Give thanks with a grateful heart

As I reflect on life and especially at this time of year I see how easily my heart is hardened. Oh, not in the obvious outright ways we tend to think of hardness. But in the small details of not thanking God. Only it is not a small thing to God. And so, as I read Psalm 138 today, my heart is reminded again of the basis for thanksgiving. Not in me, but in God himself.

I will give thanks to you with all my heart.
I will make music to praise you in front of the false gods.
I will bow toward your holy temple.
I will give thanks to your name because of your mercy and truth.
You have made your name and your promise greater than everything.
(Psalm 138:1-2 GW)

The key for me is the “because” of vs. 2. Giving thanks and making music and bowing in the presence of God are because

…because of God’s mercy and truth

God tells the truth about everything. Only by being truthful about all things can God deal with the reality of this life. The truth is my heart often does not want to give thanks. I like to admit that some of this present life is my responsibility. And it is, the sin, the anger that sometimes lingers. The truth is that I have failed miserably.

But there is a greater truth than even my failures. God speaks the truth, acts in truth, and remain true to himself regardless of what happens or what people think or say or do. Ultimately God sends his Son, Jesus Christ who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” The truth is that unless Jesus died for that sin and rose again victorious over death, I would be fighting my own battle against sin, death, and the devil. And who could I thank for that?

But Jesus is truth, and brings the truth also of God’s mercy. “Christ died for us while we were still sinners. This demonstrates God’s love for us” (Romans 5:8 GW). God’s mercy far outweighs out greatest sins, even my not being thankful. And yet because God is merciful and truthful, He extends undeserved blessings upon me, the chief of sinners.

… because You have made your name and your promise greater than everything.

God’s name is greater than everything. His name, “I AM WHO I IAM” (Yahweh, Exodus 3:14) is always in the context of salvation and deliverance. When Moses was wrestling with God about the certainty of God’s presence and his name, we read in Exodus 6 that God speaks to the people through Moses. At the beginning is the phrase “I am the LORD” and then it is repeated at the end. In between God promises seven times what God himself will do.

“Tell the Israelites, ‘I am the LORD. I will bring you out from under the oppression of the Egyptians, and I will free you from slavery. I will rescue you with my powerful arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 Then I will make you my people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the forced labor of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you to the land I solemnly swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your own possession. I am the LORD.’” (Exodus 6:6-8 GW)

The truth, power, and promise through his name is beyond Moses’ imagination. And far greater than the Israelites could have hoped for. God stakes his own name on his promises. He speaks: “I will…” and there are no more certain words ever spoken.

Heart of Jesus
Heart of Jesus

…and so I will give thanks with a grateful heart

The response of someone who has heard the truth of sin and condemnation but even more heard the truth of what Jesus has done about that is to give thanks. Not in a begrudging way, not with a quick nod to a distant God. But giving thanks with a grateful heart, a heart that has been made alive. A heart that is free from sin, guilt, shame, fear, doubt, …

As the hymn notes:

Now Thank We All Our God

Now thank we all our God, With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done, In whom his world rejoices;
Who from our mother’s arms Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, And still is ours to-day.

O may this bounteous God Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in his grace, And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills In this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God The Father now be given,
The son, and him who reigns, With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God, Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, And shall be evermore.

This Psalm brings me back from my dark moments. Forgive me, Lord. And brings me to the new reality: to one of a grateful heart who begins once again to give thanks to God—because of who God is and what He has done.


Global Study Bible (ESV) — Part 2

In my first part I looked at the physical features (design, payout, fonts, etc.) of GSB. Overall, very positive. Today I want to explore the content of GSB (again, not the ESV translation itself). As prelude to this, I acknowledge that I am a Christian who confesses the faith as a Lutheran, as expressed in the Book of Concord (Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church 1580). This will influence some of my hesitations and critiques below.

General Introduction

One of the challenges of a study Bible is to identify what doctrinal stance is taken. In the “Doctrinal Perspective” (p. 12) we read:

The doctrinal perspective of the ESV Global Study Bible is that of classic evangelical orthodoxy in the historic stream of the Reformation. … At times the notes also summarize interpretations that are inconsistent with classic evangelical orthodoxy, indicating how and why such views are in conflict with Scripture. Within that broad tradition of evangelical orthodoxy, the notes have sought to represent fairly the various evangelical positions on disputed topics such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, the future of ethnic Israel, and questions concerning the millennium and other events connected with the time of Christ’s return.

That is an admirable statement, but does not quite seem accurate. “Evangelical orthodoxy” has most often been associated with the Lutheran Confessions of the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras. Throughout the past 460 years the followers of Luther were called “evangelicals” and the church itself was called Evangelische Kirche (Gospel Church). Thus, the section should probably be reworded as “evangelical orthodoxy in the historic stream of the Reformed tradition.”

This shows up in two separate ways.

1 Cor. 11:24 The expression This is my body has been interpreted in various ways through church history. Roman Catholics believe the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ. Lutherans hold that the literal body and blood of Christ are present “in, with, and, under” the bread and wine. Some Anglicans refer to the “real presence” of Christ in the bread and wine. Most other Protestants believe that Christ is present symbolically and spiritually, strengthening believers’ faith and fellowship in him and thereby feeding their souls (see Matt. 18:20; 28:20).

Notice that in the descriptions the authors try to follow their guideline above. But from the last comma to the end, it appears as if that phrase (“strengthening believers’ faith and fellowship in him and thereby feeding their souls”) applies only to the last group. Yet, the RCC, Lutheran, and Anglican confessions teach and support that exact thing. In other words, the note is misleading in how it is constructed. Also, the two Scripture references seem out of place in this context, unless one holds to the “most other Protestants” position. If they were being consistent, then that last sentence should have been broken into two parts:

Most other Protestants believe that Christ is present symbolically and spiritually. In all cases, the church bodies (or better confessions) hold that receiving communion strengthens believers’ faith and fellowship in him and thereby feeds their souls.

Then in one of the Gospel accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper is this note:

Mark 14:23-24 he took the cup See note on Matt. 26:27. The communion wine corresponds to the covenant-establishing, once-and-for-all shed blood as atonement for many.

The wording reflects again the “most other Protestants” position, especially without any further explanation.

Another note reflects this “most other Protestant” view on Baptism:

1 Peter 3:21 Baptism saves you because it represents inward faith.

So rather than reflect the text, now it is changed to “baptism represents inward faith.” While a further comment on this verse notes that “Christians have disagreed about the proper mode.” Yet, there is no such note that Christians disagree about whether Baptism actually saves or it is only a “symbol.” See the next change the authors introduce into the comment

1 Peter 3:21 “Christians have disagreed about the proper mode of water baptism…”

So, it is not only enough to speak or write of baptism but now it has to be clarified as “water baptism.” One wonders what happens according to Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4 (“one baptism”)? Well, as a matter of fact, here is the comment:

Eph. 4:5 One baptism may refer to the baptism of all believers into one body (see 1 Cor. 12:13) or it may refer to water baptism as such.

These examples demonstrate that the study notes do not represent “classic evangelical orthodoxy in the historic stream of the Reformation.” Rather, the study notes reflect one strand within one branch of Reformed theology.


Each body has two introductions:

1) Introduction to _________

The first one is standard for any study Bible, usually presented in two pages. It covers Author/Date/Recipients, Theme, Purpose, Key Themes, and Outline, with a map relative to the world in which it was written. These are short but thorough for an introduction. The pieces are easily identified and work well for a study Bible. Sometimes Bible book introductions are too long and do not function well for referencing quickly later.

2) The Global Message of _________.

The unique factor of this GSB is the inclusion of these introductions. Of the many I have read, I find them useful for thinking through the particular book. And these serve well for discussion points after having read and studied the book. Another strong point of this feature is that each introduction ends with a discussion of “The Global Message of _______ for Today.” In other words, the first deals with the original setting, and this deals with how to apply it in a global context.

The Introductions are the highlights of this study Bible and along with the layout and design features make this an imminently useful tool.

Study Notes

I will not cover many items here, since I already addressed some in the previous section. At the bottom of each page are study notes to guide the student of the Word. Obviously with limited space the notes will be limited as well. The Fact notes are very helpful, well placed, and stand out with the light tan background color.

It appears that some study notes compensate for the lack of cross references. For instance, regarding Matt. 3:15, the study note references 2 Cor. 5:21, but no other links to the passages noted above concerning righteousness. So, even with the added study note, there is no link for the student. Likewise the study note at 1 Cor. 10:16 connects to the three Gospel accounts regarding the Lord’s Supper.

Occasionally notes seem superfluous. Consider these:

Eph. 5:28-30 The body for which Christ sacrificed himself was the church.

Phil. 1:20 The crucial thing for Paul is not life or death, it is maintaining his faithful witness to Christ.

1 Cor. 1:23 Or Christ as a stumbling block see note on Isa. 8:11-15.

Or it can be one-sided in helping the reader:

1 Thessalonians 2:14 this That is, salvation (v. 13).

In this case, v. 13 has three things: “firstfruits to be saved, through the sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” Is it “salvation” or all three elements considered as one?

Cross References

I mentioned in the first review that the font size was too small for me to use. Two consecutive nights of using the Bible when teaching confirmed that limitation. I also showed the Bible to several others, and the immediate response was “That print is way too small!” Even now, with my bifocals, I have to get the light just right, with the distance just right, and it is still a strain to see the references; even then I cannot make out the superscripted letters in the references without a magnifying glass.

I have checked only a few cross references.

For Psalm 110, I was pleased to see the extensive New Testament citations. Rarely do study and reference Bibles give all the references; GSB is commended for this. Again, I couldn’t make out the superscript letters in the footnote, but I could guess based on the separation with the word “Cited.” Otherwise it leaves the student perplexed or needing a magnifying glass to decipher.

Phil. 3:9 The cross references were Rom. 10:5, 9:30, 1 Cor. 1:30. Surprisingly , I would have expected Rom. 1:16-17 and 3:19-26, Matt. 5:20, Matt. 3:15, perhaps 2 Cor. 5:21, and a few other references to the righteousness of faith; but none were listed.  Interestingly at Matt. 5:20 there is a reference to Rom. 10:3 and Phil. 3:9; and at Matt. 3:15 there is no cross reference at all. So, from my perspective this instance leaves something to be desired.

1 Cor. 11:23-25 As expected the three Gospel accounts were cited: Matt. 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:19-20. But I expected to find 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. Now, looking at 1 Cor. 10:16, there is a reference to Matt. 26:27-28 and 1 Cor. 11:25. So it works one way but not the other. Perhaps the assumption is that the student is reading straight through 1 Corinthians, and so the reference at 10:16 is sufficient. But if the student forgets about it, then there is no other access to the 1 Cor. 10:16-17 reference. The three Gospel accounts have references to 1 Cor. 11:23-25, but not 10:16-17.

Obviously this is very selective, but it shows some inconsistencies in the extensive use of cross references (Ps. 110) and the total lack of cross references (Matt. 3:15). I will continue to look at this, but until I buy a magnifying glass, it will be slow and painful at best.

Overall Assessment

The Global Study Bible (GSB) offers a mixed bag for the student of Scripture. The design and layout features are unparalleled in any study Bible I have used or reviewed. Comparing to The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB) published by CPH, GSB is far and away better in design and layout (except for cross reference font size).

The global and mission focus of the GSB is to be applauded. Excellent work in challenging the Bible student to look beyond the immediate neighborhood for context and application. The “Book Introductions” are useful for the beginning student and for the one who has the background but quickly wants review that information. “The Global Message Introductions” make GSB unique among study Bibles. This could prove useful for personal study and application, small group studies, or large presentation studies to make people aware of the global nature and mission of the Bible.

Unfortunately the meat of the “study” portion of GSB leaves the reader/student stranded. Cross references are inconsistent, sometimes extensive, and other times leaving the student short without connections to other portions of pertinent Scriptures. The study notes themselves seem almost too little to be a good study Bible, and offer limited help even in passages that are addressed. Compare these notes with those in The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB); TLSB stands head and shoulders above GSB in this regard.

I find GSB to be an interesting Bible with great potential (with appropriate changes). At this point, however, I don’t think I could recommend the GSB to people in the congregation I serve. From the perspective of usefulness, the extremely small cross reference font makes it inaccessible to most, if not all, people. The notes are uneven and sadly reflect basically one strand of Reformed theology.

A possible solution?

I would change the focus just a little, and call it Global Reference Bible. The focus would be on the Book Introductions, the writings at the back of the Bible (which I did not review), and an extended cross reference section with legible font size. I would drop all study notes on specific verses at the bottom of the page but keep all the notes on Profile, Fact, Character inserts, as well as the Tables, Illustrations, and Maps. I would then increase the overall size of the Bible from: 5.375″ x 8.375″ to 7″ x 10″. This would still make it a portable Bible (unlike the “large print” TLSB “weight-lifters” edition at 7.5 lbs!), and would provide a readable Bible, and hence very useful beneficial to the users with the right focus on global and missions.

Given these changes, I would readily recommend the revised Bible.

Global Study Bible (ESV) Part 1

Yesterday I visited a Christian book store and discovered a very recent addition to the ESV lineup of Bibles: Global Study Bible [GSB] (2012). This review is an initial impression of the GSB, not of the ESV translation.

Goal of GSB

The goal of the Global Study Bible is, above all, to honor the Lord by:

      • Its excellence, beauty, and value.
      • Helping people everywhere to know and understand the Bible, the gospel, and Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
      • And addressing life-and-death issues of truth and justice, beauty and righteousness—facing individual Christians, the global church, and communities of people everywhere around the world.

As an initial view on the GSB, these are not only laudable goals, but seem to be achieved with its publication.

I had passed by that stand several times, not really wanting to look at ESV Bibles; although I admit I am fan of having many Bibles, including the ESV. But I already had three different style ESV Bibles. But then the title of the Bible seemed to call to me: “What is a Global Study Bible?” I didn’t find it pretentious at all. From my 30+ years of church service, I have always leaned toward the missionary side of church, both local and international. So I assumed that it was some kind of mission related Bible. And it is, but also more.

With the purchase of the GSB, the person then has access to the identical Bible online. I registered this morning and saw that it was not only the same, but it gives the user the ability to take notes. So, this seems to be a good blend of traditional print material as well as developing technology.

Another benefit of registering online is this will allow a second person to receive a copy as well—free! The person receiving it will be “another Global Christian, wherever the demand is greatest, anywhere in the world.” Now that is an excellent approach to distributing the Word of God! Sometimes “give aways” are for those within the same realm (i.e. North America); but here Crossway determines where the greatest need it. I like this very much! Well done!

Maps, Maps, and Maps!

I like maps! Maps are essential in teaching, reference work, and personal study. Well done maps are a great aid in teaching. Poorly done maps are discouraging at best. Sadly I have found Bible maps often disappointing: colors clash, colors too flashy, font choices are wrong style, size, and even color. Topographic features tend to overwhelm data on the maps. You get the idea—I am very critical about maps.

The GSB maps in the back (15 color maps) are the best quality I have seen in study Bibles without exception. The color combinations are clear but not overwhelming nor conflicting. Even the topographic elements do not overshadow the text and boundaries. The fonts used on the maps are excellent: the right size and style of font, Regions are bold, capital letters, cities are smaller, italic (but very readable italic). The maps are easy to read, understand, and use.

But there is more!

Illustration in GSB
Illustration in GSB

GSB includes another 119 maps that are spread throughout the text of Scripture. I like the two-tone colors of the maps (black font and outlines, faint beige for shading and caption backgrounds). The only negative is that there is slight bleed through, but still legible and useful. In comparison, the in-text maps in The Lutheran Study Bible (by LCMS) are much harder to read because of the bleed-through and the font choices.

Font Choices

Scripture Text

Layout Features in GSB
Layout Features in GSB

For many people, font choices don’t matter much —until there is a problem. In the GSB font choices make the difference between borderline acceptable choices and useful choices. The challenge is to provide as much information on each page as possible without overwhelming the reader. The text of Scripture itself is usable. I would prefer a slightly larger font, but that would require a larger format for the entire Bible. The specific font is easily readable.

Cross references and study notes

The cross references are a little too small for my older eyes. Also, the study notes at the bottom, while a little larger than the cross references, are a little too small. Again, passable but not ideal. Considering the size of the Bible itself and the volume of information packed into it, the trade off on font size means less than ideal conditions. But as I have begun reading this in the last two days, I find the text itself and the study notes acceptable; the cross references require effort to see clearly (and yes, I have recently had my eyes examined).

Headings, Timelines, and Backgrounds

Like the “Names of God Bible“ (using God’s Word), the headings and highlights are in a subtle tan color that works well in this type of Bible. It draws attention to the headings, but does not distract from reading the text itself. The same color scheme is used in the “Fact” blocks of text (there are 900 hundred used throughout the Bible) and for the maps, as well as simple timelines at the beginning of each book.

Mark Introduction
Timeline for Gospel According to Mark

I like the timelines placement, and the color separation. It becomes an easy reference to find. Bleed-through is minimal, so they are easily read at a quick glance.

Pages numbers (centered at the top), Scripture references (outside margin on the top), and large Chapter numbers also use the darker tan colored font. Each is easy to find, easy to read, and does not dominate the page.

Overall for font choices: excellent, and a very pleasing affect!

Other features

Charts, diagrams and illustrations

Some times these additional aids actually become a stumbling block: either too much detail, or too small print or not enough detail. Finding the right mix for study and teaching purposes is difficult. GSB editors have done an excellent job in this regard.

The additional resources in terms of charts/diagrams (119 total) and illustrations (36 total) makes this a very useful study tool. The color scheme (see above) and the detail in each case is enough to understand the chart/diagram or the illustration. As one who draws many of charts/diagrams free hand for class purposes, these make an ideal complement for my work.

Character Profiles

There are 120 Character Profiles scattered throughout the text of GSB. These are one paragraph to give an overview of the person, including a few pertinent Scripture references. Given the nature of this study Bible and the limitations of space, they seem appropriate to be the right length, just enough to get a sense, with the help if further study is desired or needed. These are highlighted with a faint grey background to easily distinguish it from the Fact boxes in the text (see pp. 82-83).

Double Chapter Introductions

Each book of the Bible receives an introduction to cover such things as Author, Date, Message Highlights, Key Themes, and an Outline. These are helpful without being too detailed, especially the Themes and Outlines. The Introduction is followed by another introduction specifically related to the Global nature of the message. The title of this section is “The Global Message of ____.”

Global Message Sample
Global Message Introduction to Gospel According to Mark

Both introductions were direct, concise, and easily referenced. Although I have not read all of the Global Message introductions, I have read enough to realize that they have given me pause to consider the global implications of the text; food for thought in a global context. And this is good for students of the Bible!

Conclusion of Physical Features

Except for the size of the font for the cross references, the Global Study Bible is a winner. The font choices, the color combinations, the maps, chart/diagrams, and illustrations are superb. This is an excellent resource for study and teaching. In fact, I used it last night for teaching Bible class to see how it would work for me. Very convenient, and usable in that environment. While not theologically up to the caliber of The Lutheran Study Bible (ESV) produced by Concordia Publishing House, the Global Study Bible is actually more useful in a quick reference situation and extended study because of the above mentioned features.

Another Challenge of NKJV

As much as I like the NKJV, there are some challenges in using it. The first challenge, as mentioned in the last post, is the use of biblish (words used only in church settings that are unfamiliar or different than normal English usage). That is not insurmountable, as I noted: it can be overcome with sufficient teaching.

The second challenge relates to sentence structure and sentence length. The classic example I use is Ephesians 1:3-14, which combines the issues of complex sentence structure, sentence length, and biblish. (I removed the verse numbers and then separated according to sentences.)

3-6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

7-10 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.

11-12 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.

13-14 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

So four sentences, and the length of each is far above the normal sentence length of most other writings. We can debate how that is a loss from previous generations, and lament the loss, but that doesn’t help in addressing the needs of Bible readers and Bible students today. Here is a sentence number and length comparison table for five current translations. The number behind the translation abbreviation indicates the number of sentences in 1:3-14, and the number in the table indicates the number of words in each sentence.

Ephesians 1:3-14 Sentence number and length

The NKJV essentially follows the Greek sentence structure used in  NA-27. And that is the problem. You can see NIV 2011 and HCSB try to avoid that extreme, generally keeping sentence length between 20-56, whereas GW avoids any sentence over 25 words. Note that GW can seem choppy with that many short sentences. But is that any worse than the extended, complex sentences of NKJV (and NAS95) or even ESV?

A few nights ago in our (my wife’s and my) devotion, I was reading Acts 3 in NKJV. For 3:2-3 the oral reading was awkward.

Acts 3:2-3

NKJV And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms.

Consider a couple other versions that remedy this problem:

NIV 2011 Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.

HCSB And a man who was lame from birth was carried there and placed every day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple complex, he asked for help.

Now keep in mind, I have been reading orally in worship for 35 years, preaching and teaching for 30 years, and using NAS for most of that time. So I am used to longer sentences, awkward phrases, etc. But this example illustrates the difficulty that people have in reading a text like this, not just in worship, but in the private room at home (most silent reading is actually oral reading in the head).

So while the NKJV is an excellent translation in many ways, especially for study, the complexity and length of sentences can become an obstacle for encouraging and continuing reading the Bible privately. It also presents a challenge for oral reading in worship, both for the reader and for the hearer.

Other Translations: NKJV

It seems appropriate to examine a few other translations that could be useful in this search. Thus, I will consider NKJV and NAS95. And then a quick look at a couple more recent ones: CEB (Common English Bible) and NABRE (New American Bible Revised Edition). In this post I will comment on the NKJV (New King James Version).


There is much to like about the NKJV, especially for those who have some church background. The style while modernized still has the flavor of the KJV. Thus familiar passages “sound like they should.” The examples I provide may or may not be the best translation, but demonstrate the value and consistency of the translation. Perhaps the classic text is Psalm 23:

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.

3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

4 Yea, 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 runs over.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Just the rhythm feels like home. I tell younger pastors that if they are visiting elderly people, they should have Psalm 23 on a separate sheet in either KJV or NKJV. Another like this one, but I will only quote seven verses rather than all 20. Luke 2:1-7

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

What would the Christmas reading be without this familiarity? Well, still Christmas, obviously, but the sense of stability in hearing the story “once again.”

Other familiar renderings:

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?

Almost familiar

There are a few passages that recall the KJV (and liturgical formulations) but not quite. For instance, Psalm 51:10-12 (highlighted words denote those that are modified)

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

I think the reader gets the idea.

Translation Issues

The NKJV translators offer a very traditional church culture translation; some would call many of the words in this category as “biblish,” indicating words that are only in a church/worship setting, and may not be understood even by those within the church. Words such as propitiation, righteousness, beseech, beloved, etc. fall into this category. However, even some of the more specific attempts by translations to avoid biblish are not entirely successful; witness how ἱλαστήριον (hilsterion) is translated in Romans 3:25 in NIV 2011, GW, NLT, etc. So, even with these translations there is a need to “see what it means.”

But having biblish in a translation is not all bad. Because we are a liturgical tradition (Lutheran), any translation must work within a liturgical service. The biblish can be useful in this context. It requires some teaching, but given many different contexts, when worship and the rest of the Christian life is integrated, then the teaching matches in each. And the continuity if faith expression is perhaps best done by the NKJV. (Note that HCSB changed in 2009 to include a bullet next to “propitiation” indicating that the definition was included in a special appendix for ease of looking up unfamiliar words.)

Some examples

This first example is even more than just biblish, it is a case of transliteration of the Greek word. But it opens up some understanding of the text that many other translations obscure.

1 Peter 3:21

NKJV  There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

NAS95 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

NAB This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

NIV 2011 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscienceb toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ

NLTse And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the worst translation is the NIV 2011 (also 1984), when using “symbolizes.” In English and especially within one segment of Christianity, the word denotes something far different than this particular Greek word. Even NAS95 is weak in translation. NKJV’s antitype is a transliteration of the Greek word ἀντίτυπον. In the context, the salvation of Noah and family through the water is the type. The greater saving action is the antitype (the type points to the greater thing which is the antitype), saving people through water of baptism. Again, this is a case where teaching in the community supports and expands the liturgical use.

In Amos 5:15, I think the NKJV (and ESV) is weaker than NAS95 (and NIV 2011).

NKJV Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate. It may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

NAS95 Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts may be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Amos is addressing the “credit card” mentality of the people—they wandered off after other gods, then came back to the temple assuming that God has to be gracious. They were presuming upon God. While the NKJV “it may be” indicates a little of tension, it is not nearly as strong as the word “perhaps.”

Textual Basis

Perhaps the most notable thing about the NKJV is that it essentially follows the same textual basis as the KJV called textus receptus [TR] (“received text”). The TR consists of the majority of manuscripts, but almost all are later dates. On the other hand, most other modern translations use the NA-27 (called an “eclectic text”) Greek text that is based on older, but fewer manuscripts. I won’t go into the issues in this post. Check our Michael Marlowe’s site for a thorough overview of the issues.

Most variations are insignificant, but there are a few passages that merit mention. The following texts do not appear in some of the earlierGreek manuscripts, but are consistently present in the later Greek manuscripts.

Mark 16:9-20

John 7:53-8:11

So, the question becomes “Are these portions part of the Bible or not?” In other translations you will see a note to that effect, and the passages will be marked off in some way. Thus, they acknowledge that there is limited early testimony to the passage, but there is extensive support for its acceptance within the text later on. In the NKJV (and KJV) there is no separation of the texts; in other words the “received text’ that was the basis for the KJV had each of them as part of the text. The NKJV translators were given the mandate to follow the same textual basis. But they also included footnotes to note the difference in the manuscripts.

Another example is 1 John 5:6-8

NKJV This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. 7 For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness on earth: [a] the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.

NAS95 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  7 For there are three that testify:  8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

In this case, the textus receptus included the highlighted words that were not present in any Greek manuscript. Only a few very late Latin manuscripts included the words. Obviously they were not part of the original text. The NKJV translation, however, was obligated to include them because of the decision to follow the KJV text basis.

But the NKJV translators provided a valuable service with more extensive footnotes regarding differences between the textus receptus and the NA-27 edition. This is far more than any other Bible provides and so is a significant help to the student of the textual traditions.

Assessment of NKJV

Obviously this is a very brief glimpse at the NKJV. My use of it since the whole Bible was published in 1982 persuades me that it is a very useable translation. I think it could stand an update in regard to some of the gender issues (as even the ESV translators partially addressed). With some of the caveats mentioned above, I could easily use this in liturgical settings, Bible classes, Bible memory, and could be useable in outreach.

I put the NKJV and NAS as the best of the more formal equivalence translations; it is much better than the ESV and NIV.

NKJV is a keeper of a translation.