Which Translation?

We've been talking here about the biblical canon, but let's take it another step. Which translation of the Bible should we use? Or, which translation does one think is best?

I'll confess up front my preference for the New Revised Standard Version. It blends a certain formalism with a flexibility that the text itself allows. Before I started using the NRSV, for some time I used the NIV, and before that the New American Standard Bible. One's choice in a translation will depend in part on one's theology or one's context. If you attend a church that uses the NRSV, you're probably more likely to use that translation than if you attend one where the NIV is generally used.

So, to get our conversation off, let me offer some definitions:


One of the most important questions facing the translator concerns how close one wants to get to the original literal reading. As Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart ask, how far are we willing to go to bridge the gap between the original and the receptor languages? * Of course there are many people who are satisfied and delight in the archaic nature of the older translations. As Keith Crim points out translators will often retain vocabulary and sentence structure that reflect the wording of the KJV. * Yet, even the early translations such as the KJV or Luther's German translation tried to reflect the idioms and speech of the common person. There are essentially three different ways of approaching this question:


The literal theory seeks to keep as close as possible to the original wording. It tries to keep intact the historical distance. For example, issues of money or weights and measures are not changed to modern usage. (KJV, NASB, RSV, NRSV)


Under this theory, the translator attempts to translate the idea from one language to the other, thereby eliminating most of the historical distance. They do the hard part for you. Most paraphrases lie here. (Cotton Patch, Phillips, Living Bible, The Message).


Under this theory the translators attempt to translate words, idioms, grammar into the most precise equivalent of the receptor language. (Among DE translations are the NIV, GNB, Jerusalem Bible and the New American Bible)

So, which translation do you choose, and why?


Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for all Its Worth, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 34-35.

Keith Crim, "Modern English Versions of the Bible," in The New Interpreter's Bible, 12 vols., Leander Keck, et al, eds., (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), 1:23.


A. D. Hunt said…
As a general practice I use the NRSV. Not only is it close to literal, but its literary value is tops amongst the primary translations. I do wish the RSV had had a longer shelf life though.

For long historical parts of the OT I use the TNIV which as far as I am concerned is more scholarly accurate than the NIV. It is quite readable as well.

I love reading the Jerusalem Bible, which though it takes some liberties with the text, is practically unrivaled in beauty amongst the translations.

I never ever ever use the ESV; out of principle :)
Anonymous said…
Which translation I use depends on the situation.

For personal devotions, I use the NIV -- its language is familiar, particularly in the Psalms. I also think it does a better job than others of rendering things into common English.

I will use the NRSV for study, and sometimes for reading in church since that is the Bible in our pews. I think the NRSV's use of inclusive language for human beings is clunky at times, so if that is an issue I've been using the TNIV for that purpose. (The TNIV, for example, uses the singular 'they', which I value.)

I enjoy reading the Vulgate and the King James Version. I will use the KJV in reading the Christmas story on Christmas Eve.

For reading aloud at our informal praise service, lately I've been using the NIrV or the TEV, both of which are written at an elementary reading level.

I don't much like The Message or The Living Bible.

Peace to you,


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