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.

Author: exegete77

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

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