Rev. Dr. Paul Anderson Day
Executive Director, Bible Society of Maine
KJV, GNT, NASB, NIV, CEV, NKJV, NRSV, NLT...
Just when you're ready to purchase a new Bible,
for yourself or as a gift, the "alphabet soup" of
available English versions has become more complex. Last year
witnessed the debut of two new translations-the Holman Christian
Standard Bible (HCSB) and
the English Standard Version (ESV).
A revision of the New International Version-called Today's
NIV (TNIV)-will come out this
month. Eugene Peterson's popular translation, The Message
(TM), will be available as
the complete Bible in June.
All four of these new translations have been
produced by Evangelical Protestants. Here's a brief guide
to these new versions, as well as to some other popular translations.
Holman Christian Standard Bible
Holman Bible Publishers introduced the HCSB
New Testament last summer; the full Bible is projected to
be available in 2003. The publishers aim to provide "an
accurate, readable Bible in contemporary, idiomatic English."
In translating the Scriptures, they have tried to follow a
middle road between "formal equivalence" and "functional,
or dynamic, equivalence."
The HCSB's fairly conservative approach retains
both traditional theological terms-such as justification and
sanctification-and the generic use of "he" when
both men and women are intended. The words of Christ as printed
in red letters. The HCSB New Testament is available in two
editions-Here's Hope, designed for outreach, and Experiencing
the Word, with notes by Henry Blackaby.
English Standard Version
Good News Publishers brought out the English
Standard Version Bible last fall. The publishers refer to
the ESV as "an essentially literal" version, clearly
using a "formal equivalence" approach to translation.
At the same time, the ESV shows a concern for good English
style, with a beauty and dignity of language. Like the HCSB,
the ESV retains traditional theological terms and the generic
use of "he."
"The English Standard Version stands in
the classic mainstream of English Bible translations over
the past half-millennium." The ESV, edited by James I.
Packer, is an update and conservative revision of the traditional
Revised Standard Version. (The RSV was replaced by the New
RSV in 1989 and is no longer published. The NRSV moved toward
"functional equivalence" and use of inclusive language
to clarify references that intend both men and women.)
Today's New International Version
Today's NIV is a joint project of the International
Bible Society and Zondervan. The New Testament will be released
soon, with the full Bible projected for 2005. The TNIV keeps
93% of the NIV text, with revisions of the remaining 7%. The
changes have been made primarily for the sake of clarity.
For example, "the sixth hour" becomes "noon;"
"with child" is now "pregnant;" and "tunic"
becomes "shirt." In some passages, the generic use
of "man" and "he" are replaced by inclusive
language in references to people. The TNIV also makes greater
distinction in the use of "Christ" and "Messiah,"
makes references to "Jews" more precise, and often
replaces the term "saint" to avoid confusion within
some religious traditions.
The TNIV is not replacing the NIV, but will
be offered alongside the NIV. Similarly, the NIrV, a simplified
NIV, has been available for several years.
In his popular version, Eugene Peterson goes
even further in the "functional equivalence" method
of translation-so far that The Message may be considered more
a paraphrase of the Scriptures than a translation. While not
suitable for use as a study Bible, The Message offers idiomatic
English, and striking turns of phrase that bring new and fresh
insights to reading God's Word. The New Testament, and the
Old Testament Books of Moses, the Prophets and Wisdom Books
are currently available in separate editions. The whole Bible
will be released in June.
The Rest of the Alphabet
KJV - The Authorised
or King James Version has been the standard English Bible
for almost 400 years. The KJV is a "formal equivalent"
translation, with great beauty and dignity of language. It
can be difficult to understand today.
NKJV - The
New King James Version (1982) seeks to eliminate the archaic
language of the KJV, making minimal changes. With the KJV,
it is based on the traditional "Received Text" of
the Hebrew and Greek Testaments; all other contemporary translations
are based on reconstructed, or "critical" texts.
NASB - The
New American Standard Version (1971, 1995) is the most rigorously
"word-for-word" translation available, which makes
it highly accurate but awkward and difficult reading. Note:
the NASB should not be confused with the NAB-New American
Bible, a Roman Catholic translation, which takes a "functional
GNT - The Good
News Translation (1974, revised 1993), sponsored by the American
Bible Society, pioneered the "functional equivalence"
approach to translation. It was formerly called Today's English
NIV - The New
International Version (1978) was sponsored by the International
Bible Society. The NIV seeks a balance between "formal
equivalence" and "functional equivalence;"
however, it tends slightly toward the "functional equivalence."
The NIV has been the single largest-selling version over the
past 25 years.
CEV - The Contemporary
English Version (1995) is another "functional equivalent"
translation sponsored by the American Bible Society. The CEV
is designed to make the Scriptures clear even when read aloud,
and has a 3rd grade comprehension level. It often avoids using
traditional theological terms.
NLT - The New
Living Translation (1996) replaced The Living Bible, a paraphrase,
with a direct "functional equivalent" translation
from the original languages, keeping the style of Ken Taylor's
NRSV - As noted
above, the New Revised Standard Version (1989) replaced the
RSV, moving from "formal equivalence" to "functional
equivalence" in translation method.
There are many
more English Bible translations; these 12 are among the most
Each is available in a variety of editions
as well. In choosing a Bible it is wise to consider the theological
guidance of your pastor or church, its intended us and audience.
For study purposes, a translation based on "formal equivalence"
may be preferred; for devotional reading, or for reading aloud,
a "functional equivalent" version may be desired.
The "reading comprehension level" may be significant
in deciding which Bible to give to a child.
A Final Word
Bible translation is a never-completed task.
Language changes. Scholarship advances. And while we enjoy
a wealth of English versions, there are many languages into
which God's Word has not yet been translated. It is estimated
that there are about 6,500 languages spoken in the world.
The complete Bible has been translated into fewer than 400
tongues. The New Testament has been rendered into 1,000 more,
and a portion or book of the Bible is available in another
900 languages. That means that millions of people, speaking
some 4,200 different tongues, cannot read God's Word in their
own "heart language."
Two Approaches to Translating the
"Formal equivalence" has been called
the "word-for-word" approach to translation. In
this method, translators seek to render the original Hebrew
or Greek words and sentence structure as nearly as possible
into English. The strength of "formal equivalence"
lies in its closeness to the original; however, it can result
in an awkward English style. Moreover, literal accuracy can
lead modern readers to misunderstand the meaning of God's
"Functional, or dynamic, equivalence"
has been called the "thought-for-thought" approach
to translation. In this method, translators seek to express
the meaning of the original Hebrew or Greek into clear and
natural, contemporary English. The strength of "functional
equivalence" is its clarity; however, the approach increases
the risks of interpretive bias, which is present in all translation.
The Bible Society of Maine
The Bible Society of Maine,
established in 1809, is a nonprofit agency committed to making
the Bible available to all people, in a language and format
they can understand, and at a price they can afford, in order
that they may know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. B.S.M.
seeks to serve the whole Church in fulfilling that mission,
through distributing the Scriptures, encouraging the regular
reading of God's Word, and providing Bible information and
Telephone (802) 434-3397 ++ PO Box 764 ++Richmond,