Choosing a modern Bible translation, part 5

Posted: 19th December 2007 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

Rick Mansfield has written a nice post detailing his current “Bible quiver”, which contains the usual suspects that he’s noted before: NASB, HCSB, TNIV and NLTse, with a number of other translations in a secondary role.

As I’ve been on my own quixotic search for a modern Bible translation or translations, I thought I would make my own post along these lines, trying to sum up a year’s worth of research, reading and reflection. For those unfamiliar with this search, I’ve been using the New American Standard Bible (NASB) for over 20 years now, beginning with an Open Bible edition that my parents gave me when I was 13. Over the past few years, I’ve felt the desire to have a more accessible text, but still one that I could trust.

Core Translations. Inasmuch as I’ve lately been an advocate of selecting a wide range of translational methods in order to grasp a broad sense of meaning, it would be somewhat disingenuous to say that one Bible had made itself a clear leader. And it hasn’t. However, I can boil down my current core use to two translations: the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) and the Revised English Bible (REB).

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve twisted back and forth on the HCSB, struggling at times with the reasons for its conception and association with the Southern Baptist Convention. However, the positives of the translation itself are equally, if not more so, attractive:

  • The first completely new translation from original texts since the NIV and one that is often willing to sacrifice traditional renderings for the sake of accuracy (cf. Psalm 23, John 3:16).
  • Generally a formal translation, but with enough functional equivalence to smooth out the English. The modern grammar separates the HCSB from the similarly minded ESV (cf. Romans 7).
  • Preserves traditional theological language, but without the awkward “elevated” archaic language of the Tyndale tradition (N/KJV, N/RSV, NASB, ESV).

The REB has become my favorite translation for devotions and general reading over the course of almost 10 years now. It’s the translation that I carry in my briefcase and one of two Study Bibles on my bookshelf. Rick has summarized this translation as “undoubtedly the best literary translation of the Bible since the KJV, but without the archaic baggage”, and I agree. It is the rare example of Dynamic Equivalence executed at a higher reading level, where most DE translations feature simplified language to appeal to a larger audience of readers. The REB also includes a basic set of Apocrypha books, making it a more ecumenical choice than most of the translations on my shelf.

Secondary Translations. These are the translations that I frequently turn to in order to compare texts, but they aren’t as likely to find their way into my briefcase or church bag: the NASB, Today’s New International Version (TNIV) and the New Living Translation (NLTse). Also in this category is a copy of the Jewish Study Bible, with the Tanakh from the Jewish Publication Society (JPS).

The NASB is a sentimental favorite, and well-deserved study partner. The NLTse was the pew bible at my former church and has a refreshing manner of language that makes it startlingly easy to read.

One thing that I’ve been growing increasingly convicted of is the need to regularly use a translation that is in line with whatever your church has standardized on. My current church uses the NIV, though I’m more likely to carry my TNIV than a NIV. Like the HCSB, the TNIV straddles formal and functional translations, though perhaps with a little more interpretation in the texts. I never warmed to the NIV while I was using the NASB and that hesitancy has carried forward to the TNIV, so while I know it is an improvement and more accurate than its predecessor, there is still a trust issue to work through.

Conclusion. I will be looking for a “just right” reference edition of the HCSB to use on a regular basis as an “everyday” Bible. The Oxford Study Bible with the REB translation provides significant cultural and contextual insight into the world of the Bible, while my compact REB edition offers great portability away from home. I will also continue to look at the copy of the new TNIV Reference Bible that Zondervan has so graciously provided.

* * *

For more on this search, see also:

Choosing a modern Bible translation, part 4
Choosing a modern Bible translation, part 3
Choosing a modern Bible translation, part 2
Choosing a modern Bible translation, part 1

In search of a common Bible: the Revised English Bible
In search of a common Bible, part 2
E pluribus unum… In search of a common Bible

Scoundrels, ruffians and certain lewd fellows of the baser sort

  1. Wayne Leman says:

    ElShaddai, it’s clear that you have thought through these issues very carefully and made wise choices. I especially appreciate the fact that you have not mentioned that you have made any choices based on endorsements from famous church leaders. There’s nothing particularly wrong with endorsements, but they often come out so fast that I wonder if the endorser has had a chance to actually read very much of the version they are endorsing. And I still prefer to choose a Bible version based on its own merits rather than on the recommendations of others.

    Thanks for this good series of posts.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Wayne. I have a special distaste for anyone who uses their name to sell products, especially the Bible, faith or religion, so the supposed attraction of an endorsement is actually a negative for me.

  3. Ray McCalla says:

    Just for variety, this spring I started reading the REB Oxford Study Bible (I’ve even been reading the Apocrypha!), and I have enjoyed it very much! It’s clear and reads smoothly, but doesn’t seem to veer off the tracks too much. Although the Oxford lacks a cross-reference, the notes are quite helpful. It’s a shame that more Americans don’t use the REB; and it’s unfortunate that the REB isn’t online anywhere (at least that I’ve found). Of course it’s not perfect, but it deserves a second look. Thanks for lifting up a good one for others to consult.

  4. Ray, thanks for the note! I’m really glad you’ve found the OSB to be enjoyable – I use it all the time, of course. I agree that a cross-referenced REB would be nice, but the OSB notes, especially in the NT, take care of most essential references. I agree that an electronic edition would be very welcome.