Other versions (mini-criticisms and comments)

In the wake of focus on one version, I’d reemphasize now that no single version or translation is “it.”  No version is beyond criticism.  No version stands on its own recognizance as “the word of God.”  Also reiterating:  I assert that some people in every generation must be actively engaged in assessing, working with, and yes, judging the biblical texts so they can more aptly judge us.  Without textual analysis and scholarly activities in the scripture-text sphere, we would have no Bibles.

With that said, more or less off the cuff, here are some comments and criticisms related to Bible versions other  than the KJV:

  1. I know someone who seems to nurse an anti-NASB vendetta.  This irritates me mildly and gives the false impression that the NASB is somehow less on-target than other English versions.  The man’s critical awareness (which is eminently observant) emanates, in part, from a commonly held, undue focus on the so-called “literalness” of the NASB.  In other words, he criticizes the NASB because so many people think go glibly about, thinking it is “the most literal,” as though that is the goal, and as though “literal” is really just that simple.  Conveying meaning through translation must transcend other concerns.  In addition, the NASB, like the KJV, has a verse-oriented print format that tends to hinder the sense flow as one reads larger blocks of text.  Personally, I stand in general support of the NASB from a more pedestrian vantage point:  as I walked along before really studying much Greek, it helped me more than other versions; it does a better job at consistency in rendering words than the NIV and other “contemporary” English translations that tend to be used in the churches with which I’ve been associated.  In other words, when I see an English word in the NASB, that word’s Greek antecedent is more predictable than in the NIV or other English versions I’ve experienced regularly.  In this consistency aspect, the KJV may do better than most, as well.  But no translation can be precisely “literal,” and “literal” is not, in any event, a worthy goal, anyway, when attempting to convey meaning.  A corollary here is that words, in any language, are primarily to be defined and understood in their contexts, as opposed to understanding them as precise, discrete translations of precise, single meanings.  Words can mean different things in different contexts, so it is good to consider the context above a dictionary definition.  Still, for most English speakers without access to Greek, the NASB is more likely to keep one from making a bad point than most.
  2. Once upon a sunshine state (and by that I mean Kansas, not Florida), a man I respect a lot used the then-brand-spanking-new NLT in bi-weekly Bible studies.  I referred to the NLT then as the KAV (the Kent-Authorized Version).  The NLT has some wordings that sound good, but it rarely does very well with real translation, in my experience.  Granted, my experience is limited mostly to isolated instances which leave me disappointed 9 out of 10 times.  One might get some good out of reading it, to be sure, but one ought to be careful when using the NLT to make a biblically based point.  A friend in a new ministry position in FL mentioned publicly that their current lesson series (for which he is not responsible per se) uses the NLT, but he wisely referred to a better version for a scripture-based point.  My suggestion is never to use the NLT by itself, but only in combination with one or more other versions.
  3. I own two copies of the NCV — the New Century Version.  Made popular at first because of Max Lucado’s¹ support, the NCV has some appeal because of its simplicity.  I also purchased Logos’s NCV e-text some 15 years ago, but I rarely use it now.  Lately, whenever I compare the NCV to other versions, I find the NCV annoyingly choppy, because of its short sentences.  Sometimes these “simple English” renderings are helpful, but other times, they can obscure connections and flow.  I now spend almost no time with the NCV and have divested myself of one of the copies.
  4. Similarly in one respect, I still like Peterson’s The Message.  Folks are misguided when relegating this version to some lower status as a “paraphrase.”  The Message stands as a version just like all the rest.  It is simply more expansive in its effort to convey meaning of the original, and it seems to do as well as most others (and better than some!).  Plus, its picturesque language, like that of the British New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips, does a world of good in perking us up.  I once recorded the entire NT in the Phillips versions.  Later, I selected highlights and read them aloud again into a microphone.  Those were good times.  Paraphrases may be more or less expansive (think Amplified Bible, a version fond of providing multiple options, sometimes resulting in a sense of exaggeration of the text).

Continuing in a positive vein:  the versions I’m using in comparisons these days are the ESV and, less often, the RSV and NRSV and the NJB (New Jerusalem Bible).  Given that so-called Reformed” believers appear to be gravitating to the ESV, I doubt I’ll make it my go-to version.  I’m also attracted to these recent translations:

I predict I’ll spend more time with the CEB and ISV in the near- and mid-term future.

Brian Casey, 2/11/15

¹ Recently when eating mashed potatoes, my son thought of Max Lucado’s Wemmicks stories.  Say the two bold things out loud.  Get it?



3 thoughts on “Other versions (mini-criticisms and comments)

  1. John Eoff 02/16/2015 / 6:35 am

    Brian, I like your attitude of considering scripture, especially what might arouse conflicting opinions, through a number of translations. I have a primary manner with which I examine each new translation I come across. With the understanding that the context of the passage determines how a word should be understood in the particular instance of its use, coupled with the knowledge that the readily and especially the nearly universally accepted theology absolutely determines how translators will sometimes chose words to express the meaning I refer to two passages in each version to get a handle upon the soundness of the translators’ concept of the context. In Matthew 28:1 if the translation reads “after Sabbath”, instead of “late (or evening of) Sabbath” I know that the translation is greatly influenced by tradition when determining context, because “after” is never the rendering of the Greek word opsie in any other Biblical scripture—–always “late in the day” or “evening” (but of course that is against the extremely predominant tradition of men. Likewise, many modern translations substitute the words “periods of seven”, or simply “sevens” in place of weeks in Daniel 9, rendering an impossible limitation upon the accuracy of the prophecy. Of course those are of special interest to me and illustrate my disagreement with popular traditions but when one is willing to use language which to them seems to express the author’s thoughts more accurately than a “literal” —–yes literal; word for word where possible—- translation would, I perceive a problem.


    • Brian Casey 02/16/2015 / 7:07 pm

      John, thank you. It’s especially nice to have my attitude affirmed today. (I actually don’t think it’s much better than average in the case of assessing versions.) 🙂 I do a similar thing with new-to-me versions, by the way. I often check Romans 12:1-2 and another passage or two — for different, and less specific reasons than you check Matt 28 and Daniel 9 for, but it’s the same idea.


  2. Gary D. Collier 02/16/2015 / 9:13 am

    I don’t know who the mysterious man is with the vendetta (or whether he is being attributed something he does not have), but that would surely be a mistake. I mysef routinely use the NASB for comparitive purposes and often suggest to English only readers that the NASB can be useful for word studies–although frankly, I’d rather use the ASV for said reasons. The NASB is not, however, a translation I would recommend as a primary translation. Every verse is separate (lending to the notion of tidbits of info), added words are italicized (which in English practice brings emphases), the English can be a bit wooden. And there is a whole lot more. Your statement “the NASB is more likely to keep one from making a bad point than most” is often made by others. However, it is not an opinion I share on any level since I have seen so much abuse made of this very point. Beginning Greek students love this translation because they can ride it like a pony rather than learning Greek on their own. This practice can be both useful, but it is mostly detrimental, depending on how it is used.

    But here is an important question: Who made this translation? What facility did they have in language and translation? The ASV has the distinction of being the best of both British and American Hebrew and Greek scholarship at the time. The ASV (1901) was essentially the ERV with the American notes moved into the text. The ASV is hard to read because it is so literal. However, the NASB won’t say who their translators are. I wonder why that is? Does it not matter who does the translating? Maybe they were “doctorates” in systematic theology who had one year of Greek. Are they ashamed of their “translators”? How do we know they were “translators” rather than just “smoother-outers” of English phrases? I’m very serious here: The question arises about the NASB: is it so conservative in nature because it does such a great job dealing with Hebrew and Greek texts? Frankly, only people who know Hebrew and Greek well enough to read them can answer this question on a case by case basis. Nobody else’s opinion on this kind of question matters. Or is it so popular because it fits well with conservative leanings? This is a question that the Lockman Foundation itself has created by refusing to publish its translators.

    If they have published this list, I would like to see it. (And I would bet that “vendetta man” would too.)


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