Friday, February 18, 2011
I am frequently asked by young preachers, “Which translation do you recommend that I use in my preaching?” This is a great question and it comes from young men who are conscientious about their work as servants of the most high God. It indicates that they want to use the best texts available in their study, teaching, and life application.
First, we must lay some groundwork.
No translation of the sacred scriptures is without flaws. All of them were translated by human beings, and they reflect the background, training, and deficiencies of the hands that made them. Therefore, do not go on the hunt for the perfect translation. It’s not out there.
I strongly believe preachers should use more than one translation for study. The “backbone” translation should be one of the modified-literal texts. Why? The modified-literal translations will stay close to the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. They will give you some idea of what is going on in the original text. Simply put, if you do not have any background in Hebrew and Greek, modified-literal versions will get you as close as possible to those languages short of studying the original languages of scripture.
Another reason for using versions of this kind is the fact that those of us who believe in the verbal inspiration of scripture, put emphasis on the very words of the text (1 Cor. 2:13) Most modified-literal versions try to bring as much from the original languages into English as possible.
The reigning “king” of the modified-literal versions is the ASV-1901. In my judgment, it edges out the NASB most of the time. The NASB is based on a slightly better text, and uses a more modern vocabulary, but many times the best translation in the NASB is found in the footnotes! I have found this to be true quite often. The NASB’s strength is in the fact that it attempts to show “verbal action,” but that is not all there is to accuracy in translation. Many times this becomes artificial and is often inconsistently executed. Nevertheless, if a person cannot find a usable copy of the ASV, the NASB is probably a good alternative.
There are translations that stand between the very literal ASV and the so-called dynamic equivalent versions. This middle ground is occupied by the RSV, ESV, NRSV, and the HCSB. On the whole the ESV is probably the best though the NRSV is not too far behind. The main flaw of the NRSV is its attempt to be “gender inclusive” which sometimes causes it to butcher English and change the text. The RSV is not as bad as is often alleged.
There are also versions that are “dynamic equivalent” or more idiomatic in their approach to translating God’s word. There is a place for such translations. They often complement the more literal versions. They are usually easy to read and can open the door to good exegesis and understanding. The New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT), and Today’s New International Version (TNIV) fall into this category.
Young preachers would do well to have copies of the ASV, RSV, NASB, NIV, ESV, NRSV, and TNIV in their library. They should diligently study and compare them. By doing so, they will have the benefits of broad based scholarship. Learn to note the differences among them and ask “Why do they differ?” Do your research in order to determine the reasons for the disparity in their renderings. If you will use several translations in your study, they will serve to “balance and counter balance” each other. The best all-around version is probably the ESV. It is basically the RSV updated and sometimes corrected by conservative scholars.
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