There are now hundreds of versions of the Bible in English, and more come out every year. And there is great benefit from comparing version with version. Still, if I were king, I would impose a moratorium on new Bible versions for at least a decade. If I were king.
But, let’s see what hand life has dealt us. First, there do exist twisted versions; the New World Translation is the most jarring example (available, btw, in 129 languages), as is the Queen James Bible (and no, the “Pink Cross” is not putting gay Bibles in hotel rooms, that one is just a rumor).
But once we eliminate the obvious problems, people continue to have strong opinions about Bible versions. When I write about the NIV or issues of Bible translation, on this blog or on my Spanish blog Razondelaesperanza.com, there are always a few who respond with vitriol. I have been accused of being in league with the Pope, of being part of the imaginary conspiracy (see, for example, the comic books of Jack Chick; New Age Bible Versions by Gail Riplinger; the site http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/), of being an apostate, a wicked sinner, and who knows what else.
Those are at the one extreme.
But in the more moderate camp I found out, to my surprise, that there exists a whole list of nicknames that Christians use for versions they do not like. I guess this has been going on for a while but, well, I’ve been out of the country.
Have you heard these?
“Ah, I see you use the ______!”
- Newly Incorrect Version, or Nearly-Inspired Version (NIV; get it?)
- New Liberal Translation (New Living Translation)
- Hard-Core Southern Bible (HCSB, published by the Southern Baptists)
- Bad News for Sinful Man (Good News for Modern Man)
- Elected and Saved Version (the ESV, I guess because Calvinists like John Piper like it?)
- King Junk Bible (KJV)
- Newly Reviled Substandard Version (New Revised Standard Version)
And on and on. See a full list here.
Please: might we “cool it” with these the jokes? I have my reasons:
- Because some of our judgments are based on misinformation.
Have you heard that the new NIV (2011 edition) is pro-gay? That only liberals use the NRSV? That the Good News Bible removes the sacrifice of Christ for your sins? That the ESV removes verses willy-nilly from your Bible? Then you have been a victim of half-truth, or even complete falsehood.
There is also a doctrine circulating, a newly-invented take on the “divine preservation” of Scripture; it claims that God preserved his Word in only one version or edition. Search the Scriptures, any version, and you will not find that doctrine; therefore we must reject it.
I understand that if you think the Bible has been perverted, then it is more righteous for you to speak the truth than it is for you to be polite or, heaven forfend, PC. I get it. But if you’re wrong in your basic facts, then your style is not resolutely bold, it’s reprehensible.
- Because we might be misunderstanding the difference between “literal” and “dynamic” versions.
There are people who say that if you don’t use a “literal” Bible version (NASB for example), it implies that you don’t believe that the Bible is “literally” true! This is to mix apples and oranges, since “literal” is used in two entirely different ways here. A “literal” translation (a more accurate term is “formal equivalent”) attempts to match each word in the original to one word in English; to put the words in the same order in English as in Greek; to translate very long sentences in Greek (Eph 1:3-14) by one long sentence in English. This philosophy runs aground pretty quickly, because there are hundreds of differences between Hebrew and Greek and English. For example, would you say “the Jesus said this,” “the Paul did that”? The Greek does. Would you say “God was the Word” in John 1:1c? That’s the Greek order, but translating it “literally” would introduce error. Hebrew, Greek, and English are three very different systems, each with their own ways of saying a thing.
This happens in Spanish too, by the way, and in every other language, including Modern Hebrew and Modern Greek.
- Because younger disciples don’t have the background to understand taunts about their Bible.
When I was a kid, I bought a New Testament of the Good News for Modern Man (35¢!), and man, it helped me understand the Scriptures.
Thank you, Lord, that no older Christian ever made fun of my Bible.
The first time I read through the Old Testament, at age 14, it was in the Living Bible; at the time I didn’t know, didn’t want to know, that it was nicknamed “The Lying Bible,” see above. I don’t favor the Living Bible today (the New Living is terrific), but God certainly blessed me through the LB.
- Because you don’t know what kind of blessing someone has gotten from their Bible.
To give another personal word, I regularly use a version that some people refer to as a liberal Bible, although it is beautifully translated, reflects the original languages very well (I know, because I check), and has been a great blessing to others. So I stash it away when company comes, but take it out to commune with the Lord in his inspired Word.
I would add, that I think it’s entirely reasonable for a church to say that one version or another will be used in its meetings.
- Because this is the last thing that non-Christians need to hear us talking about.
The War of the Versions is an intramural, in-house argument. It matters to us like chorus-versus-hymn matters to us, because our preferred Bible is the medium we use to hear God’s word. Yet, our debate has spilled into the public domain, and it makes the gospel look trivial.
- And most importantly: Because the Bible is God’s Word, and deserves our full respect, even if some version or another is not our favorite.
When I hear certain people badmouth a Bible in some version, I fear they cross the line into sacrilege. “You defend the NIV?? Don’t you know that it’s of the devil, that it comes straight from the pit of hell?” (I am not exaggerating). I am happy to dialogue about whether one version is better than another. But let us keep in mind that the Bible is God’s Word, and that he has not indicated that any one version has his seal of approval. And when we criticize God’s Word-NIV or God’s Word-KJV, we are belittling the heavenly gift, given from heaven to bless God’s people.
Blessed is the man that
walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners,
nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord;
and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
his leaf also shall not wither;
and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
“Thou Shalt Not Bully those who use a Different Bible Translation!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica