Shopping for a Bible is a lot like buying a car: we’ve come a long, long way since the days of Henry Ford’s Model T and “any color you like, as long as it’s black.” The marketplace for translations of the Bible is just as crowded. In both respects, you’re always on the lookout for lemons to avoid, and when it comes to Bible editions, we’re living in a veritable citrus grove of errant attempts. When shopping for an edition, take note of these popular Bible translations you should avoid.
The New King James Version: What’s New Isn’t True, and What’s True Isn’t New
This edition is not what it seems. The NKJV attempts to traffic on the brand equity of the original King James Version while making significant changes to the text—changes that compromise the integrity associated with that name. While maintaining a familiar name suggests that it is simply the 1611 original with some additional notes and appendices, this translation also simplifies its vocabulary and omits the 17th-century pronouns that give the KJV its characteristic formality. In comparing the new King James Version with the original, you’re better off sticking to the classic.
The Message: Don’t Even Leave This Message on Read
The principle that theologians and hermeneuticians refer to as “dynamic equivalence”—the idea of preserving thoughts and concepts behind words rather than words themselves—is a controversial one among many Bible readers. The Message, a modern paraphrase of the Bible, pushes this concept to its bursting-at-the-seams limit, rendering the Bible in such everyday prose as to strip it of any beauty or gravitas. While reducing the Bible to airport bookstore fare can have its uses, serious study is not one of them.
Translating the entire Bible is a significant undertaking—one that often requires a group effort. The Living Bible, however, was the solo project of one Kenneth Taylor, who cut corners by translating not the original source texts of the Bible but by paraphrasing another preexisting translation! In addition to misunderstanding Hebrew and Greek idioms, Taylor also does some editorializing of his own, manipulating the text to fit some of his own theological beliefs, adding yet another confounding layer to this translation.
Which Translations Are Right?
Despite their bestselling nature, issues of serious scholarly integrity make for some popular Bible translations you should avoid if you’re looking for daily Bible study. When it comes to an enduring work of scripture and literature, you’re best off with the original King James Version or the American Standard Version of 1901, the two translations many theologians agree are truest to the original texts. If you prefer a somewhat more contemporary translation, consider the popular New International Version.
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