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?


Old Christian Hymns

An old hymnal called Christian Hymns (three editions) was used in my parents’ early history in the South.  This blog is not about that book, nor is it about any other hymnal per se.

There’s a common misunderstanding in Christendom:  that a “hymn” is an older Christian song or a song from a hymnal.  This blog is not about that fallacy.  (See Song Book Content or Hymns — definitions, and one good example for more on this point.)

This blog is, however, about early Christian hymns.  Gary Collier has recently shared a more or less commonly known, neat listing of apparent hymn texts that appear in our New Covenant scriptures:

  1. Phil 2:6-11
  2. 1Cor 13
  3. Rom 3:24-26; 6:1-11; 8:31-39; 11:33-36
  4. Col 1:15-20
  5. Eph 1:3-14; 1:20-23; 2:14-22; 5:14
  6. Titus 3:4-7
  7. 1Tim 3:16
  8. 2Tm 2:11-13
  9. Heb 1:3
  10. 1Pet 1:3-5; 1:18-21; 2:21-25; 3:18-22

While not all of these texts qualify as hymns “proper” from a lyrical standpoint, the fact that they have been identified as a) poetic, b) lyric, and c) likely to have been sung by early believers is significant.  I will not attempt to comment on all of these but will begin with the first in the list.

In Philippians 2, Paul gives no hint that he is quoting from an external source.  The inherent Christology (≈ word about Jesus’ nature and person, His Christ-hood) is very direct:  e.g., the name that is above every name is lavished upon Jesus.   This name is not “Jesus,” despite all those worship songs that link “Jesus” with “name above all names.”  Rather, Gary Collier and others have asserted that YHVH, God’s divine namewhich is now tantamount to KURIOS (LORD)—is that name.

The International Standard Version has shown great care in rendering this and other poetic passages in English poetic form.  I would like to share a sample here, and I may share a musical setting of this soon, too.

In God’s own form existed He
and shared with God equality,
deemed nothing needed grasping.
Instead, poured out in emptiness,
a servant’s form did He possess,
a mortal man becoming.
In human form He chose to be
and lived in all humility,
death on a cross obeying.
Now lifted up by God to heav’n,
a name above all others giv’n,
this matchless name possessing.
And so, when Jesus’ name is called,
the knees of everyone should fall
wherever they’re residing.
Then every tongue in one accord,
will say that Jesus the Messiah is Lord,
while God the Father praising.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-forever by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY.  Used by permission.

Addendum, a week after initial composition of this blogpost:

For two different reasons, I floated questions about this Philippians 2 “hymn text” to two different internet groups.  And for multiple reasons, members of each group were somewhat critical of this ISV rendering.  Perhaps I have been too quick to gravitate to the ISV attempt here.  Perhaps my standards are wishy-washy when it comes to translation.  Perhaps my standards are too low when it comes to poetry.  Still, I applaud what I take as a fine intent of the ISV folks to render poetry poetically.