Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are Bible Translations Really Worth Dividing Over?

Isn't it ironic that on the one hand the bible commands Christians to be united, but on the other hand some of us divide over the bible itself?

In particular, some folks believe the King James Version (KJV) is the only true English bible. See here for one example.

If the KJV is better than all other modern English versions, then it seems that the KJV would be considerably different than the other versions, especially in key verses. The one verse in the bible that I believe best sums up the gospel is II Corinthians 5:21. Let's compare this verse in the KJV to how other versions have translated it.

First, the KJV:

KJV: For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

Now let's look at other versions (in no particular order):

NKJV: For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

ESV: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

NIV: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

NASB: He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

HCSB: He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

RSV: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

NLT: For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Geneva: For he hath made him to be sinne for vs, which knewe no sinne, that we should be made the righteousnesse of God in him.

Tyndale: for he hath made him to be synne for vs which knewe no synne that we by his meanes shuld be that rightewesnes which before God is aloved.

In slightly different ways we read all of the above versions saying the same thing. The wording is different, but the meaning is demonstrably the same.

I personally favor some translations (ESV, NKJV) over others (RSV, NLT). We all probably have our own favorites. Some translations are more literal than others. Some are more readable than others. (There are a few translations that should be avoided, but this is because the translators have purposely altered the meaning of the original text because of a significant bias; the NRSV and TNIV come to mind.)

For the most part, modern English translations say the same thing. This is certainly something we can discuss and, if need be, agree-to-disagree.

Let us avoid separation over any preference of a particular translation, whether it be the KJV, ESV, NIV, or any other.

We should certainly be able to remain united around the truth of the gospel as presented in the bible instead of dividing over the very word that presents the gospel to us.

6 comments:

Arthur Sido said...

Heck no, don't you know that any translation of the Bible except the 1611 King James version is of the Devil? The King James Bible was good enough for the apostles, it is good enough for me!

Eric said...

Arthur,

It is fascinating how the KJV-only folks try their best to ignore those annoying little languages known as Hebrew and Greek.

Dusty Chris said...

There are dumber reasons churches have divided over...like color of carpet, padded or unpadded pews, paint color and potlucks on church grounds are just a few reasons I have witnessed myself as an excuse to part ways. So for those folks with a "division inclination," Bible translation sounds almost like a noble reason compared to the other reasons.

Eric said...

Dusty,


There certainly are many reasons why Christians divide. It almost always has to do with personal preference rather than anything theological.

michaeldebusk said...

Scott McKnight put together some posts last month on our translation tribalism. I thought this one was pretty humorous:

NRSV for liberals and Shane Claiborne lovers;
ESV for Reformed complementarian Baptists;
HCSB for LifeWay store buying Southern Baptists;
NIV for complementarian evangelicals;
TNIV for egalitarians;
NASB for those who want straight Bible, forget the English;
NLT for generic brand evangelicals;
Amplified for folks who have no idea what translation is but know that if you try enough words one of them will hit pay dirt;
NKJV and KJV for Byzantine manuscript-tree huggers;
The Message for evangelicals looking for a breath of fresh air and seeker sensitive, never-read-a-commentary evangelists who find Peterson's prose so catchy.

Eric said...

Michael,

Thanks for that. The scary part is the truth involved!