Sunday, 1 May 2011

Which Bible to choose?

Most Christians have a favourite Bible translation. In Australia, for example, the big sellers, trouncing all opposition, are the NIV, the King James, and the New KJV.

But are they the best? There's a fallacy that confuses popularity with merit, but as every true music aficionado knows, it ain't necessarily so, or Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga would represent the finest accomplishments of the human spirit.

Enter Fuller Theological Seminary. They've just upped the number of English language translations approved for use in their biblical studies courses from two to three. Now, prediction time: Which versions do you think they've picked?

Here's the multiple choice version. Tick three on this list, helpfully arranged in alphabetical order.


Okay, yes the first hurdle is to work out what all those acronyms stand for. If you identified the lot without breaking out into a sweat take a fifteen point bonus before proceeding, or one point for each you identified.

So the solution to the question? Fuller had previously approved the New Revised Standard Version and Today's New International Version, which is a nicely balanced move considering the institution's demographic. Not the NIV, which is interesting. Just this month they added a third "as a translation for use in biblical studies courses for its more than 4,000 students, and particularly for all master's-level instruction in the seminary's School of Theology, School of Psychology, and School of Intercultural Studies on all eight of its campuses."

Hands up if you suspected it might be the ESV?

Nope. They've gone with the Common English Bible, "a denomination-neutral Bible sponsored by the Common English Bible Committee, an alliance of five publishers that serve the general market, as well as the Disciples of Christ (Chalice Press), Presbyterian Church (Westminster John Knox Press), Episcopal Church (Church Publishing Inc.), United Church of Christ (Pilgrim Press), and United Methodist Church (Abingdon Press)."

It's a good choice simply because breadth of scholarship ensures greater objectivity and honesty than many agenda-driven popular versions, and the already released NT appears to demonstrate that point. The complete Common English Bible is due to hit the presses in August.  In the meantime there are free downloads available of Genesis, Psalms, Matthew and Luke.


  1. My personal favorite was actually the KJV, but I later got quite fond of the NKJV. I did however also greatly enjoy the Modern King James and the New American Standard version also had its qualities.

    Herbie had Moffatt as his great favorite - among many called an interpretation. The biggest problems with modern versions are the lack of faithfulness to the original languages, and even though the RSV was greatly criticized in the WCG it was still a very good translation.

  2. Okay, so what's wrong with the NET?

  3. I frequent the Fuller bookstore at least twice a month. They do not shy away from controversial books and have quite a stock of liberal' books on their shelves. I have been pleasantly surprised at the tings I have found there.

    They also have several translations of the Bible for sale, not just the three 'approved' versions.

    The far-right evangelicals think Fuller is a bastion of far left liberal thought and have grown to despise the place.

    Listening to the conversations of students in the bookstore and in the attached coffee shop give rise to the fact that there still is hope for Christianity after all. New ways of thinking, students not tied down to rigid dogma or creeds, and those that put their faith into action helping the poor, the sick, and the oppressed.

    Too bad I never discovered the place until I left WCG! I could have saved myself years of spiritual torture at the hands of Armstrongism!

  4. Yes, I was going to add a couple to the list including the NET, which I do use from time to time despite it's extreme conservatism and complementarianism (cf. the note on Rom 16:7 giving the infamous Wallace/Burer justification of their mistranslation - completely untenable!). Nevertheless, many of its extensive notes are outside the influence of such conservative evangelicalism, and are very helpful as a quick reference/cheat sheet to translation difficulties.

    The other translation which I always mention in this context (so you can yawn if you've seen this before) is the NJB, which maintains the tetragrammaton correctly as "Yahweh" - giving the proper sense of the Hebrew bible, a breath of fresh air.

    Another one is tempting me at the moment, the Jewish Study Bible, which also has extensive notes that I understand are more scholarly and mainstream than the NET. But it means going back to the mistranslation "LORD" again. Argh!

    I've got a CEB NT (sent to me for free!), but I've only dipped into it. It's quite interesting as a functional equivalence translation; but obviously it has to make enormous choices for its renderings. Relegating "son of man" to a footnote each time, leaving "human one" in the text must have been one such difficult choice. It might take over the GNB market, which is really what it's after, and probably do a reasonable job at it. The OT is going to have "LORD" again - grrr!

  5. Well, here's my personal opinion on what's wrong with the NET bible. Succinctly, it can be summed in the following quote:

    "The personal Spirit of God is mentioned frequently in the OT…”

    That would definitely be a no, NET translators.

    My translations of choice are Unbound, JPS 1917 English Torah, and NET only as a last resort, to check against text-types (Alexandrian versus Byzantine) and number of witnesses. The NET translators' commentaries don't hold any water, for the reasons stated in my op-ed.

    I have also been using this guide, with some success.

  6. Uh-oh -- now you've done it. You criticized Justin Bieber on this blog.

    Just wait until all his fans find out. You'd better have plenty of open space in your InBox. :-O

  7. VRS:

    Respectfully, do you really think how the "name of God" (which is an oxymoron in and of its own self) is translated, should be the major sticking point, for a translation?

    Don't get hung up on what God is "called" or any of this "Sacred Name" business, please! That really is idolatry, by any other name. (It might be useful for you to review the Karaite Jews' opinion on this, as they take much the same approach to the Torah that the Church did, although the Karaites, for the most part, reject the NT.)

  8. To SSOPTH

    It’s not a matter of sacredness for me, simply a matter of honesty and translation. If people wish to provide a translation, they should do just that – a translation not a mistranslation. “Yahweh” occurs over 6,800 times in the Masoretic Text, and it simply doesn’t mean “lord” – there are other Hebrew words for that, most notably “adon” or with pronominal suffix “adonay”. The practice of systematically mistranslating “Yahweh” scandalises me partly because I have training in modern language interpreting, and if anything like this was done by a modern language interpreter, that person would be dismissed and struck off their professional body as a minimum – that’s how shocking it ought to be considered.

    As an example, just imagine an interpreter at the UN who systematically mistranslated a world leader’s name, say Barack Obama, as a term of respect, say “the beloved one”. That interpreter wouldn’t work again. This is the level of outrage that’s appropriate for this type of mistranslation. The fact that the tetragrammaton has been mistranslated this way over the centuries should count for nothing – but it has deadened some sensibilities to the wrong that’s happening here. Some translators have put this right (e.g. those of the NJB); let’s hope more do so.

  9. I prefer the bible in the original Klingon.

  10. My dad drove a 1947 Moffat. Said it had Revised Standard
    transmission, Parallel exhaust, and British KJV lights and instrumentation. The tires of course were American Standard plys.

    Personally I thought the thing was just dog ugly.

  11. VRS:

    If you had read the link I provided in my earlier comment, most of your points have been addressed.

    "If people wish to provide a translation, they should do just that – a translation not a mistranslation."

    Unfortunately, three thousand years later, we do not possess the autographs. So, at best, we all (even those who speak the original languages the surviving copies are written in) have to work with mistranslations, to a certain degree.

    That's where the Holy Spirit (the power/mind of God) comes in, and allows for clear understanding, of otherwise unclear texts. Not inerrant texts, mind you: God-inspired, yes; God-breathed? No. That way lies the madness of fundamentalism, and was never a tack the original WCG ever, ever, took.

    Half-a-century before "textual criticism" became a part of mainline professing Christianity, the Worldwide Church of God was preaching against inerrantism, fundamentalism, and prooftexting.

  12. Blogger Baywolfe said...

    I prefer the bible in the original Klingon.

    Yes. I would love to see the bible in a language that no one could read.

    Oops, I forgot, it already is. Only holy inspired readers can understand it according to 2 Pet. 1:20-21 but I may be misunderstanding that.

    Shoot, I may just rewrite the bible myself and add 1 Corky to it (just in case there's a 2 Corky later).

  13. LOL. You've developed a really droll sense of humour there Velvet. WCG didn't proof text? Oh my. Yes, they were certainly against anyone else's proof texting - and, dear lord, they had their own proof texts to prove it!

  14. The Church certainly read more of the surrounding context of the verses they quoted (and the Church quoted far more biblical verses, than any so-called Christian denomination, before or since); surely you can't deny those facts, Gavin?

  15. To SSOPTH

    I did read the article at the link you posted, and as it addresses none of the points I made, I assumed you had simply posted the wrong link.

    Basically it’s an article agreeing with my line of reasoning, and saying that the tetragrammaton should be pronounced. Although it doesn’t address translation per se, it seems to assume that the reader should have direct access to this name, and argues strenuously against substitution of Adonay.

    It spends a long time arguing a rather idiosyncratic theory that the Masoretic vowel points now found (in the majority of cases) in יהוה reflect the original pronunciation. I find this unconvincing, for somewhat technical points which don’t really belong on this blog. Moreover, the author assumes a vav pronunciation, reflecting modern Hebrew usage, whereas most biblical hebraists would prefer a waw pronunciation.

    Thus the way the author recommends pronouncing יהוה is slightly unusual (and I’ve seen some alternatives argued, but never seen this one before), but he basically agrees with me that it should be pronounced.

    Indeed it is rather difficult to come up with an argument to support mistranslation. Whenever I have come across one, I’ve always found it totally unconvincing, and frequently it has left me with the impression that its proponent is rather half-hearted about positing it. This seems fairly inevitable to me, though.

    I find the argument that because we don’t have any autographs, therefore we should accept a degree of mistranslation, unpersuasive. We need to translate the texts we have. We can indeed go some way to reconstructing early texts. There seems to be little justification in ignoring the texts we can get to, and providing a mistranslation. Surely a translation should do translation. I would agree that translations should point out to their readers where the text is uncertain, and whilst I share your dislike of the NET for a number of reasons, one thing it does do better than many, is inform its readers where many of these textual uncertainties are.

    I also agree with you that fundamentalism tends to destroy meaning in texts, rather than respect it. But alerting readers to difficulties and uncertainties in texts could be seen as part of a strand to dissuade people from a fundamentalist approach.

  16. Velvet wrote: "The Church certainly read more of the surrounding context of the verses they quoted (and the Church quoted far more biblical verses, than any so-called Christian denomination, before or since); surely you can't deny those facts, Gavin?"

    Okay, just drag out a copy of the Britain and US in prophecy book. Context? WHERE?

    So yes, I do most sincerely deny such "facts." I won't argue about having more "bible quotin'." Quantity was never the issue. But I'm not sure how you could demonstrate whether WCG held the all-time record though.

    All of which is entirely beside the point anyway. WCG has disappeared in a puff of grey smoke, only to be replaced by a wishy-washy evangelical sect caught on the horns of bad-to-the-bone Barthism. You're defending something that only exists in memory, Velvet.

  17. "Okay, just drag out a copy of the Britain and US in prophecy book. Context? WHERE?"

    Your problem is with ONE book the Church published, out of the reams and reams and reams of literature that were published, subsequently? What if I told you, the Church was informed, in 1994 by an outside secular expert (Who had been both Catholic, and Muslim, at various points in his life, BTW) that the migration of the Northern Kingdom from Assyria, through Europe, was plausible?

    But we aren't discussing US&BC, we are discussing prooftexting of Bible verses. US&BC is world history, and as such, is not directly dealt with, in the Bible itself. But that is what the original book says itself, and what I remember the Church always teaching.

  18. "WCG has disappeared in a puff of grey smoke, only to be replaced by a wishy-washy evangelical sect caught on the horns of bad-to-the-bone Barthism."


    "You're defending something that only exists in memory, Velvet."

    It's not just MY memory it exists in, though. That's the rub, isn't it? Seems to me, there's biblical precedent for possible repercussions, on those you term "wishy-washy evangelical[s]."

  19. I'm a fan of the King James Version. I've seen the New KJV, but didn't have too much time to fully peruse it. You use what works best for you.