Choices, Choices, Choices
Rev. Dr. Paul Anderson Day
Executive Director, Bible Society of Maine


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.

The Message

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 equivalence" approach.

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 Version (TEV).

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 popular work.

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 popular.

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 Scriptures

"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 Word.

"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 education.

Telephone (802) 434-3397 ++ PO Box 764 ++Richmond, VT 05477

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