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?
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.
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.)
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.”
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.
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.