As a starting point evaluating four translations, I have written some of my initial impressions and overviews of each translation: NIV 2011 (New International Version), ESV (English Standard Version), HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible), and GW (God’s Word). I think it is helpful to identify some unique characteristics of the four translations before looking at specific passages. That way I won’t have to stop each time and reference these characteristics. Some might disagree with these observations, but bear with me as we journey through this task.
NIV 2011(New International Version)
Perhaps one of the more notable features/changes involves the use of gender neutral language if the context supports it. This is not extreme and shows an understanding of how language has changed in the last 35 years. I’ll give one example: Psalm 1:1-2
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.
Notice that NIV 2011 has retained the sense of the verse, while also using the generic term “one” rather than “man,” which whether anyone wants to accept it, carries a male connotation in today’s world. However, as the WELS Assessment Report (06/2011) noted, some of the gender changes weaken texts.
There are other improvements over the 1984 edition. Translating σαρχ as “flesh” rather than “sinful nature” is a positive change. Translators changed the use of prepositions (see Romans 3-8 for multiple examples), which again are positive moves. “Alien” (1984) is changed to “foreigner” especially significant in some passages, i.e. Ephesians 2:19, as well as Old Testament passages.
Perhaps the most significant change in NIV 2011 is to never use “saint” to translate αγιος, rather substituting “holy people” (plural) or other terms. The difficulty of the uneven translation becomes evident in Acts 9:13 and 32
9:13 the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem
9:32 he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda
Reading that chapter, who would guess that the “holy people” in Jerusalem and “the Lord’s people” in Lydda is identical? By not maintaining consistency in this chapter, it appears that there is a distinction between the two groups, when Luke in the book of Acts is trying to show the unity by using one word (αγιοι), not two separate words.
ESV (English Standard Version)
Perhaps one of the strengths of ESV is the familiarity of certain texts that maintain the KJV identity; that can especially important for memorization and for long term members who remember the KJV or RSV wording. Thus, many over the age of 50 and who have some church background might more easily adapt to the sound of the ESV. But for those who are younger and/or have no church background, some of the language may not help the person read and study the Bible. Archaic language
While NIV 2011 has done a decent job of dealing with the gender topic, the ESV also tries to address gender translation, but the result is very inconsistent. For one example, the ESV has for ανθρωποι (plural) as “men” and sometimes as “people.” But the usage does not follow any kind of pattern. So much so that the student is left without any clue why the translation in one place is generic and the other specific to males.
I have found the ESV is not as easy to read orally; well, that is only half the problem, the other side is that it is harder to follow orally. A few of the worst examples were corrected in the 2007 revision, but some still remain. Sometimes it is word order and sometimes the term itself is problematic. One simplistic example is Psalm 132:12 “If your sons keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their sons also forever shall sit on your throne.” Note where the word “forever” sits in the sentence. Reading it aloud helps to identify the awkwardness.
HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible) or now CSB
What initially attracted me to HCSB was that used “Yahweh” for the name of God in the Old Testament. Only the New Jerusalem Bible (Roman Catholic translation) had done so previously. Sadly, HCSB does not do so throughout, and as noted in an earlier post, there is inconsistency within the same verses of the OT.
But HCSB is a good contender for other areas of translation. While it retains some of the more difficult English words Often called “biblish”), i.e. “propitiation” (Romans 3:25), the editors have marked them with a bullet symbol so that it can be looked up in the appendix. Aside from that, the HCSB is a relatively smooth reading translation. In many areas it reduces the sentence length, which helps readability and oral comprehension. And yet, in critical New Testament passages, sometimes sentence length is too long. But this is not nearly as bad as ESV sentence length (i.e. Ephesians 1:3-14).
GW (God’s Word)
This translation might be the most controversial, and that may make it the most useful in some contexts. Through field testing with congregations in the early 1990’s, it was determined not to use ”specialized language” (i.e. biblish), substituting words or phrases that might be more easily understood. This means that the flow of the text is very good, but there are some terms and passages that long term Christians might not readily accept (“because it doesn’t sound like I remember”—and that is true).
The two most common changes: in the New Testament rather than translating δικαιοσουνη as “righteousness” it is translated as “God’s approval,” and χαρις is not translated as “grace” rather “kindness” (but in footnotes “grace” is given). Ironically “righteousness” is retained in the Old Testament (for צדכה). I served congregations from 1987 to 1995 that were involved in testing this translation. The last revision in 1992 still had “righteousness” and “grace” but we were not aware of the final change to “God’s approval” and “kindness” until the publication in 1995. I am still of the opinion that they should have been retained. However, having used it in various contexts over the past 17 years, I have accepted that decision.
Now, with that out of the way, GW is still a decent translation, and in my opinion much better than NLT. It is the most readable of any English translation, and an oral stylist was used throughout the process. It shows. Another important factor is the single column layout that makes easier reading, and it also gives a visible clue to relationships especially in the poetic sections of the Hebrew Old Testament. At the current church I serve we have used GW Gospel of John booklets to witness to new people. This is critical because we live in an area where the unchurched population is ~95%, no or little church background for most.
Okay, so this is my biased initial overview of the translations. Each has some strengths, each has some weaknesses. This series will look at a few of them in each translation.