preach a sermon or give a devotional because the interaction is not as great.

    As for wide margin Bibles, it’s not an impossible effort–it’s just a short-sighted one. Of all the 21st century translations (ESV, NLTse, HCSB, NET, TNIV), only the ESV has decent wide-margin Bibles. And I hand it to Crossway for recognizing that while everyone might not need a wide-margin Bible, there are a lot of people who want a hands-on, interactive experience with their Bibles which means taking notes. Not only does Crossway recognize, they offer at least THREE different kinds of wide-margin Bibles (or is it four?)

    The fact that a limited number of wide-margin TNIV’s or NLT’s couldn’t be made available, even if on an order-only basis, is a true shame.

  2. Jay says:

    I like the NASB Wide Margin and the HCSB Ministers Wide Margin now if only it was in the TNIV…

  3. elshaddai says:

    I have the (semi)wide-margin, side-column reference NASB from Foundation Publications and love it. The 11pt text is very easy on the eyes, the binding is flawless and there’s minimal bleed-through on the pages. Could use a little bit more outside margin room for notes and maybe move the references to the inside margin, but I’d gladly use something like that in the TNIV.

  4. Jay says:

    The ESV wide margin I think is only on one side of double column text????

  5. Kevin Sam says:

    I know what you mean by “paralysis by analysis”. I’m a fan of both the NLTse and TNIV and use them for everyday devotional reading. I just find a enjoy reading the bible if I can understand it with clarity. But I also still value the NASB and NRSV. I find myself flipping back and forth between versions just to see the difference. For bible studies in Sunday School, I still like to use something more formal. I also looking forward to the TNIV Reference Bible.

  6. Jay says:

    I saw a new ESV wide margin with nice leather single column. Also I have used NIV Thompson Chain as a wide margin. I currently use TNIV XL rebound by leatherbibles.com and like it alot and I write in the small margins. I am an avid writer in margins but my wife has never felt comfortable writing in her Bible. “different strokes…” Hopefully the TNIV would come out with a nice readable font wide margin 6×9 nice leather. Some wide margins are to large or weird styles. I don’t like the TNIV square at all or ESV Journal or the cambridge size. Partly my need is for a Bible I can use in preaching and teaching in TNIV (or NLT) …so not too large, yet with good size print (I am 50).

  7. […] concerns track with some of the notes I previously had made in comparing the NLTse and TNIV, where the latter’s more formal approach made it more […]