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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Who Cares about Translations?

Many people in our church, especially teens, know that I do not like to preach from the NIV. I sometimes joke about the NIV, and many cannot understand why. While I agree with Piper, who I once heard say, "If the only Bible you'll ever read is an NIV, then I would encourage you to read it from cover to cover," I do have some concerns about a dynamic equivalence translation being a person's only Bible. Mark Driscoll has the same concerns. His church has switched to the ESV and Mark wrote an impressive, comprehensive letter to his congregation. (You can download the .pdf here.

A couple "nuggets" from his paper:

Why translations matter:
Therefore, having the best possible translation of Scripture is important because it helps us to hear God most clearly and therefore know Jesus most intimately. By way of analogy, if Jesus were to call us on our cell phone we would want to have the best possible coverage so as to hear Him most clearly. In some ways, a good Bible translation is akin to good cell phone coverage in that it facilitates the most effective communication.
Why thought-for-thought is not ideal:
Before we can interpret the meaning of Scripture, we must first accurately understand the message of Scripture. Or, to put it another way, only after knowing what Scripture says can we understand what it means. Practically, this requires that Bible translations be separate from and prior to Bible commentaries. A word-for-word translation best enables this to occur by seeking, as much as possible, to not insert interpretive commentary into the translated text of Scripture; rather, it lets the text breathe as a living word and speak for itself. The general problem with thought-for-thought translations and paraphrases is that their English interpreters include commentary that is not part of the original text and thereby commingle Bible and Bible commentary. For the average reader, this is problematic because they do not know which parts of their Bible are from the original text and which parts have been added by commentators who were trying to convey their interpretation of its meaning.
The hypocrisy of gender neutrality:
even more insidious is the effort by some to feminize God. Perhaps the worst example of this is a recent translation released by a group of fifty-two biblical "scholars" called The Bible in a More Just Language. In an effort to remove what the group sees as unjust treatment of women and homosexuals, God the Father is now "our Mother and Father" and Jesus is no longer the Son of God but rather the "child" of God. Satan, of course, is still referred to as male.
A mutual concern that I have:
Like all preachers who love Scripture, I need to be able to read the English translation to our people and tell them with confidence that they are hearing what God, through the original author, actually said. When I have to tell our people that their translation is not accurate, I wince because I fear I am weakening the trustworthiness of the Bible they are holding in their hand. What I do not want is our people to put their Bible down or read it halfheartedly because they are uncertain of its accuracy. Conversely, what I do want is for our people to continually enjoy their Bible and read it in faith that God is speaking to them through it. For this to occur I need to preach from a translation that is accurate and does not need me to clarify it in order to accurately teach.
The place for multiple translations:
At Mars Hill Church we believe that the student of Scripture is best served by enjoying multiple translations of God's Word. By way of illustration, one evening recently I went in to check on my first grade son, Zachariah Blaise. I found him awake on his top bunk studying. I asked what he was doing and he said that he was examining a verse in Scripture that he had been thinking about all day. He was using multiple Bible translations to see how they each articulated God's truth. As a father, I was delighted both to see my son so interested in God's Word that he had to have his theological curiosity assuaged before falling asleep, and also his willingness to examine multiple English translations to further his theological development.
While Mark's paper is about switching to the ESV, he also states, Probably the best word-for-word translations are the English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the New King James Version (NKJV). Many of his points articulate exactly why I've chosen to preach from the NASB.

I know I am bucking against the most widely sold English Bible translation, and I own more than a few NIV Bibles. I'm not saying NIV is bad. Use it! But use it to help you study from a word for word translation. And hopefully Mark helps you understand why I don't preach from it.


  • At 10:40 AM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    I just got a new Bible. I have like eight Bibles on my desk at all times. You might be surprised to hear that one of them is New American Standard, the one with the Hebrew-Greek Key Study deal.

    You might not be surprised to hear that one of them is The Message.

    Three other Bibles there are NIVs. The NIV Study Bible, the NIV Archaological Bible, and then one thin NIV that I bought just for formational reading - just reading for me, and not for teaching. I know, there's always overlap. I just wanted to own a Bible that weighs less than 50 pounds.


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