I’m not a Bible scholar by any stretch of the imagination. I love to read and study the Bible, but I’ve never had any formal training and often lean on other scholars and theologians to aid in my study. But at the center of good Bible study habits is a good translation of the Bible, especially for those of us (like me) who have very sketchy knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. It is essential to have a solid translation (or translations) at hand – a translation that is not faithful to the original manuscripts are shoddy at best and dangerous at worst.
My jaw dropped when I found out that there is a new “SMS Bible.” Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like – the Bible “translated” into text message language. Genesis 1:1 reads as “In da bginnin God cre8d da heavens & da earth.” With versions like this, and even more subtle but wildly popular “translations” like the Contemporary English Version or The Message (which is one man’s interpretation/paraphrase of the Bible into modern vernacular), what does it say about the state of our evangelical culture? I don’t have an answer for it, but it seems that in our low-attention-span, technology-saturated, path-of-least-resistance world, “hard” Bible study often takes a back seat to television, pleasure, fly-by study, and other things that don’t require too much effort and hold our attention. I am guilty of this, especially when it comes to sports or surfing the web. This trend can also be found in our pulpits and even corporate worship music, too. Just because the world around us values quick summaries or cursory study habits doesn’t mean Christians should neglect responsible study of the Word. In this regard, we must challenge ourselves to be counter-cultural. A paraphrase of God’s holy Word just doesn’t cut it. Further, a low view of God’s Word can lead down the road to low views of other aspects of Christianity, making Christianity look more and more like the world around us. As John Piper has said, “If you rake, you get leaves; if you dig, you find gold.”
Bible scholar Leland Ryken argues for word-for-word, essentially literal translations in his short book Choosing a Bible: Understanding Bible Translation Differences. While book endorsements need to be taken with a grain of salt, I liked this one: “An ideal guide to choosing a translation of the Word that transcends trendy words. In the process, he implicitly indicts those who settle for less” [Marvin Olasky].
Tim Challies, in a well-written article about modern translations, writes that “if…there are no words more important than those written in Scripture, why do we read versions of it that make a mockery of the words that were breathed out by God?” He also gives side-by-side examples of translations and paraphrases of some passages. While the paraphrased versions sometimes get the big picture right, their tendency is to “soften” the language and make it not only easier to understand, but easier to hear. Sorry, but political correctness has no place in serious study of the Word of God.
“As Christians, people of the Book, we need to have confidence in our text. What basis do we have for our faith if we cannot have confidence in the Bible? We cannot overestimate the importance of ensuring that what we study is the clearest, best, most accurate translation of God’s Words that we can possibly find.”
I like the ESV best, but am not a militant ESV-only advocate: I also enjoy the NKJV and NIV (not that I am the be-all, end-all example to follow of course). Our church uses the NASB, though I’ve heard rumors that a switch to the ESV might be on the horizon. There are a couple other good ones out there as well.