Translations—Preliminary Evaluation

We have covered quite a bit over the past three months regarding four translations. I spent nine weeks discussing each translation in Sunday morning Bible class. So, I thought it appropriate to provide a preliminary evaluation of each translation. We have been using NIV 1984 as the pew Bible, but especially for inserts and bulletin orders of service. We will no longer be able to use NIV 1984 after December 31, 2012 for those purposes.

NIV 2011

Cover for a NIV Bible
NIV Bible

At first glance, NIV 2011 seemed the logical choice. According to the publishers, there was only 6% change from the 1984 text. The changes were a mixed bag though. Some were necessary and improved the translation; for example Psalm 1:1-2 and the use of “flesh” for translating σαρχ rather than sinful nature (i.e. Romans 8:3-8). Other changes were a step backward, translating αγιοι as seven different ways rather than the traditional “saints.”


English: ESV Study Bible Hardcover Cover

In one way I would like to use the ESV. It fits with the decision made in the LCMS and its publishing house, CPH. In many passages there is a familiar ring to it, especially for those with a strong church background. But at the same time, the ESV is not as good as an oral translation. I have experimented with it, and found a stumbling block in most readings.


Holman Christian Standard Bible New Testament

HCSB offers many advantages: easier to read than ESV and not much different than NIV; it renders some passages better than ESV or NIV (Matthew 18). The negative on the translation is the inconsistent use of Yahweh in the Old Testament. Either make the switch totally, or use the English standard LORD. One draw back is that the only study Bible available may not be as useful in our (Lutheran) context.


Habakkuk 2:2-8
Habakkuk 2:2-8 

This translation is by far the best oral reading translation. I have a long history with it. I served congregations from 1987-1995 that were test congregations for the predecessor and eventually GW. I still struggle with the avoidance of “righteous” (and associated roots). It is a critical concept, and “God’s approval” while okay in some contexts, really misses some critical associations.


This has turned into a harder decision than I first thought. My initial thought a year ago was, just use NIV 2011 since it isn’t that much different. Well, it didn’t take long to find that such an assessment wouldn’t stand up. I have never cared for ESV as a translation, and this evaluation period has confirmed my concerns. Now I go back and forth with HCSB and GW. There have been a few times that I wanted to just use NAS 95 and move forward!

So, for the next few weeks we will use HCSB as the translation for the Sunday readings. Then after 5-6 weeks we will use GW for the same amount of time.

Author: exegete77

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

3 thoughts on “Translations—Preliminary Evaluation”

  1. I’m a Baptist with a Methodist background who is currently looking for a “go-to” Bible translation. I run a medium-sized Christian forum and serve in a local small (but growing!) church. Our Pastor narrowed it down to the ESV and HCSB, and opted for the former, much of the decision based on the availbility of the HCSB (it’s unavailable locally, and the small state I hail from doesn’t even have many copies in bookstores in our nearby state capital). I used the ESV for a couple years prior, myself. I bought into the line that the ESV is the “most literal” outside of the old KJV/ASV/RSV tradition. I graduated with a degree in English, so I also appreciate more complicated language. Somewhat paradoxically, I work in computers, so I also understand the necessity to relate.

    I will support my Pastor, and the ESV is not an unusable translation by any means – I will probably continue to carry it to church. However, I’ve begun to question to the ESV’s claims – I’m no scholar of languages – based on others’ scholarship. I’ve found myself thinking that I am not much further outside the KJV tradition that I grew up in when it comes to archaic and troublesome language. I don’t find it difficult to read, but I know that diction and structure will cause me trouble in explaining things to others because I am once again pausing to explain the translation. In light of your post on the church’s failure to communicate, that’s where translation comes in. I feel that the ESV is yet another stumbling block in some ways.

    I’ve scoured books and the internet for resources. My favorite resource thus far is the WELS research on the versions. I’m just so hesitant on the HCSB because of uncertain use of Yahweh – not only in consistency but without true certainty that it’s God’s name. I use the NLT for my youth (decision made pre-ESV and support by Pastor), but I cannot settle on it because it’s too full-on dynamic, IMHO.

    I’m slowly moving towards the NIV11. It obviously has flaws, but it remains the linchpin between not straying too far yet using acutal language for people who have little to no church background. I mean heck, I’ve even considered the CEB for a time.

    Bringing a long, rambling coment to close, thanks for your careful blogging on the subject. I look forward to seeing how the transition works out for you – and I am learning about the GW to which I know very little about.


    1. Thanks for your comments and history on your own journey through translations. In some areas the NLT does a great job, but then others (Romans 3:22) it fail miserably. Tomorrow we begin the first of several weeks with the readings from HCSB. Then GW. Several of our members have purchased GW on their own and find it just right for their reading of Scripture.


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