Addressing Bible Translations

The move to NIV 2011 by Biblica and Zondervan and the end of the public use of the NIV 1984 edition by the end of 2012 means some major changes for church bodies and individual congregations. Churches will no longer be able to publish bulletins or projections using NIV 1984. And publishing houses will no longer be able to use NIV 1984 in any published books/study guides, etc. Some have moved to the NIV 2011 without much hesitation (doesn’t mean they didn’t study it, but the conclusions were essentially, “stay the course with NIV”).

Others are carefully examining the NIV 2011 to see what significance there is in the changes in NIV 2011. And others are checking and testing alternate translation choices. How does this affect the individual Christian who has been using NIV 1984 for personal study? There really is no immediate affect on individual use. It may cause a little confusion if the church body uses NIV 2011 or another translation.

The Revolution in Bible Publishing

The days of one printing of a translation lasting a life time are long gone. The rapid advances in printing technology over the past 75 years means that time for making changes between printings is insignificant. Computer technology in the last 15 years has brought more dramatic changes on this scene. In 1996, the publishing of NET on the web as a digital product prior to the production of any printed copy signaled the revolution was upon us. Thus, we see that even recent translations like ESV and NLT have been revised within a few short years of the first edition. For instance, that which was published in ESV 2001 is different than ESV 2007, which is different than the ESV 2012. And don’t expect that trend to change.

Is this significant for us who are users of the translations? Yes, in at least two ways.

1. Memorization: Over the centuries memorization of Scripture was an integral part of Bible learning. With frequent changes that we have witnessed, this begins to erode memorization.

2. Worship: In a liturgical church, whether hymnal or projection, the liturgical portions need to be consistent for worship continuity. Further, with constantly evolving translations, the liturgical portions may not match public use of Scripture elsewhere in church life. Even with the same hymnal, editions printed may vary from one to another (a copyright issue on how much change can be made? After all, Biblica/Zonderan changed the field by declaring an older revision as no longer usable.).

This environment highlights one of the negatives of having translation efforts done by para-church companies. Church bodies, while represented by occasional scholars, have little to say about translation efforts. In other words, the Church, as the user of the translation has little influence on the translations being made available. I have noted elsewhere that most translation groups come from broadly Reformed/Evangelical background, and so are much less sensitive to the liturgical life of the church and the relationship between worship using translations and Bible studies using translations.

As Lutherans, we do not ever endorse one translation as the translation that must be used. We recognize that all translations are just that, translations that attempt to help us better understand the original language texts. For doctrinal discussions and disputes, the matter is always decided by referring to the original language texts (Greek for NT and Hebrew/Aramaic for OT).

Lutheran publishing houses carry several translations, even if one is used in a specific hymnal (i.e. ESV in Lutheran Service Book [LSB, 2006] from Concordia Publishing House). Note that even as recent as this hymnal is, the translation is ESV 2001 that does not include the latest revisions, which began appearing in 2007, let alone electronic changes that have more recently been made.

The publishing house issue is also critical. I serve as a pastor of a congregation in a small Lutheran church body. We depend on two major Lutheran publishing houses for many of our needs: CPH (LCMS) and NPH (WELS). Thus, if we as a congregation select a translation, that also influences whether we will have support materials (Sunday School, Catechism, etc.) with the translation we have selected. Do we just adopt what one of these two publishing houses choose? Not that easy to do.

The Hunt for a Translation

Now what? Let’s look at some options:

1. Stay with NIV 1984: This might make sense for congregations that had purchased pew Bibles with all NIV 1984 Bibles. The congregation I currently serve did that many years ago. The downside? Any replacement Bibles will be NIV 2011. So the problem isn’t really solved, only postponed.

2. Move to NIV 2011: While the total change is 6%, there are critical changes, some good, and some less than desirable. We have to examine those changes.

3. Move to another modern translation: As we look the landscape of 75+ English translations, I have narrowed that list down to the following: ESV, HCSB, and GW.*

So, in the coming weeks, I will begin posting some comparison passages using these four translations: NIV 2011, ESV, HCSB, and GW. As time and space permit I will include some comparisons with NAS and NLT. So bear with me in the process. If you have suggestions, questions, or additional insights, I would appreciate hearing from you, either here or at my email: exegete77 AT gmail DOT com.


* What about NAS, NKJ, NLT, NET, NABRE? The NAS and NKJ are excellent translations, even better than ESV in my opinion. However, the attempt to maintain original language style (formal equivalence or similar term) makes them difficult translations to read (I know all the arguments about “teach them to read at that level,” but that does not deal with, nor change, the mission environment in which we live). Especially for oral reading, the style for each is prohibitive in our environment. BTW, this will be a negative for the ESV as well. The NLT is a mixed bag as a translation; in some areas it is outstanding, in others, it has some significant problems. NET is an interesting study Bible, but having tried using it in an oral environment, it has too many drawbacks. NABRE (2011 edition —Roman Catholic approved translation) is very good in places, but not as good as I had expected

Author: exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian

16 thoughts on “Addressing Bible Translations”

  1. What about the NJB? As I bounce between the ESV/NKJV and the NLT, the NJB is often a nice middle of the road option.

    Worse case scenario – let’s use Clarence Jordan’s edition!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had considered NJB, and like reading it. The use of Yahweh consistently for the name of God (LORD in other English translations) is a positive. However, it too is being revised, and the translators have abandoned the use of Yahweh; the translation will now follow all other English translations and use LORD.


      1. Ughh.. that’s one of the major issues I have – we continue to break the second commandment – at least from Luther’s understanding of it – as we do not use the Name of God in prayer and praise!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Can’t disagree with you there. If only HCSB had been consistent with that use, it would make that translation the front runner (from that standpoint).


  2. Your narrowing it down to the four: NIV 2011, ESV, HCSB, and GW are good choices. Although the CSB is still known as main southern baptist and it may always carry that label. I’ve been struggling myself about which translation to use. I like ESV but it’s still needs to be improved upon. The GW doesn’t seem to have gone very far.

    The church I’m serving in now has always been NIV/84 but I used NIV/11 this Sunday and was wondering what the cong’ thought when I readk “human” instead of “man”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have been using ESV for worship for the last couple of years, and it is working well. My first reaction was, “this reads a lot like NKJV” (we have NKJV in the pews because I got a real super deal on them!). A friend of mine, Tom Nass, a professor at Martin Luther College in New Ulm, MN wrote an excellent review with a lot of pertinent detail. You can read what he has to say here (and I recommend that you do!):

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Howdy, Dan. I had begun reading the ESV when it first came out in 2001. Sometimes I have used it for preaching and teaching. But it never felt comfortable. While Nass focuses on the Hebrew OT, on the Greek NT side, I find some troubling passages that are not only bad English but also bad translation. I’ll mention those as we continue the series.

      Thanks for the link, Dan; it well written and brings some good balance to the discussion; much of what I have read about ESV promotion is not helpful in a true evaluation of the ESV. I have followed most of the articles written in the WELS about the translation debate because their authors seem genuinely concerned about the effects of a translation choice. What is often forgotten about the LCMS choice for the NIV back in 1980 for the hymnal project was not based on the translation itself, but Zondervan gave it to LCMS for the hymn project “royalty-free.” It was a money issue.

      Much of what Thomas Nass writes is exactly my sense of the ESV. Portions of it “feel familiar.” But as the author also noted, he and I, as I’m sure you too, have a church background, even a translation background. But that does not necessarily make it a good translation. The translation is not primarily for the scholar, pastor, but for the average person in the pew. Thus, his evaluation in the closing is even more important.


      1. Thanks for the reply Rich. One thing that crossed my mind; how does the NIV 2011 compare with the Oxford English version (NIV-UK)? From my cursory observations, it seems that they have just taken the current revision of the NIV and inserted the Oxford spellings where needed. Is this correct?

        It’s interesting that it was a “money issue” for the LCMS using the NIV in LW, although I would think that they wouldn’t have used the NIV if there were any major doctrinal hiccoughs with it. I’m guessing that WELS didn’t have a money motivation when they used the NIV in their materials. The ELS didn’t share their enthusiasm for the NIV, and opted for the NKJV in their materials.

        I’m glad you appreciated the link. Tom Nass is a man with a true heart of a servant; and his primary objective is to be faithful. I think you can see this in what he wrote. Even so, we’re still in the “trial” phase of the ESV.

        So I’m interested in seeing where this discussion leads!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, the NIV -UK just has the Oxford spellings, everything else is the same.
        For the LCMS catechism, there was a hiccup with NIV, and they used NKJV for John 20:23. Also, when they were putting out the tentative ESV catechism, they also used NKJV for John 20:23. Both NAS and NKJ get it right, ESV and NIV do not.


    1. Howdy, Howard. Glad you joined in. Yes, the ESV was originally an attempt to get a more “conservative” version of the RSV, contrasting with the NRSV (1989), which is seen as “liberal.”

      Actually the best version of the RSV is the Roman Catholic Revision of the RSV, Ignatius Edition in 2006. I find it has much of the ESV sense, but gets some passages right (i.e. John 20:23) that the ESV does not. I keep that copy near my desk for reference (it also includes the Apocryhpa).

      So, if I follow that tradition, I would rather use the RSV, Ignatius Edition.


      1. Interesting. I’m glad to hear you praise that edition, since it’s what I’ve been using since last year’s theology class, for which it was the recommended version. I’ve become rather fond of it.


  4. Hello Pastor Shields,

    Thanks for your thoughtful and timely topic. Our congregation and our synod (WELS) are wrestling with the bible translation issue. We’ve grown accustomed to using the NIV for years and years now. For some of us (me included) it’s really the only english bible we’ve ever known. So now, (as you already know) we’re evaluating what we would like to do and where we would like to go.

    So, for my own part I read through the ESV and HCSB on my own and compared them to the greek and hebrew as I went along. If you’d like to, you’re welcome to compare your evaluation with my own:



    I especially appreciate this comment (of yours):

    “As Lutherans, we do not ever endorse one translation as the translation that must be used. We recognize that all translations are just that, translations that attempt to help us better understand the original language texts. For doctrinal discussions and disputes, the matter is always decided by referring to the original language texts (Greek for NT and Hebrew/Aramaic for OT).”

    A good topic. And a good time to address the topic.

    Pastor Steve Bauer

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Howdy, Steve. Thanks for dropping by. I had read earlier papers you have provided; good stuff, especially from a fellow Mac user. Excellent to read your overview of the HCSB; good coverage of verses. I have other passages that I will use to compare the four. I find it ironic that of the crucial sacramental (and related) passages (Acts 2:38-39, 1 Peter 3:21, etc.), HCSB does a decent job. But then as you note some of the fringe verses in the HCSB seem to introduce some variations that leaves room for misunderstanding the texts (whether in the text or footnote).

      Just curious, is there any interest in an updated AAT for the WELS?


      1. At my last district convention there were guys who spoke in favor of taking over/adapting the AAT. But, from what I’ve seen this is far from the majority. I admit, adapting the AAT seemed like the ideal solution. But the more I looked into the issue the more it seemed untenable. The biggest stumbling block is simply the fact that the AAT has no electronic text. The main need for us to evaluate these translations was the change in the NIV and the inability to use the NIV-84 beyond next year. Even if we were to adopt to the AAT for use at NPH we wouldn’t be able to get an e-text together before the deadline with the NIV is due. Some have also mentioned that there are weaknesses in the OT sections that would need to be cleaned up too.

        So, I’m sure that there is some interest. But it faces some sizable obstacles.

        Liked by 1 person

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