Note: the following post contains some thoughts on Wayne Leman’s recent question on BBB as to “what versions of the Bible do you use and what is the most important use you have found for each of those versions?” In that post, my two-cent answer was:

NLT’07 for everyday reading and study; HCSB or TNIV for my “church” Bible (we are a NIV church and I’ve found those two translations work really well for reading along with the NIV). And (too) many others for comparison’s sake.

The point of this post is not that answer. However, to get to the point, I will need to retread some related background. Long-time readers of this blog will remember that I used the NASB almost exclusively for 20 years and long subscribed to the “literal is best” mindset. After a little experimentation, I kicked off this blog with the purpose of finding a current translation that satisfied my sensibilities for modern English and that could be used in a variety of settings, including devotional reading, personal studies and at church. The four translations that I considered alongside the NASB — the NLTse, TNIV, HCSB and REB — have all rotated through my hands at various points since then (and still do).

Looking back at my time with the NASB, it was a very simple experience – the Bible was the Bible and my “quiet still waters” were not muddied by translation debates. I find myself longing for that type of experience again and am continually challenging myself on whether comparing and interacting with different translations is a selfish “wisdom of this world” desire.

If I were convicted about the appropriateness of functional translation before my blogging “sabbatical”, I am even more so now — convinced that to enter into a living, breathing dialog with God’s Word, the Bible needs to be not just read, but lived in language that allows the narratives of our day-to-day lives to enter and mingle with the details of God’s story. Everyday stories aren’t told in the stilted language of scribes or theologians, but of fishermen, carpenters, tentmakers, shepherds, web designers, youth leaders, parents and children. There will always be trained theologians like Paul who write with difficult words for a specialized audience, but, for me, to be in a lover’s relationship with the gospel means I must enjoy and reflect everyday intimacy with the Word, not the lechery of enjoying the text for the purpose of my own enjoyment.

For some, this intimacy comes from understanding and exploring the Greek and Hebrew texts; for others, what they believe to be a literal representation of those texts in English. As for me, I am finding intimacy in contentment, in knowing that even though the translation I use (whatever it may be) may not convey every shade of possible meaning of an original text, the meaning that is there is sufficient to kindle an everlasting flame and keep it well oiled.

In a similar discussion about the BBB’s question, blogger Tim McCormick pondered whether it is good to use different Bibles, then commented that:

Sometimes the key might just be accepting a translation, knowing its positive and negative features, and just sticking with it. I think I just lose out in building a relationship with the Sacred Text when I am always switching translations.

After so much time spent pondering and comparing translations, I am coming to agree with Tim. This concept of consistent relational reading has been in the forefront of my thoughts lately as I’m reading Eugene Peterson’s book Eat This Word. We get very insulated when we sit surrounded by multiple translations and compare this phrase or contrast that verse. It’s much like saying “what can I get from the Bible today?”, when the real question is “what can I give from the Bible today?” In Eat This Word, Peterson writes:

We do not read the Bible in order to find out how to get God into our lives, get him to participate in our lives. That’s getting it backward.

And then later:

If I am not participating in the reality — the God reality, the creation/salvation/holiness reality — revealed in the Bible, [….] I am probably not going to be much interested in reading about it – at least not for long.

That is, our interest in reading the Bible is driven by our active participation in the reality of the Bible, in God’s Kingdom. When we cease to participate in God’s work, we cease to be interested in understanding God’s Word. It becomes a circle, with our participation leading to greater understanding of God’s word, which informs our participation.

I pursue the way of Your commands, for You broaden my understanding. (Psalm 119:32, HCSB)

In this way, faith leads to work leads to wisdom and back again. As such, I wonder if the actual question might be:

What are you doing in the Kingdom of God that is driving your choice of Bible translations?

  1. Wayne Leman says:

    ElShaddai, you’ve hit the nail on the head for how we should approach the sacred text. Thanks for sharing these important thoughts.

  2. ElShaddai, Brilliant post. I’ve been thinking along similar lines recently. I miss having such familiarity with one Bible that I know which side of the page to look for a certain passage.

  3. Excellent post, brother! I wish I had more time to discuss this, but I don’t. All I can say is, “Well said!”

  4. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    @Stan – I agree completely about the familiarity issue. At one point I had thought that my wide-margin NASB was going to be my Bible for the next 20 years, but I’ve been down too many other paths now.

    @Gary – please stop back and discuss when you can!

  5. CD-Host says:

    I know where you are coming from. One of my lines in the response was:

    When mind tired: NIV study bible. I’ve had it for 21 years, I used it a primary bible for over a decade and I know it stone cold.

    But in the end knowing translation issues is loosing your virginity. There is no going back to naively reading a bible and not thinking about how other translations are rendering it. You simply can’t argue a passage anymore without checking the Greek or the Hebrew.

  6. ElShaddai,

    Excellent point!

    How interesting that you should post on such a topic. One of the reason I have been a bit dormant in my posting is because I have been doing a great deal of reflecting. One of the things that I have been reflecting on is the constant changes and updates in translations that I worry I may never have a bible that I can use for the next 20 years. I own 3 very nice versions of the HCSB, but they will be releasing the updated version this year. Now there are talks about updating the TNIV, which I have just switched over to as my primary bible.

    For over 20 years I used the NKJV, along with the NASB, and some NIV. I was very comfortable with that translation, but I got caught up in this whirlwind of new translations (which I don’t think it is a bad thing, just an observation), and now it feels like a struggle trying to determine which translation to stick with as a primary one. Honestly I think I am going to stick with the TNIV, and just not worry about this anymore. I wish it was that easy, I doubt that it is going to be that simple. Wishful thinking.

    • I hear you, Robert. One of my answers to “what are you doing…” is “trying to be part of a larger community, not just my personal preferences.” Part of that community is our church, which uses the NIV. So I should be able to pick up the TNIV and fit in pretty well. But doubts about the transparency of third-person plurals to the originals, the sustainability of the translation and other issues are not so easily dismissed. Never mind the paucity of editions that would last 20 years…