Which Bible Translation Should I Use? | Oak Grove Church of Christ

Often, as a gospel preacher, I am asked which Bible translation I would recommend. I always recommend the King James Version, the American Standard Version (1901) or the New King James version and personally prefer the King James.

 There are several considerations that I have taken into account when deciding upon these particular translations.

Mainly, I look at the method that was used by the translators and look to see whether there is an overall theological bias to it.

Considerations When Choosing a Bible Translation

First, I always look to use a translation that uses the Form Equivalency (FE) method of translation, where an attempt is made to render a literal word-for-word translation instead of one that uses the Dynamic Equivalency (DE) method which is more of a thought-for-thought translation. You could say that FE is at one end of the spectrum and DE at the other.

The many English translations out there fall somewhere along this line. It could be said, for instance, that the American Standard Version of 1901 would be at the extreme FE end of the spectrum and perhaps the New Living Translation or the Message Bible at the extreme opposite end.

Three Points on Inspiration

Some Bible Translation Comparisons

The King James, New King James, New American Standard Bible and English Standard versions are each much closer to the FE end of the spectrum than they are to the DE end. The New International Version and perhaps the New Revised Version are much closer to the DE end than they are to the FE end of the spectrum.

Second, I then look for theological bias. For instance one such theological bias is found in Galatians 5 in the New International Version┬á where the Greek word sarx is translated sinful nature…, rather than simply flesh.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” -Galatians 5:16-17 (NIV 1984) 

For comparison’s sake notice this same passage in the ASV of 1901,

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would.” – Galatians 5:16-17, (ASV 1901)

Thayer’s defines sarx as, flesh (the soft substance of the living body, which covers the bones and is permeated with blood of both man and beasts. The word, simply defined, nowhere implies anything sinful! This particular fallacy is the result of those who have approached Biblical translation with the theological bias of Calvinism, where man’s very nature is thought to be fallen because of original sin, a man-made doctrine that the Bible does not support! The NIV, in its current version, has changed that particular wording but still maintains it in a footnote.

Another instance of theological bias is found in the English Standard Version in Romans 10:10, where it alters the language to the point where a false doctrine of salvation is taught. Other passages in the ESV are well translated, but Romans 10:10 clearly show a theological bias. The ESV translates it as follows,

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

For the sake of comparison, the NKJV version renders it,

“For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

The ESV in Romans 10:10 translates the Greek word eis as “is.

With the heart one believes and is (eis) justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is (eis) saved…

Is this an accurate rendering of the Greek word eis?

Thayer’s defines eis as follows: “into, unto, to, towards, for, among..”

Note that the Greek word eis is not a verb, rather it is a preposition and therefore, it should never be translated into the English word “is.

The ESV in Rom 10:10, also translates the Greek nouns “dikaiosune” and “soterian” as verbs, rendering them “justified” and “saved” respectively. The ESV claims to be a word-for-word translation, yet here they replaced nouns with verbs and a preposition with a state of being.

To my mind, ‘believeth unto righteousness…’ (KJV) is not the same thing as “believes and is justified…” (ESV). Neither is ‘confession is made unto salvation...’ (KJV) the same thing as ‘confesses and is saved...’ (ESV) The English word “is” implies a state of being. The ESV would have us believe and be justified; confess and be saved. Yet, the Greek indicates that belief leads unto righteousness and confession leads unto salvation but it does not equate belief with the state of being justified, or confession with the state of being saved.

Is theological bias at play here? I think so.

Because of this fairly obvious theological bias, I personally cannot recommend this translation for serious Bible study. It has many good qualities about it, but I do not think it is a worthy replacement for the KJV, the NKJV or the ASV 1901. For those who may argue from the standpoint of readability, I do not believe the language used in the ESV is any easier to read than what is used in the NKJV for instance. In reality, with a little bit of familiarity, the KJV and ASV are not at all hard to understand even for small children.

The ESV has grown in popularity in part because a certain well-known gospel preacher wrote an article, just after the ESV became available on the market in 2002, stating that he thought it may in time prove to be an excellent translation. Notice what he said,

Though the ESV is not without some weakness, generally speaking, it appears to be an accurate, literal translation, rendered in beautiful English. It is a version, we believe, that will serve the English-speaking world with distinction. It is our hope that this new version will not become a point of contention within the body of Christ.” – Wayne Jackson, Article: The English Standard Version, www.christiancourier.com).

Further Bible Translation Considerations

In this article, Brother Jackson simply gave his preliminary findings on the ESV, admittedly without a thorough investigation of the translation: “I have not gone through the entire volume. I’ve only checked random passages; nonetheless, I am impressed with this new version. It may turn out to be one the best modern alternative to the King James translation, although I still prefer the meticulous precision of the American Standard Version (1901),  (IBID).

As the ESV has come under more and more scrutiny, more and more instances of theological bias are being noted.

All translations have their issues. One mistranslation every English version since the Bishop’s Bible (1568) has made is to not translate the Greek verb baptizo as immerse, (which is what it literally means) but rather to transliterate it as simply, baptize. This was done so that those who were practicing sprinkling and pouring for baptism would find it more acceptable.

Every English version has its particular flaws the NKJV and ESV, for instance, poorly define the Greek word porneia as sexual immorality rather than adultery or fornication, which is a more precise definition.

The King James Version has some problems as well, such as the insertion of the word Easter, in Romans 12:4 and its imprecise use of the word hell in places where the Greek word hades is used. The NKJV more accurately transliterates it as hades. The ASV (1901) is considered by many scholars to be the most outstanding English translation, but many find it harder to follow than even the KJV.

To quote an older preacher, “The real problem with Bible translations is not in which one we use, but rather that we do not use the one we have!

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15 KJV


Jack McNiel, Evangelist, Oak Grove Church of Christ
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