The “missing saints” revisited

I had posted briefly on this topic about a month ago. Today I would like to explore this further. In Bible class yesterday we looked at how NIV 2011 translates the Greek ὃι ἅγιοι (traditionally “saints”). We looked at the translation of the word as a noun, not the verbal form.

According to the CBT the issue was trying to avoid the contemporary Roman Catholic understanding of “saints.” And so alternatives were given.

The question arises: Do the alternative translations clarify the underlying Greek (after all, that is the purpose of a translation)? The two photos below show the variety of word choices in specific books of the New Testament.

NIV alternatives for saints Part 1
NIV 2011 alternatives for saints Part 2

Interestingly in Acts 9, the word is translated three different ways: “your holy people,” “Lord’s people,” and “believers.” And overall, there are seven different translation alternatives:

holy people
Lord’s people
God’s people
God’s holy people
his people
people of God

The variety shows up even within the came book (Colossians) or even the same chapter (Acts 9). In the process of offering these alternatives, the NIV 2011 causes even more confusion. Holiness is an attribute of God and with specific connotations (i.e. sinless). Likewise, when God desires his people to be holy, there is the sense that God consecrates (sets apart) his people to reflect that holiness, namely to be sinless. However, only two of the seven alternatives even hint at that aspect of ὃι ἅγιοι .

For instance, “believers” (often the translation of πίστις, the one who has faith) focuses on the content or object of faith, in contrast to some other object. One interesting collocation of the two words (one a substantive, one an adjective) is Ephesians 1:1

Παῦλος ἀπόστολος ⸉Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ⸊ διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ τοῖς ἁγίοις ⸀τοῖς οὖσιν ⸋[ἐν Ἐφέσῳ]⸌ καὶ πιστοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ,

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus (NAS 95)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus (NIV 2011)

Here at least NIV 2011 makes a distinction. But given the inconsistency of the NIV 2011, the use of “believer” in this context would seem to be a duplication of the second description.

Similar confusion arises when NIV 2011 uses “God’s people” or “Lord’s people” or “his people.” How would someone distinguish between Ephesians 4:12 and Luke 7:16?

to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4:12 NIV 2011)

They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” (Luke 7:16 NIV 2011)

The Luke passage has τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ (“his people” or literally “the people of him”) whereas Ephesians has τῶν ἁγίων (“the saints” or the “holy ones”). As is evident the referent is different, but even more the key point of the use of the Greek words is different in each case.

Conclusion about the “missing saints”

This is one area that NIV 2011 fails completely. For readability, it isn’t a big deal, but for study purposes, NIV 2011 is no help, or worse, leads to inconsistent results. And that is assuming that the English reader can even identify the word group and how to make connections. If the intent was to avoid “saints” because of the contemporary Roman Catholic usage, then why not consistently use “the holy ones” as the translation. This would provide a good translation that reflects the underlying Greek word group (ἅγιοι). As it stands, the NIV 2011 has not helped the English reader better understand the New Testament.

Equally disturbing is that this hodgepodge of translation choices for  ὃι ἅγιοι (traditionally “saints”) goes contrary to the history of the church (which is not the exclusive domain of the Roman Catholic Church). That is, “saints” as the translation of the Greek (and sanctus in Latin) carries not only historical value but became a liturgical and hymnody choice. By avoiding that translation, the NIV 2011 separates itself from the heritage of the Christian Church throughout the ages. I think of some of these great hymns that lose their relationship to NIV 2011:

“For all the Saints”
“Holy, Holy, Holy” (st. 2)
“Jerusalem, My Happy Home” (st. 2)
“Saints, See the Cloud of Witnesses”
“Rise up, O Saints of God”

And many more!

One unintended negative consequence of the NIV 2011 translation choices is found in Revelation. Often dispensationalists will claim that the “church” is not mentioned after Revelation 3:22. While it is true that the specific word “church” (ἐκκλησία) is not used, other terms that refer to the “church” are used in Revelation 5:1-20:15, and specifically (“saints”). The NIV 2011 inadvertently seems to support that claim (“church not mentioned after 3:22”) by its translations in Revelation. Yet, Luke in Acts and Paul in his letters use “the saints” to refer to those who are the church. And if there were consistent use of either “saints” or “holy ones” throughout the New Testament, such an unintentional support would evaporate.

This translation choice has many implications beyond even the specific wording of NIV 2011. It has implications in historic Christianity, in hymnody, and in theology. This change by the CBT of the NIV 2011 is not a neutral shift. And it causes much worse problems than whether “saints” is identified in a contemporary Roman Catholic sense.


4 Translations: “You got rhythm” Part 2

In the last post I looked at NIV 2011 and ESV regarding oral reading and public use in worship. Now I turn to HCSB and GW. As a starting point, I want to provide the introduction to the previous post:

So far in this discussion about the four translations we have examined word choices, sentence structure, “meaning,” etc. But another critical aspect of translation usage for a congregation involves memorization and liturgical use. Let’s be clear, all four translations can be memorized and can be used in liturgical worship. There is nothing special or unique about them. Some might be easier to memorize, some hard. But all can be memorized.

There are actually several parts to this whole memorization issue: broader scope, familiarity from the past, and “feel.”

For both of these translations, I include visual layout because they affect the oral reading of the text, one negatively, the other positively.

HCSB and GW Design/Layout

I have almost developed a love vs. not-so-loved sense about HCSB. There are many things to commend it. But in this particular area of oral suitability, it is actually a visual stumbling block. Obviously oral readers should practice reading the texts before standing in front of the congregation; sadly many do not. This is not a translation issue but rather an editorial and design layout issue.

HCSB Sample
HCSB Layout: Isaiah 64

HCSB follows the NKJV in layout (two-column pages) for poetic sections. In the process, the choppiness of the layout leads to many short phrases on different lines. See this example in which many lines have between two to five words, and that makes it difficult to read silently and orally.





In contrast, GW design layout favors a very good approach to oral reading, and even personal reading. Notice in the photo, how the single column allows the reader to follow the entire pattern and sentence structure visually. For me, that has been one of the best features of the GW translation.

GW Layout Design: Isaiah 64




HCSB and GW Texts

HCSB falls on the more traditional side in many texts, but avoids the reverse order of words that plagues ESV; GW is more innovative in its approach to some texts (that is not necessarily a negative criticism). I am using the same verses that were used in the NIV 2011 and ESV post

After these events, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; your reward will be very great.(Genesis 15:1 HCSB)

Later the Lord spoke his word to Abram in a vision. He said, “Abram, don’t be afraid. I am your shield. Your reward will be very great.” (Genesis 15:1 GW)

Both translations offer acceptable contemporary English. The slight difference is that HCSB uses some contractions, but often not in direct discourse by God, whereas GW tends to use the contractions often. From an oral reading standpoint, GW is more consistent. Even in more formal settings, contractions are not uncommon, and contractions certainly do not change the text meaning.

How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! (Psalm 1:1 HCSB)

Blessed is the person who does not follow the advice of wicked people, take the path of sinners, or join the company of mockers. (Psalm 1:1 GW)

Both HCSB and GW avoid the ESV problem, but they also the improve the second phrase as well. ESV and NIV 2011 have “stands in the way of sinners.” But in current English usage, the ESV/NIV 2011 rendering has more of a blocking sense, “get in the way of someone” whereas the text is referring to “following the way that sinners take.”

But HCSB translates the word אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי as “happy” rather than the traditional rendering “blessed.” “Happy” suggests something internal that is sensed because of circumstances, whereas “blessed” seems more focused on the external reality declared by someone outside the circumstances, namely God. “Happy” also seems more limited to a feeling dependent on what happens, rather than the “blessedness’ regardless of what happens. GW keeps the word “blessed” which reversed the predecessor translation (Beck’s Bible) which had “happy.”

Next consider Isaiah 22:17, where ESV especially had the awkward “seize.” These two translations avoid the awkward phrasing, but perhaps a little too much.

Look, you strong man! The LORD is about to shake you violently. He will take hold of you, (Isaiah 22:17)

Look, mighty man! The Lord will throw you out. He will grab you. (Isaiah 22:17 GW)

Here the HCSB translation seems weaker than the Hebrew, עָטֹֽה. According to BDB, it carries the sense of wrapping or enclosing (and HALOT follows somewhat the same sense), and parallels the previous “violently.” Looking at the other three translations, they supply a stronger word, even GW has “grab” which is more than “hold.”

Looking at another passage which the ESV mangles, let’s see how these two translations render the passage:

But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit. So He became their enemy and fought against them.(Isaiah 63:10 HCSB)

But they rebelled and offended his Holy Spirit. So he turned against them as their enemy; he fought against them. (Isaiah 63:10 GW)

Again both translations offer a readable text for the second part of the verse. It might be interesting to see how or whether people see a difference between “grieved” and “offended” in the first part of the verse. In the last decade or so, “offended” can most often be seen as “hurt feelings” which is not often interpreted as a big deal, as expressed in “If I have offended you, I’m sorry,” which is clearly not an apology, and different than this particular Biblical text.

Regarding split quotations in speech, HCSB has its own share of these. Thus, while it doesn’t have as much as ESV, it still does in other texts.

 “Who are You, Lord?” he said.
“I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting,” He replied. “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:5-6 HCSB)

Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?”
The person replied, “I’m Jesus, the one you’re persecuting. Get up! Go into the city, and you’ll be told what you should do.” (Acts 9:5-6 GW)

In this text, HCSB splits the verbal response, whereas, GW moves the indicator phrase “the person replied” to the beginning, and so that the response is complete in itself. Again, this doesn’t change the meaning, but in oral reading it would be easier to follow GW than HCSB.

In looking at Matthew 15:16, we see that HCSB and GW offer a good translation that is more accurate than the NIV 2011.

“Are even you still lacking in understanding?” He asked. (Matthew 15:16 HCSB)

Jesus said, “Don’t you understand yet? (Matthew 15:16 GW)

Interestingly HCSB translates καὶ as “even” whereas most translations would use “also,” or in this case subsume it under “yet” (as does GW).

The last text is where NIV 2011 had “all who make spoil of you I will despoil.” Both translations provide a good parallel structure and verbal connections without resorting to odd or out of date language.

Nevertheless, all who devoured you will be devoured, and all your adversaries—all of them—will go off into exile. Those who plunder you will be plundered, and all who raid you will be raided. (Jeremiah 30:16 HCSB)

That is why everyone who devours you will be devoured, and all your enemies will be taken away as captives. Those who looted you will be looted. Those who stole from you in war will have things stolen from them. (Jeremiah 30:16 GW)


Since this is only a cursory look at the four translations in very limited selections, I do not propose that this is the definitive guide for translation choice based on oral readability. However, just from the few examples given, and much more in actual use over the past few years (except NIV 2011), I can say that these are indicative of the translations in total.

ESV remains a solid translation, but from an oral reading and public worship use, it is the most difficult of the four translations. Despite some recent electronic changes, the basic flaws noted here remain. For me the surprising one was NIV 2011. For years I had heard how people praised the NIV for its readability, even if they did not approve of the translation as a whole. However, I suspect readability for many making that claim has to do with private (silent) reading; and so the claim may have been true. But as I have listened and read orally the NIV, and now NIV 2011, I find that its oral sense can be a stumbling for readers and listeners.

HCSB is a solid translation, and I think in many cases better than ESV and NIV 2011. But the layout design and some sentence structures do hinder its oral presentation. GW has from its inception been a translation with always an eye on readability, and especially oral comprehension. The design layout for GW is by far the best thought out among all translations, not just these four.

And what about memory work? My sense is that if the majority of the congregation comes from a traditional background, then ESV would be the choice. For those in the tradition of the last 30+ years with the NIV, then NIV 2011 makes sense. Even the HCSB is close enough to the KJV tradition that it might be acceptable, but would take some work on some familiar passages. GW is the most different of these, so memorizing is possible, but there would not be any confusion about “Is this NAS, NKJV, ESV?” This translation makes sense in the environment in which most of the congregation and its surrounding mission field is unchurched background. There is nothing to compare. The challenge for those memorizing GW is if the person moved to a new congregation in which a more traditional translation is used.

4 Translations: “You got rhythm”?

So far in this discussion about the four translations we have examined word choices, sentence structure, “meaning,” etc. But another critical aspect of translation usage for a congregation involves memorization and liturgical use. Let’s be clear, all four translations can be memorized and can be used in liturgical worship. There is nothing special or unique about them. Some might be easier to memorize, some hard. But all can be memorized.

There are actually several parts to this whole memorization issue: broader scope, familiarity from the past, and “feel.”

Factors affecting memorization

1. Broader scope

Our choice of translation usage in the congregation cannot be done in a vacuum. That is, we interact with other congregations and church bodies. Our members move and will join other congregations. From that stand point, ESV and NIV 2011 make the best sense, since they are widely used.

2. Familiarity 

ESV follows in the KJV tradition, so more familiar passages will be easily recognized and learned. NIV 2011 follows NIV 1984 so has had 35 years of assimilation into the American Christian scene, and even more so because of the technology revolution and its use in electronic media.

Both HCSB and GW are relatively recent on the scene, and do not have the wide exposure that the other two have. This means that for those who have church backgrounds, these will sound odd and may be confusing in terms of memorizing.

3. Feel

Seems like an odd word to use, but this encompasses the naturalness of the translation for oral speaking. This is critical for memorization. It involves rhythm, cadence, and language choice and word combinations. Here both ESV and NIV 2011 have some challenges. HCSB and GW do better in several respects but also face their own challenges. I start with ESV because it is the most “traditional” of the four translations.


ESV faces a double task, following the KJV tradition and being in put into modern language. In some cases it yields a very suitable choice, i.e. Psalm 23 because of the cadence of the passage and the familiarity. The clash becomes evident, however, when looking at how the ESV commonly handles negatives.

ESv Bible

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15:1)

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, (Psalm 1:1)

This is not common usage today for negatives. I have read and heard defenders of this that such usage is more poetic. But according to whose ears? Even the NAS95 avoids this kind of construction.

Another is word choice that strikes the reader and listener as odd at best.

Behold, the LORD will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you (Isaiah 22:17)

NIV 2011 “Beware, the LORD is about to take firm hold of you.” Another translation using a similar approach as ESV, NAS95, does much better: “And He is about to grasp you firmly.”

Or consider this one also in Isaiah. If you don’t catch it, read it out loud to hear.

But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. (Isaiah 63:10)

With all the revisions of the ESV, not just the 2007 formal one, you would think this could, should be corrected. Yes, I submitted this to the Translation committee. But it remains.

NIV 2011

A generation of time can change many things. I remember when NIV NT was introduced in 1973. It caused quite a stir, and then with the full Bible in 1978 (later revised in 1984), the challenge was on. For many, the NIV was too innovative for its time. Some challenged its “accuracy” in places. It met with mixed reviews. But another critique was that the NIV oral quality was not as good for liturgical worship. Thus, when the LCMS pulled out of a joint hymnal project with ALC and LCA, it had to look for an alternative for the Psalms. The choice was made due to money concerns, not translation suitability. Thus, LCMS used NIV for the hymnal Lutheran Worship because they could get it royalty-free for that purpose. Many were not satisfied with it as a translation choice because the cadence/rhythm seemed off. Of course, that may have been partly due to the previous KJV/RSV use within the church body and so the NIV did not fit that mold.

NIV Bible

One thing that I have discovered about the NIV is that while it reads well (silently), orally it can be a challenge. Personally I have found the split dialog more difficult to handle orally (also true for ESV). For instance,

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

Another passage has an unusual rendering, even though it is simple, understandable English.

“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. (Matthew 15:16)

In contemporary English, “dull” has a different connotation than what is implied in this text. According to one dictionary, here are possible meanings:

1. not sharp; blunt: a dull knife. 2. causing boredom; tedious; uninteresting: a dull sermon. 3. not lively or spirited; listless. 4. not bright, intense, or clear; dim: a dull day; a dull sound. 5. having very little depth of color; lacking in richness or intensity of color.

Do any of these correspond to what Jesus is asking his disciples? The Greek has ἀσύνετοί best translated as “without understanding.” The ESV and HCSB do better: “Are you also still without understanding?”

Here is an example of an attempt to parallel thoughts, but using a word that is not current.

But all who devour you will be devoured;
all your enemies will go into exile.
Those who plunder you will be plundered;
all who make spoil of you I will despoil. (Jeremiah 30:16)

Spoil in common English is more suited to describe a child who gets everything; and “despoil” is not part of current vocabulary. NAS95 has: “And all who prey upon you I will give for prey.” HCSB: “all who raid you will be raided.” Both of these translations carry the parallel thought without introducing a confusing term (in this context).

Next post I will look at HCSB and GW regarding this topic.

4 Translations: Two implied words

We communicate with words… and implied words. What difference can two implied words make? Check out 2 Corinthians 5:17.

This seems like a rather trivial example of translation change. In fact, it seems to be about what is implied in the Greek text. But looking beyond the simple change, there is a significant shift. When I write this I do not mean that it is wrong, but it is far different than what many think about this verse.
Greek: ὥστε εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις· τὰ ἀρχαῖα παρῆλθεν, ἰδοὺ γέγονεν ⸀καινα

NIV 1984 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
NIV 2011 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
ESV Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
HCSB Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.
GW Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence.

The Difference?

At first glance there isn’t much difference, even when highlighted as above. Looking at the Greek, it only has “new creation,” everything else in translation is supplied by all translations to “clarify.” Compare the 1984 and 2011 versions of NIV, and notice that NIV 1984 has “he is a new creation.” Since the Greek does not contain any verb or implied subject, then NIV 1984 (and ESV and HCSB and GW) supply “he is” or “believer in Christ,” which is then the new creation. The individual is prominent, namely the “new person in Christ.”

NIV 2011 has “new creation” as the subject, with the implied verb “has come.“ What changes? Almost every aspect of the verse and the entire section. The NIV 2011 focuses the change that has come not on the individual but on the work of Christ. This implies, not only a change in the emphasis, it is a change on when and what happened in the “new creation.” According to NIV 2011, the coming of Christ brings about the new creation. The incorporation into Christ comes through that accomplished fact in history through what Jesus has done, namely his incarnation, perfect life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. Only as that new creation is established, can the person who believes in Christ share in it as part of the new creation.

In summary NIV 1984 rendition is individually oriented in the current moment in the person’s life; NIV 2011 is eschatologically focused, rooted in what Christ did in history, but which has present implications when the person believes.

So, which is the better translation? I won’t go into all the discussion. Check out this Better Bible Blog discussion a while back on this verse.

I will at least suggest that there is some support within 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 for the NIV 2011 choice.

2 Cor. 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;

Notice that the entirety of death is accomplished in Christ’s death. By incorporation into Christ, the believers have died as well. Then when Paul gets to the reconciliation, he does the same thing. The totality in Christ work of reconciliation (in history on the cross) brings with it the message of reconciliation in the present.

2 Cor. 5:18-19 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

Concluding thoughts

Obviously this is a bigger topic than a simple post. I wanted to show that either translation is possible and either can be defended textually and theologically. But once the choice is made, it has significant repercussions on understanding not just this one verse but the entirety of 2 Cor. 5:11-21, and beyond. So, two implied words (in either choice of translations) makes significant difference. And neither is choice is “wrong” in the usual sense of evaluating translations

“Sacred” Texts pt 2: Psalm 23

KJV of 1611 (Psalms 23:1,2): Occurrence of &qu...
KJV of 1611 (Psalms 23:1,2)
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Along with the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23 is the best known text in the Bible, even among those not in the church. It is a passage of hope and comfort, especially in the darkest of times. For many, hearing or speaking the words is not just soothing, it is bringing life to someone in desperation. Thus, Psalm 23 carries with it the weight of a “sacred text” (not that the whole Bible is not sacred); Psalm 23 carries the personal, emotional, and liturgical freight far beyond other texts.

I remember at seminary 30 years ago, one of the professors commented, it doesn’t matter which translation we used in the parish as long as we took a copy of Psalm 23 in the KJV and read from that. He understood well the significance that Psalm 23 conveys to a Christian.

So, what do we do with translations of Psalm 23? Is it acceptable for a translation to mimic the KJV? What about memorization? (I will address this topic in a separate post). What does this mean to the members of the congregation who have memorized it and meditated on it for years or decades? Let’s see how the four translations handle this:

Psalm 23

NIV 2011

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.


1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.


1 The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
2 He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He renews my life; He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
4 Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD as long as I live.


1 The Lord is my shepherd. I am never in need.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside peaceful waters.
3 He renews my soul.
He guides me along the paths of righteousness for the sake of his name.
4 Even though I walk through the dark valley of death,
because you are with me, I fear no harm.
Your rod and your staff give me courage.

5 You prepare a banquet for me while my enemies watch.
You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.

6 Certainly, goodness and mercy will stay close to me all the days of my life,
and I will remain in the Lord’s house for days without end.

Some Observations

My observations here are not so much how each word/phrase is translated relative to Hebrew, but rather how the English strikes the person reading or listening to it. For those with church and/or Bible background, ESV seems a natural fit. ESV reads and follows the cadence of the KJV. Thus, it would be a comfortable fit for use in ministering to people with that background. NIV 2011 and HCSB seem to offer a close feel although the cadence is different for both. Due to the longer use of NIV 1984, many people have grown up with it, and so NIV 2011 would seem comfortable to them.

GW, as expected, does not just reiterate past translations. For those raised in the church or at least biblical tradition, it presents a challenge. But for those who are coming to the Bible from no church background, GW appears to offer a viable translation and with readable English.

Perhaps some phrases that reflect these differences:

In v.1 I shall not want (ESV, KJV, NKJV, etc.) is contrasted with “I lack nothing” (NIV 2011), “there is nothing I lack” (HCSB) and “I am never in need” (GW). Interestingly, GW offers a closer parallel to the KJV tradition; that is, the “never in need” is a present reality, with an expectation for the same in the future. In my thinking, GW is perhaps the best of all the translations at this point.

In v. 4, “through the valley of the shadow of death” (ESV) follows the KJV tradition. NIV 2011 and HCSB are identical: “through the darkest valley.” GW offers a mediating point: “through the dark valley of death.” For those interested, you can check the literature regarding whether the ESV rendering is the best or NIV 2011/HCSB. For purposes of readability, GW seems to the most complete and understandable., and does put it into the context of death.

In v. 6 HCSB has “Only goodness and faithful love” which in English is more restrictive than the Hebrew. The Hebrew word(אַ֤ךְ) seems to emphasize the certainty of the statement, not the restrictive nature of what is said. In other words, in English this can be understood that “goodness and faithful love” are the only two attributes of God that follow (“pursue”?) the believer. I think the totality of the Psalms speak against such a restrictive sense. And even in this Psalm v. 4 brings more to the Psalmist than these two attributes. “Pursue” seems like an odd choice in this context. Yes, the Hebrew word can carry that connotation, but it often carries a negative sense (even persecute), whereas in this Psalm, the sense is not a negative but positive. Thus, in English the use of “pursue” is left hanging as to understanding. And that lack of comfort goes contrary to the entire Psalm.

Psalm 23 in Use

So, it can be challenging for users to read a “sacred text” when it doesn’t match stored memory. I think the critical aspect of this is that each translation needs to be given time to see how it works in practice. For my own practical use as a pastor, I use whichever translation fits with the background of the person I am ministering to. That is, if the person has a traditional “church” background, then I will use ESV or NKJV. If the person has grown up in the church using the NIV for the past 30 years, then NIV 2011 makes sense. If someone doesn’t have that background, then I use GW.

And yes, I keep all three translations handy for pastoral/hospital visits.

An image of Psalm 23, frontispiece to the 1880...
An image of Psalm 23, frontispiece to the 1880 omnibus printing of The Sunday at Home. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)