December 3, 2020

Ask Chaplain Mike: My Use of the English Bible

My Confirmation Bible (RSV)

Here’s a good question from a reader that will be fun for me to answer and I hope will prompt some good discussion. I’m eager to hear your responses.

Today’s Question:
Tell us about your use of the English Bible.  Likes, loves, etc.  It’ll generate some comments to be sure. So the question is, “What are your favorite English Bible translations?”


Thanks for your question. I enjoy talking about the Bible almost as much as I enjoy studying it and teaching it. One of my passions as a pastor was to help people study the Word for themselves. A key part of that was helping them understand the differences between Bible versions, and to explain why I chose the translations I used.

Let me tell you about my journey. When I was a child, I attended United Methodist churches, so the Bible I heard in worship and Sunday School, and which I was given at confirmation was the Revised Standard Version. Since I was not much of a Bible reader or student at that time in my life, it shows little wear, and I never did become attached to that translation.

At the time of my spiritual awakening in the early 1970’s, I fell in love with the Good News Translation. I had one of those “Good News for Modern Man” paperback New Testaments and I devoured it with delight. Its wonderfully simple, evocative line drawings by Annie Vallotton complemented the GNT’s clear renderings of Jesus’ message. There was and is something fresh and immediate about its style, and I love reading it to this day. It takes me back to those “honeymoon” days of my first love with the Lord when he called me to follow him.

After John had been put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee and preached the Good News from God. The right time has come, he said, and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!

As Jesus walked along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, catching fish with a net. Jesus said to them, Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people. At once they left their nets and went with him.

He went a little farther on and saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in their boat getting their nets ready. As soon as Jesus saw them, he called them; they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and went with Jesus.

• Mark 1:14-20, GNT

It was at that point that I began studying the Bible.

My first serious study Bible was The New Scofield Reference Bible (1967 ed.). It came in a modified King James Version format, with all the study notes and cross-references and other helps. To this day, I think the New Scofield had the best concordance I’ve ever used, and its cross references were marvelous.

Of course, the problem with any reference Bible like this is that one tends to get enamored by the study apparatus and become sidetracked from reading and meditating on the text itself. The specific problem with the New Scofield, as I would come to believe, was that the system of “dispensational truth” it taught was wanting in many regards. These days I hesitate to recommend study Bibles to people. One can do much better with the text and a few good commentaries and Bible reference tools. Plus, there are simply too many “theme” Bibles out there that aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.

Moving on from the New Scofield Bible, I found the one version that would become the mainstay for my life and ministry.

Mike's Trusty, Battered NASB

That would be the New American Standard Bible. The NASB (along with the KJV and ESV) is the most “literal” translation in English—that is, it not only renders the words literally, but also follows the sentence structure of the original languages. At times this makes it a bit awkward for simple reading in English, but I find it invaluable for study. Though I know how to glean from the original Hebrew and Greek with proper language tools, I have always done most of my study in English and find that the NASB has allowed me to both check and teach the sense of the original more easily.

One of the places I have found this most valuable is in teaching the NT epistles, where conjunctions and other connecting words are often invested with great meaning. Yet most modern translations tend to break up the original long sentences that are joined together by these words into individual sentences, and the relationships between the thoughts are broken. An example is Ephesians 5:18-21—

The NASB translates this passage:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

This translation properly shows the relationship between the main command (Be filled with the Spirit) and the three participles discussing actions that should attend the fulfillment of that command (speaking, singing and making melody, giving thanks, being subject).

Now note how this is rendered in the NIV, a less “literal” translation designed for easier reading in English:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Instead of translating the participles as participles and showing their relationship to the main verb, the NIV confuses the reader by translating the text using three main verbs—(1) Be filled with the Spirit, (2) Sing and make music, and (3) Submit to one another. The last one is even separated from the “Spirit” command and placed as the first primary command of the next section, as though it were introducing a new topic! Over the years, I have found it hard to teach the details of the text when Bible translators make interpretive decisions like that.

This is one reason I don’t use versions like the Good News Translation, JB Phillips NT, NIV, or the New Living Translation for study or for teaching in an expository style. Now I do enjoy reading these versions, and you will see all of them (and more) quoted on Internet Monk. Eugene Peterson’s The Message is even more of a paraphrase, an attempt to bring out the earthiness and vividness of the original into a style he calls, “American.” I find it useful primarily for quoting, when it brings out a particular nuance with striking language. A version that falls somewhat in between these and the NASB is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The English Standard Version (ESV) is also a more literal translation; I just happen to prefer the NASB because I have used it for so many years.

In addition, I have found that some commentaries include original translations by the authors, and these can be very insightful. NT Wright is supposed to publish his NT translation in September (The King’s Version), and I’m assuming it will come from the work he has done in his “For Everyone” series of layperson’s commentaries.

I have always encouraged people to have at least three or four good Bible translations of different types and to compare them when studying a passage. This is one of the best ways for people to start to come to grips with some of the interpretive issues that are involved in a close reading and careful study of the biblical text.

This has been fun for me, sharing this with you. I hope it will be helpful to some and prompt some good feedback and discussion.

Chaplain Mike


  1. Let me be the first to congratulate N.T. Wright on his elevation to the monarchy. Or is he perhaps suggesting that Christ intends to actively assist with the project?

    It probably all comes down to abbreviations. “NTWV” sounds like it would be a translation into the dialect of West Virginia. “King of Kings Version” (KKV) calls to mind karaoke (KTV).

  2. I have been very impressed with the ESV. It has better English than the NASB, but is much more literal than the NIV. As a pastor, I tend to preach out of the NIV, since perhaps 80 percent of the congregation carries that. As you noted, however, it is useless for in depth study of the epistles. It changes sentence structure more times than not, and makes almost all the exegetical choices for you. When I preach on the epistles, I often create my own literal and diagrammed translation, then print that in the bulletin.

    Btw, the ESV Study Bible has amazing notes and graphics. If I had to have only one edition of the Bible, that would be it.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      I like my ESV Study Bible a lot also. In fact, I first heard about it here on this site! It leans a little Calvinist at times, but I can deal with that. It’s so heavy, though, that if I’m using a music stand as an improvised pulpit, it tends to collapse the dang thing! Of course, that makes it mighty impressive to preach from. When I do, I always make a joke about it being my “Pharisee’s Edition” that is designed to make me look “extra holy.” heh heh

      I’ve seen on that they have a more manageable size as a new edition. They’ve left all the commentary in, but have cut a bunch of the articles. And that’s why I didn’t buy it. I love the articles.

      • Yeah, I’ve noticed the Calvinist leanings in some of the notes, too. It’s not too bad, though. And you’re right: the thing is huge

        • Steve Newell says

          Daniel, I find you comment interesting about the ESV considering the fact that Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod has adopted the ESV as the “offical” translations that has been used in their new hymnal and study bible.

          Mike Spencer had a very kind review of both the Lutheran Service Book (hymnal) and the Lutheran Study Bible.

          • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

            I think the ESV has gained a reputation for being the choice for conservative Evangelicals who want a scholarly translation, similar to how the NRSV has gained a reputation for being the choice for liberal mainliners who want a scholarly translation. Now, I don’t really think either of those reputations reflect the absolute facts, but they do seem to be the reputations.

          • The conservative seminary that I went to required the NRSV for all papers.

      • You also get some Calvinist leanings in the NASB and NIV too.

        The worst translation in terms of blatant tendencies is the NAB. You can easily tell it was translated by a bunch of hardline Catholics that think Protestant views are heretical.

      • I have a parallel Bible which has the NKJV, NIV, NLT & NASB across the pages. It is a beast of a book & makes me look most learned. I read the NLT, & now the Message myself, whilst I attempt to start learning Greek again.

        Does anyone know of a Study Bible that leans away from Calvinism? I like to choose my biases.

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

          St. Ignatius Press has recently put out an NRSV Catholic study bible. I’m sure that’s decidedly NOT Calvinistic.

          Y’know, I was reading a book about the history of the KJV and other English bibles, and the Calvinists were putting out English study bibles as far back as the 16th Century, with the Geneva Bible. Though the translation was pretty good, the establishment in England really hated the overtly Puritan/Calvinist notes in it. Of course, it was the notes that made it so popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.

    • The ESV Study Bible is the one reference Bible I would recommend to people.

      • I am surprised that you say this. Considering where you come from theologically, I thought the ESV Study Bible would be on the bottom of your list.

        • Welcome back, Mark. I’ve missed you. And here we go again—”where I come from theologically”—which is pretty mainstream evangelical with Reformed, especially Lutheran, emphases. And that contradicts my liking the ESV Study Bible how?

          • Thanks Mike. Good to be back.

            I didn’t know you had elements of Reformed theology in your beliefs. Does that mean you hold to a form of individual election to salvation? Praise the Lord.

    • Long-time NASB user, now enamored with the ESV. Probably the best, most comprehensive, and most affordable, study Bible on the market. I agree with CM’s statement that most “themed” study Bibles aren’t really worth a hill of beans (for hunters, dads, moms, women, teens, all four branches of the armed forces, nurses…I’m just waiting for the proctologists’ study Bible to come out…).

      • Come to think of it, The “Light in the Darkness Study Bible” sounds like something I would actually see in the local Christian bookstore…

        Sorry, CM.

        One of my “1611” friends look at my ESV and tell me “There’s no blood in that Bible”. The same guy also once referred to my copy of The Message as “The Hustler Version”.

      • Calebite says

        Proctologist’s Study Bible! We need the ‘like’ button. I assume this version would use the KJV vernacular for donkey?

        I too am a long time NASB user, who is now enjoying the ESV.

        • I heard recently about some new version that is changing the word “booty” to something innocuous. Plunder, perhaps? Loot? Swag?

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Of course, the problem with any reference Bible like this is that one tends to get enamored by the study apparatus and become sidetracked from reading and meditating on the text itself. The specific problem with the New Scofield, as I would come to believe, was that the system of “dispensational truth” it taught was wanting in many regards.

    There’s one even worse in that respect than the Scofield, both in sidetracking and weird dispensationalism: The Dake’s Annotated Bible. That was THE Bible used in that splinter church that got me back in the Seventies.

    • Josh in FW says

      What is a good resource for an overview/history of dispensational theology that is not too derogatory or praiseworthy of the system?

      • Josh, I generally stay away from dispensational theology other than to remind myself what it’s like and to refresh on what the seven dispensations are.

        But, the two authors that impressed me as responsible are Charles Swindoll and Charles Ryrie. They haven’t persuaded me, but I think they’re trustworthy at least.

        Ryrie also has a study bible, and maybe another reader can comment on that.

        • My parents gave me a NAS Ryrie study Bible when I was in high school; I used it until the cover came apart, had it rebound, and still have it. I also have a KJV Ryrie study Bible that has become my main reading Bible; as an English teacher, I just love the poetic sound of the KJV for my memorization.

          As far as using the Ryrie study Bible — I like the way it’s set up, although I find myself disagreeing with more than a few of his comments (e.g. the “one needful thing” that Jesus told Martha she needed was NOT one simple dish, which Ryrie claims). But the footnotes are good for giving the literal Hebrew or Greek translations of key phrases where the English translation is inaccurate or unclear.

          • The Ryrie study Bible also italicizes words that do not appear in the original languages — I like that.

          • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

            That’s pretty common in most KJV, NKJV, and NASB versions, as well as to some of the KJV’s antecedents.

          • “the “one needful thing” that Jesus told Martha she needed was NOT one simple dish, which Ryrie claims”

            Ha! On behalf of my confirmation saint, that makes me laugh; can’t you just picture it?

            Martha: Lord, tell my sister to come and help me feed you and that gang of hungry layabouts that traipse around after you!

            Jesus: Martha, Martha, you are busy with many things, but all you need is one thing – this simple one-pot casserole recipe which feeds twenty and can be cooked all in one dish which you just pop in the oven and allow to cook gently for two hours while you go about your other domestic duties or just sit back with a nice glass of Galilean Syrah and relax!

            “The Good News for Modern Man” version – oh, that takes me back, since that’s the Bible version we used in school for our Christian Doctrine classes when I was in secondary school (high school to you).

        • Josh in FW says

          Thanks. Since most of the staff at my church come from DTS I am quite inundated by the pro-dispensational viewpoint,. but I’m interested in reading up on some thoughtful criticisms of the dispensational view.

  4. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    I had a children’s edition of the New American Bible (i.e. official Catholic bible here in the States) as my first real bible. It had study notes that were WAAAY over my head. Many a Protestant youth pastor in my teenage years would see it, be very impressed with the notes, but then stumble upon Sirach or 1 Maccabees and get turned off!. I came to the conclusion that the only thing about that bible that was specifically geared to children was the cover art 😛

    When I turned 15, I got an NIV Student’s Bible from a would-be girlfriend for my birthday. I tore that thing up in high school. My first several times reading through the bible were in that one. It was so highlighted that there was no way of knowing what the highlights were for! Good times, good times.

    In my 20’s I spent a few years with David Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible (along with his Jewish New Testament Commentary) and various Orthodox Jewish versions of the OT and Torah (I was a Messianic in those days). I eventually realized that Stern’s translations were heavily influenced by the theological axes he wanted to grind, and that just would not do.

    In my late 20’s, I got my first ESV, mostly because it was pocket-sized, $10, and had a kickbutt celtic cross design on the cover. I fell in love with that translation and still primarily use it to this day. While I preferred the NRSV in the latter half of my graduate studies (my professors liked it, and I could get it with the Apocrypha as an appendix), I’ve come back to the ESV as my main bible. I think the English is prettier for public reading than just about anything other than the KJV. Plus, it’s more literal than the NRSV. I also had an NASB study bible during this period, but I never quite clicked with the translation. I just gave it away (like two days ago) to a friend who prefers NASB but hadn’t been able to find an NASB study bible.

    And finally, speaking of the KJV, I started using it out loud in my daily devotions for the 400th anniversary. Mostly, I started this on a dare, but I’ve come to really, really like it, especially out loud. I’ve also found out that reading it out loud has really helped me elocution. I just ordered a version of it in paragraph format, which I completely prefer to the traditional each-verse-has-it’s-own-line nonsense. I still do most of my studying out of the ESV, but I really have come to love the KJV over the last few months.

  5. I think other English Bibles to mentioned would be the HCSB, NET, and new ISV.

    The HCSB is right between the ESV and NIV in terms of translation philosophy. You get both the accuracy and the readability. Same with the new ISV.

    The NET is very similar to the NIV in terms of translation philosophy but it is very useful for exegesis or exposition because of its numerous textual notes at the bottom.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      I was given an HCSB as a gift a few years ago. I tried it but never really could get into it. Mostly, I felt myself asking why the publishers thought it was necessary to put on the market. I ended up stashing it in my backpack as an emergency for when I forgot my bible at school.

  6. It is almost scary, Mike, how much I find myself agreeing with you on the English Bible – which ones are good for reading, which for study – tho don’t think I have ever seen the ESV.

    Did my eyes cross, or did you miss the Jerusalem Bible?

    And have you seen the the obvious paraphrases of Gospels and/or Epistles such as the Cotton Patch New testament or “Are you Rapping with me Jesus?”, and if you have what do you think of them?

    • I am not as familiar with the Jerusalem Bible. As for the specialty “Bibles” you mention, they are more attempts to make the meaning of the Bible relevant to particular contemporary audiences than serious attempts at presenting a “Bible” for everyone. I would only consult them for illustration purposes.

      • Agreed. The Cotton Patch Gospels are extraordinary pieces of literature, and Clarence Jordan was a real gem of a man. If you enjoy Southern literature, civil rights history, or you’re familiar with cities in Georgia, you’ll really like The Cotton Patch. They are written in an almost Erskine Caldwell-like style, very gritty, dark at times, never boring. I’m a particular fan of Caldwell and the style, because my mom was almost expelled from high school in the 1950’s for bringing a copy of “Tobacco Road” to class.

        Parachurch groups started and inspired by Jordan, like Jubilee Partners and Koinonia, still use this version for illustrations. If you trace back the roots of Habitat for Humanity, you’ll also find Clarence Jordan there.

        Sorry again…prideful Georgia boy here.

  7. I am Episcopalian and our “official Bible” is the New Revised Standard Version. I own a King James because I like the way the psalms are written in that version. I use a Contemporary English Version (The Poverty and Justice Bible) for every day use and I really like that translation for most passages. I also use the Oxford annotated Bible for study as well as a synopsis of the four Gospels (side by side).

    There is also a great web site (YouVersion Bible), that has a smart phone application for reading the Bible. There are numerous versions available at the site. The web site has the ability to put two versions side by side. It is:

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      Is the Oxford Annotated an RSV or an NRSV? I think mine is the older RSV, but I’ve heard folks that have it in the NRSV.

      • Its an NRSV.

      • Yes, NRSV. I really like this Bible, if we’re talking about the same one, since it lays out poetic sections on the page similarly to how the NIV does—helps in reading a lot. Also, it includes the apocryphal books, both Catholic and Orthodox. Having those right in the same book as the rest of the Bible makes it very convenient to cross-reference. My only complaint is that the introductions to the books and the annotation notes often show a strong liberal bias, but in general, I go to this Bible more than any other currently.

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

          At one time it was the go-to bible for seminary professors in the mainlines. Like I said, mine is an older version, so it predates the NRSV translation by a couple decades. I don’t even remember where I got it, but I’ve used it in study here and there.

  8. You can learn a lot about a person by what they use to tell the story of their life. I was watching a snippet on Anderson Cooper (anchor on CNN) and he used a wall of press passes to tell the story of his life. My favorite way to tell the story of my life is to walk into my study where I have one shelf of all my life Bibles. Starting from left to right, I walk through my life from about 3rd grade to present day, showing my translations KJV->TEV->NKJV->NASB->NIV->ESV (with a scattering of HCSB, RSV, Scoffield mixed in).

    My only gripe is with Holeman, as near as I can tell it was only written so Lifeway could avoid copyright fees for NIV and ESV (and so they could control gender translations).

    For recommendations, except for “Good News Bible” I think any translation is fine for most everyone. Most people would be fine with NIV, the rest are for those who enjoy studying. I am presently on ESV.

  9. Sort of tangental, but as Phil notes above, we are moving into an age where people can view multiple versions and sermon notes all at once on devices like an iPad. Does anyone here do that? Does it help?

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      I’ve tried it. I usually don’t like it, unless I’m doing a very quick on-the-fly sort of message prep where I don’t have time for real study but want to do a lot of cutting and pasting. There’s something about electronic versions without real physical pages that makes actual study difficult for me. Also, if I know a general topic and where it likely is, but not the actual address of the verse, electronic versions drive me nuts. I just can’t navigate them as well. That said, I’ve had handheld devices with electronic bibles as part of my regular pocket contents since before Palm Pilots went color.

  10. Dan Crawford says

    The one translation I actually dislike is the NASB – I refuse to believe that a literal rendering of the Hebrew and Greek requires the clunkiest and most-unreadable-out-loud English. I love the Revised English Bible and the Jerusalem Bibles for their literary grace. I tend to use both the NIV and ESV for preaching and teaching though the Study Bibles for both are sadly deficient in their notes (see how they run away from texts that Catholic and Orthodox Christians see as essential to the sacramental life of the Church). I also consider their refusal to provide translations of the Apocrypha inexcusable. (You can get a stripped down ESV with the RSV Apocrypha from Oxford University Press.) They do have other notes that are useful and even insightful about the texts. I’ve come to appreciate more and more the most recent New Living Translation – I use it sometimes in preaching. As for the NAB, I like the notes but the translation leaves something to be desired. As for the King James Version, it helped create the English language but sadly it requires a translation to be fully understood.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      I agree about the ESV not having enough options with the Apocrypha. That drives me nuts, especially since my denomination’s lectionaries have readings from the Apocrypha a few times a year. What I’d REALLY like to see is more pulpit bibles with the Apocrypha as an option. You can get it for the NRSV, but that’s about it. I do appreciate, however, that there are KJV, ESV, HCSB, and NRSV pulpit bibles. If I ever planted a church, I’d want a big ol’ pulpit bible as part of our setup.

    • Dan, I love the Revised English Version also – I think it’s beautifully written. However, I don’t know anyone else who uses it or knows anything about it. Can you (or anyone else) fill me in on its background or history? Thanks!

      • Dan Crawford says

        You might want to check this link which provides some of the background for the REB.

        I have the New English Study Bible from the 1970s, but I’m not sure the REB comes in a study edition. What I liked about both the REB and NEB is that the translation included the Aprocryphal books.

  11. In defense of the NIV, remember that there is no punctuation or paragraphing in the original. The NIV interpreted that sentence (“Submit to each other…”) to be a segue to a new topic, that of family relations. The NASB inserted an “and” that is not in the Greek, in order to join that sentence to the one before it. That is, the NIV implies that the command of mutual submission applies specifically to a husband-wife relationship, whereas the NASB follows a more conservative tradition in separating that commandment from the section on husbands and wives.

    To me at least, the NASB’s insertion of that little word “and” to keep the mutual submission piece firmly tied to the paragraph before it rather than the one after, is a lot more troubling than the NIV’s splitting a sentence in two to make it easier for people who think in sentences instead of paragraphs to read. The NIV at least puts that line in its own paragraph so it’s equally free to apply to what goes before or to what comes after.

    • Neither version goes far enough IMO. The “submit” clause should be rendered as a participle just like the others. The following section doesn’t contain a verb but picks up from the “submitting” clause. So, I would prefer to see:

      Be filled with the Spirit
      …speaking to one another,
      …singing and making melody,
      …always giving thanks,
      …submitting to one another, wives to your husbands…

      • As I stress to my students all the time: words mean things! Mess with the word, you mess with the meaning.

      • Chaplain Mike, that lay-out looks a look like the way Rob Bell writes! I like it, myself.

    • I read the NIV for many years as my primary Bible, but as I grew more knowledgeable about languages and about non-evangelical viewpoints, I realized how much of a Protestant evangelical slant much of the translation had. I always objected to the obvious liberal bias in translations such as the RSV, but I never realized how much evangelical bias there was in the NIV. I guess it’s hard to find a happy medium, but I appreciate the fact that there are so many choices out there one can compare with—having more variations actually helps, I think, get at the true meaning, in the same way that having more NT ancient manuscripts, for example, even though they have minor variations, actually better nail down the true original text.

  12. Clay Knick says

    Excellent post, Mike. Thanks.

    I grew up with the RSV. Then when I went to college and divinity school we used the RSV in every class. So it is “in” me like no other. When I started college the NIV came out in the NT and by the time I graduated it came out in the complete Bible. So I’ve used it along with the RSV extensively for many, many years. At some point I threw in the NASB for study. We used the GNT/TEV/GNB in youth group and I enjoyed it a lot. I had a NT professor who would bring his GNT along with his RSV and Greek NT to each class. So the GNT has been in my life for years, too.

    I use the NRSV when I preach since our pew Bibles are the NRSV. I like it and use it with the RSV, NIV, NASB, ESV, and some others when I study. Pride of place though goes to the RSV. I have several worn copies that have been with me for many years.

    Since I grew up with the RSV the KJV has not been that difficult to read (as you know the RSV translators did not want to change the KJV except where necessary). So I’ve loved reading the Psalms and other passages and have memorized some verses from it.

    I think the NLT is great for reading narratives, but don’t like it at all in the Psalms. I love Phillips and look forward to Wright’s translation coming out in September.

  13. Many good translations have fallen to the inclusive language group ieNLT,NAB,NJB, NRVS. The original NIV no longer in print. Too bad the ESV is tied to the neo-reformed group. The NRSV is the inclusive darling.

  14. So after what period of time should a particular translation drop the term “New” from its title? 🙂

  15. David Cornwell says

    I’ve had a NASB for many years that is good for serious study. I’ve always like the RSV also, and now the NRSV. Now I’m in the market for a new bible in paragraph format, single column, and wide margins. Not interested in anyone’s comments or a theological slant, just the text. Anyone have a recommendation?

    • I will be interested in what folks give for recommendations, David, as your list of wants is a good one. I would also add for myself “large font.” My eyes were not what they used to be. One of these days, I have to schedule cataract surgery. It creeps me out to think of my eyes being cut, though.

      • David Cornwell says

        I agree, 11 or 12 pt font would be great if it can be found along with the other specs. Easier to say than go through, but modern cataract surgery is awfully good. My wife had it in both eyes a few years ago without much problem at all.

      • David Cornwell says

        I’ve found one that I like, except for the small font. It’s the NRSV Notetaker’s Bible.

    • David you may want to check Cambridge Bibles they are pricy though over a $100 for a leather bound

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      The KJV I just ordered is single-column, paragraph form. I hadn’t realized how cool that was until I saw one.

  16. “I had one of those “Good News for Modern Man” paperback New Testaments and I devoured it with delight.”

    Me, too! And the illustrations were helpful but not distracting.

    Showing up at a bible study with a Good News for Modern Man became a mark of an imature believer. The serious (dare I say, RADICAL!) Christians had their Ryrie Study bibles (NASV, of course). I will admit that the NASV is a very accurate translation, but it reads like a Chilton car manual. The ESV is a little better. But nothing beats the readability of the Good News translation.

    • …except for an original Jerusalem bible. Good luck finding one.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

        Yeah, a lot of folks when talking about the Jerusalem Bible are actually referring to the NEW Jerusalem Bible. My mom and sister both prefer the NJB.

        • I’ve looked at it the NJB. It seems a lot like the New American Bible (not to be confused with the NASB). Neither it nor the New American Bible are that bad, but to me they score low on accuracy and readability – sort of in the middle.

          It’s hard to quantify what it is about the Jerusalem Bible. Perhaps it’s mystique, such as Tolkien’s association with the translation of Jonah. But there are passages, such as in Philippians, which I have read a hundred times in other translations and paraphrases, and suddenly they explode off the page in a whole new way from the original Jerusalem bible. Very subjective, I know.

  17. Annie Vallotton’s illustrations in the Good News bible are astonishingly simple and beautiful, and have really a timeless quality about them. She is an amazing artist! I would encourage you to see the stained glass windows she did – do a google image search on “Annie Vallotton Reformed Church of Saint-Dié” and it should be on the first page of returns, on a webpage that also has a great interview of her.

  18. How blessed we are to have all these choices. I grew up with the KJV, tried to like the NASB which is my husband’s first choice but use the NIV most often for it’s readability. The unfortunate thing for me, is that all the different translations make it difficult for me to memorize scriptures. When I try to call up a scripture in my mind, it comes out as some sort of mish-mash version of Sharon.

    • “The unfortunate thing for me, is that all the different translations make it difficult for me to memorize scriptures. When I try to call up a scripture in my mind, it comes out as some sort of mish-mash version of Sharon.”

      Me too, Sharon. I am trying to settle on a translation. I have KJV, NAB, NRSV (Catholic Edition…font is too small though), NIV, The Message, “Good News for Modern Man” paperback New Testament. I also sometimes look up the NET Bible and the NLT online.

      I read one of the Pope Benedict’s book and he was quoting from the NRSV a lot and another Catholic author was not fond of the NAB, so as a Catholic, I probably should concentrate on the NRSV or on the Jerusalem Bible. I also sometimes look up the NET Bible and the NLT online.

      dumb ox…I saw you mention the Jerusalem Bible. Did you find that much better than the New Jerusalem Bible for some reason? (For anyone who may not know, J.R.R. Tolkien worked on the book of Jonah in the Jerusalem BIble.)

      • “For anyone who may not know, J.R.R. Tolkien worked on the book of Jonah in the Jerusalem Bible.”

        Now I, a poor college student, must purchase the Jerusalem Bible just because Tolkien worked on it. Thanks, JoanieD! 😉

  19. No love for the TNIV? I guess I’m always the outcast…..

    The problem with “the most literal” claim is that the original texts don’t have punctuation. It’s all fine and good to translate participles and independent clauses as a whole, but you still have to decide which subject and verb the clauses go with, and that’s not always (or even usually) clear in the Greek. That’s where the ambiguity around the “submit to one another in love” comes from, to take your Ephesians example. Does it go with the stuff before, or after. Seems to me it has to go with the after, since we get the “submit” in “wives submit to your husbands” from it.

    But I agree with you that we do loose some meaning when we break a sentence into five, six, seven, etc., without clearly connecting them together somehow. I think that’s your main point.

  20. Dana Ames says

    A note from a sort of a language geek:

    As beakerj noted, every translation has a bias. That bias may not be readily evident, and it may not strictly support a particular theological point of view; however, as one who has done learned a foreign language (German) to fluency and done a limited bit of translation of it, the reality is that translators make choices all the time. Those choices are based not only on scholarly training, but also on individual preferences within the semantic range of words/idioms.

    So there is no such thing as a “literal” translation. Even those that hew as close as possible to the word order of the accepted text can’t do it 100% of the time, or the translation would be incomprehensible. (People should understand that there is not one scroll out there that’s “the original” – there are many texts, sometimes even fragments of texts, which scholars have put together as a sort of “authorized” version from which our translations are made.)

    The translation goal of keeping the word order as close as possible to the “original” is called “formal equivalence”. This is not a bad goal – and it does have some limitations, as people have noted. The translation goal of making the text “maximally understandable” as an idea-based rendering is called “dynamic equivalence”. It also has limitations. It’s good that most serious bible students are aware of the biases and limitations. Thankfully, we have scriptures that can be understood in translation and convey what God wants us to know without necessarily having to read in Greek or Hebrew. Awareness is really important.

    As for “The Message”, it is not a paraphrase, at least the NT. A paraphrase is when one takes an existing English translation and restates it to make it clearer, such as K. Taylor did with the KJV, making it into The Living Bible. In contrast, Peterson actually worked from the Greek, and the The Message is a real translation. It is way at the “dynamic equivalent” end of the spectrum, but translation it is.

    On another note, an interesting thing I found out recently is that JRR Tolkien had a hand in translating the book of Job for the English Jerusalem Bible.


    • Cunnudda says

      Sie haben also “getan gelernt”?

      • Dana Ames says

        Sehr lustig, Cunnudda 😉 Ich bin aber nicht von dem Sueden jedes Landes, y’all.

        Ich muss meine Verbesserung besser verbessern…


    • Good clarifications, Dana. And though I agree with you technically about the Message, I still find it helpful to think of it as a “paraphrase” or maybe even a “commentary.” I know Peterson worked from the original texts, but his goal seems to me to go beyond “dynamic equivalence.”

      • I don’t have my copy of the Message handy right now. Does Peterson categorize it as a translation?

        • Dana Ames says

          Here’s a blurb from the publisher, NavPress:

          “Why was The Message written? The best answer to that question comes from Eugene Peterson himself: ‘While I was teaching a class on Galatians, I began to realize that the adults in my class weren’t feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed as I read and studied the New Testament in its original Greek. Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way. I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become “old hat.”‘”

          “Peterson’s parishioners simply weren’t connecting with the real meaning of the words and the relevance of the New Testament for their own lives. So he began to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original ancient Greek—writing straight out of the Greek text without looking at other English translations. As he shared his version of Galatians with them, they quit stirring their coffee and started catching Paul’s passion and excitement as he wrote to a group of Christians whom he was guiding in the ways of Jesus Christ. For more than two years, Peterson devoted all his efforts to The Message New Testament. His primary goal was to capture the tone of the text and the original conversational feel of the Greek, in contemporary English. ”

          As I recall, when he began readying his text for publication, he did consult other English translations.


          • That’s good background, Dana. Thanks. From my perspective, The Message reads like a Peterson sermon, therefore I still consider it more of a paraphrase or commentary than a translation.

    • Clay Knick says

      Peterson gets nervous when he hears The Message is used as the translation for scripture readings in church. He produced it for reading. The publisher has marketed it as such. This comes from an interview in CT, but I don’t have all the information.

  21. Dana Ames says

    “learned”, not “done learned” – need to edit my editing!


  22. My longtime favourite for personal study and, more recently, sermon preparation is the 1977 NASB. These are out of print now obviously, but I managed to salvage 1 from my old church library, and one passed down from my father. The 1995 version is still pretty good, but have polished down some of the rough, “wooden” phrasing, got rid of the Thees and Thous, and in some places, have used politically correct and gender-neutral terms and phrases.

    The commoner’s choice in the 2 churches I’ve served in is still the NIV. It’s most quoted, read from, and even for myself, growing up with it, most used for Scripture memory. I haven’t managed to wean myself to quote or memorize from the NASB yet, but slowly trying to. Watching with interest the new 2011 version, though the TNIV attempt was rather disappointing.

  23. I took all the Biblical Greek classes available in college and seminary. That was a long time ago. However, I still remember enough that I don’t depend on any English translation on any point that I consider important. Listening to people who base their theological system and understanding of the Bible on what they suppose their particular English translation says is sometimes disturbing and sometimes laughable.

  24. I own both the ESV study bible and the reformation study bible in ESV. The latter is definitely superior. I only use my ESVSB now for reference and deeper study. The Reformation SB is more portable, uses more comfortable font and print size, and has more concise and relevant notes. Though it often says little (a plus in my onion) what the notes include usually bring out what is of more central importance, rather than burying you under a library of historical-grammatical details. The ESVSB is, quite honestly, more of a commentary with scripture text, while the RSB is more of an actual reference bible with concise commentary.

  25. Highwayman says

    Having been brought up with the KJV, which is still the version I mostly remember and quote from, I started using the New English Bible as a teenager and loved it, partly because it was slightly frowned upon in the Brethren assembly I grew up in, but also because it often took a different slant in the translation and threw a completely new light on all sorts of passages I thought I was familiar with. It was irritating in that it used ‘Thee’ and ‘Thou’ when talking to God (anachronistic and silly in a modern translation), but the Revised English Bible corrected that fault and I have used the REB ever since, to the point where my copy is falling apart. When it comes up with surprising translations, or leaves verses out, or switches their order, I still compare it with one or two other versions and find it opens up new and helpful possibilities of meaning (more so than the NIV, which seems to lean towards Evangelical Correctness, as noted above by JeffB).

    I also find the NRSV is very readable, unlike the Holman Christian Standard Bible, which is dreadful (in literary style, anyway – I’m not qualified to judge its accuracy).

  26. I grew up with a combination of NIV and KJV, which always makes for interesting talks. Especially how it annoyed my Sunday School teachers that, at any given point, I would memorize a verse either in NIV or KJV. For example- whenever it was a person speaking, I would generally quote NIV. If it was God talking or a Psalm, I would quote the KJV. Such a silly child I was 😉

    However, I’ve come to use the ESV- I enjoy the “literalness” of the translation. And I’ve come to enjoy the Message over the years, if begrudgingly; I have friends who only quote the Message, and believe it is the best thing since the King James Version. Alas.

  27. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the literary value of the King James. Unfortunately it is a fairly inaccurate translation. I wish someone would make a version that goes for the same sort of poetic style with some moderate updates and uses the best manuscripts and linguistic knowledge available today. NKJV doesn’t count, it uses the same outdated manuscript collection as KJV.

  28. I was presented with a King James Bible on entering Secondary school in 1965, and still have it. It is one of the few Bibles at that time, that has pictures throughout it’s pages, it’s a beautiful book. I also have a Douay version which I like to read now and then, but for me it’s the King James. Oh almost forgot, I found a King James with Apocrypha at my local charity shop, I can’t believe people throw these books away!