This article won’t be a quick read because it’s an in-depth treatment of the topic, not a gloss. Deciding on the best Bible translation to use is a very important decision, and we’ll treat it as such. By the end of this article, you’ll have a thorough understanding of everything you need to make an informed decision.
- We’ll start by defining what makes a good Bible translation according to what God Himself said in the Bible. (Most people overlook this part, and God does give His opinion indirectly)
- Next, we’ll talk about the different translation “styles” and what they mean
- Third, we’ll take an in-depth look at the issue of gender in translation
- Fourth, we’ll discuss how you can tell a good translation from a bad one
- Lastly, I’ll do a short(ish) review of the most popular Bibles on the market
However, before we can answer the question of what Bible translation is best, there’s another question we must answer first.
What Defines the “best” Bible Translation?
This is the most important question that almost no one ever asks. Before we can decide what translation is best, we must first know what we mean by “best”. I once had a fellow tell me he was looking for the “least gender neutral Bible possible“. I also know people who wouldn’t read a non-gender neutral Bible. That’s what defines best for them.
The real question is: “what is a good criteria for determining the best translation?”
That question is best answered by another question:
“Why do we care what the Bible says?”
It’s a good question, and an honest one from many people, especially unbelievers. Hopefully, most Christians care what the Bible says because the Bible records what God has said.
That’s certainly why I care.
If we’re going to live a life that’s pleasing to God, we need to know what kind of life God said is pleasing to Him.
This next bit will seem painfully obvious, but it’s also absolutely essential. Speech – the act of saying something – is accomplished using words. Yes this is obvious, but most people don’t stop to consider this. God designed us to use words to communicate with each other. Likewise – knowing that we have this limitation because He gave it to us – God uses words to communicate with us in the Bible.
And God is very particular about His words.
2 “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you
And few will forget the warning at the end of Revelation, which is in the same vein.
18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book;
19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.
Remember this: adding or removing words from what God has written inspires His wrath. I would argue that changing what He has written is both adding and removing. That is, to change a word means to remove the original word and then add back a different word in it’s place. Therefore, adding and removing is bad, but changing might be even worse because technically you’re both adding and subtracting.
God is very clear that we shouldn’t add or subtract – which includes changing – the words that He inspired.
I’ve been emphasizing words on purpose.
If you scroll back and read those verses again, you’ll see that God didn’t say “don’t change what I said“. Obviously that idea is there, but that’s not what God actually said. God said not to change His words.
Check those verses again.
God clearly says we shouldn’t add or take away from His words.
Based on what God Himself said, I would define the best Bible translation as the one that changes God’s words the least in the translation process.
Obviously, it needs to be readable too, but if we want to align our priorities with God’s priorities, then we must look at what God values first and foremost. God clearly places a high value on His words. As such, the best Bible translation should also.
This is so important to deciding which Bible translations are best (and worst) that we’ll spend a bit more time to fully understand it. Without this foundational understanding, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of options.
The Importance of Words
Let’s say you’re a detective on a case and one of your fellow officers takes a statement from an eyewitness who saw the whole crime being committed. You ask the officer for the witness’s statement, and he gives you a brief summery of what the witness said.
Is that enough?
Would a paraphrase suffice? Or would you want the exact words that the witness used?
Let’s consider an example in the legal sphere. Recently, a United States Supreme Court case was decided by the meaning of a single, one-letter word: the word “a”. I’m not going to get political, but understanding how important a single word can be is crucial to understanding proper translation.
Essentially, the case revolved around what was a sufficient notice to appear in court according to a specific statute. The statue specified that the accused should be given “a notice to appear”. That should be all the context you need to make the point as it relates to Bible translation.
First, officials sent an incomplete notice of the charges against him; then, two months later, they provided the date and location of his hearing. Because these two notices, together, provided Niz-Chavez all the required information, the government argued, it could stop the clock and deny him an opportunity to contest his deportation.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected this scheme by a 6–3 vote. Gorsuch’s majority opinion zeroed in on the text of a statute—specifically, the words a notice to appear. To stop the clock, Gorsuch wrote, the government “must serve ‘a’ notice containing all the information Congress has specified.”
“To an ordinary reader,” Gorsuch explained, the phrase “ ‘a’ notice would seem to suggest just that: ‘a’ single document containing the required information, not a mishmash of pieces with some assembly required.”
Notice the importance of a single word in this case. And such a small word too: “a”. Small things matter in law. If the Bible is the “law” for how Christians should live their lives, why would the words be less important? Perhaps that’s why Jesus said:
18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter shall pass from the Law, until all is accomplished
The KJV renders it “jot and tittle”, and “Got questions?” has an excellent – and short – article on what that means. The point being, the smallest things can have the largest impact. This is just as true in a Bible translation as it is in a court case; arguably more.
The words matter.
Perhaps that’s why God was clear that we shouldn’t change His words.
Consider another example.
When we read a book, we assume that we’re reading the words penned by the original author. If you wrote something, how angry would you be if someone took the words you wrote and changed them?
Consider Lincoln’s famous introduction to the Gettysburg address. What if someone changed it from the original:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
“Eighty seven years ago, our ancestors created a nation here with the idea that all people should be free and equal.”
No one would ever say the second quote is Lincoln’s actual Gettysburg address because they aren’t his words; they are someone else’s words. Yes they (sort of) mean the same thing, but to quote my wife: “It’s the same information, but it comes across quite differently.” She’s 100% correct.
That’s because the words are different.
One last example to drive the point home.
Consider the works of the greatest and most renowned English playwright: William Shakespeare. What if someone took the famous “to be or not to be” speech from Hamlet:
To be, or not to be—that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles.
And re-worded it to this:
To be, or not to be; that is what really matters.
Is it nobler to accept passively
the trials and tribulations that unjust fate sends,
or to resist an ocean of troubles.
(Hamlet, a parallel text edition, by John Richetti (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975), 125.)
Does it say the same thing?
Sort of, but it completely misses the style and force of the original. At best, it’s a watered down version. At worst, it’s perversion of the author’s words. If someone tried to present the watered down version as authentic Shakespeare, he would be laughed out of every single literary club in the world.
Here’s the important part: If someone wanted to do a deep study of Hamlet, would the watered down version be of any use at all?
No, because it’s not the author’s words.
Is God less concerned about His own words? (You know, the ones He commanded us not to change) In my mind, this is the criteria that God (indirectly) set forth for Bible translators:
The best Bible translation is the one that changes God’s words the least in the translation process.
Based on what we’ve already looked at, I think that definition is in line with God’s priorities. We should always be striving to align our priorities with the priorities of the almighty, all-powerful, all-wise, and eternal God.
With that in mind, we’ll turn to a discussion of the two major competing “styles” of translation.
If you ask almost anyone, there are two basic styles of translation. It’s typically explained the following way (not that I necessarily agree) The two styles are often called “Formal Equivalence” or “word-for-word”, and “Dynamic Equivalence” or “thought-for-thought”.
Formal equivalence, or complete equivalence, is also known as literal translation, or a word-for-word translation. The idea behind formal equivalence is to render the text in the same form as the original. This can also mean using the same word order as the original language. With formal equivalence each word of the original language is represented by a word in the target or receptor language.
Dynamic equivalence is a method of Bible translation that seeks to reproduce the original text of Scripture using modern language and expression to communicate the message of the Bible. In translating a verse, dynamic equivalent translation is less concerned with providing an exact English word for each word of the original text as it is with communicating the basic message of that verse.
Now, consider those two translation styles in light of what we just talked about. Think about it.
Please really think about it.
Which translation “style” seems more in-line with God’s command not to change His words?
You see the point.
Now, it should be noted that there isn’t a hard line between literal (word-for-word) and “dynamic” (thought-for-thought). It’s more of a spectrum than a hard line. Here’s one image that shows this reasonably well. It’s mostly correct, though I would say the NKJV is far more literal than they give it credit.
Please notice the divisions too.
Now, while I agree that there is a spectrum of literalism, I would draw the line in a very different place than the image does. I would put everything in the “Dynamic Equivalence” section under “paraphrase”. While some of “dynamic equivalence” translations don’t always paraphrase, they certainly paraphrase a lot.
Here’s an example, and you can double check the literalness by looking at Luke 9:44 in an interlinear Bible:
NIV: “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.”
NASB ’95: “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.”
In the first half of the verse, the NIV paraphrases Jesus’ words while the NASB ’95 accurately translates His words. Notice that the NIV does accurately translate the second half of the verse. However, it gets no points for that because it paraphrased the first half.
Also, notice the stylistic difference.
Notice how it sounds.
It hearkens back to the example of the Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. While they do have the same basic meaning, the more literal one hit your ears differently. The phrase “Let these words sink into your ears” has a certain force that “Listen carefully” simply doesn’t have.
Think about it for a moment.
Seriously, please do.
That’s the difference between God’s words and man’s words; the difference between a literal and a paraphrase.
Many – perhaps most – would argue that there’s a difference between “Dynamic Equivalence” and “paraphrase”. I disagree. In fact, I’d argue that there’s really only one translation “style”, and deviation from that style is actually veering into paraphrase.
Here’s the definition of ‘paraphrase’ from the Cambridge English Dictionary:
to repeat something written or spoken using different words, often in a humorous form or in a simpler and shorter form that makes the original meaning clearer
Now consider, does exchanging the phrase “Let these words sink into your ears” for the phrase “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you” fit the definition of repeating “something written or spoken using different words“? If so, then by definition it’s a paraphrase.
Remember what God said about his words?
I realize I’m beating this point death, but that’s because it’s important.
Make no mistake, the Dynamic Equivalence/thought-for-thought approach isn’t merely a different translation “style”; it’s a paraphrase. It may be a more literal paraphrase (NIV) or less literal paraphrase (NLT). However, they are all paraphrases and thus are only a human rewording of God’s actual words. If you are happy with a paraphrase, then this article won’t help you.
If you are happy with a paraphrase, then you can stop reading this article now because it will be useless to you, and might offend you.
I care about God’s words when I read the Bible; not man’s words. There’s no shortage of good books written by men that are worth reading, but that’s not why I pick up the Bible. I pick up the Bible to read God’s words, not man’s words. A paraphrase is an “editorialized” version of the Bible, not a translation. It’s a version filtered through human “editors” who have imprinted their own ideas into the sacred text.
Therefore, just as the watered-down version of Hamlet would be laughed at by Shakespeare scholars, so also a paraphrased Bible has no place in any serious theological or doctrinal discussion because a paraphrase “translation” isn’t God’s words; it’s a mere human paraphrase, and thus it’s man’s words.
Men can have great thoughts, but they aren’t God’s thoughts.
I enjoy Bible commentary too; I love hearing a good perspective on God’s words. But in the actual text of the Bible, it should be God’s words, and only God’s words. God Himself said this when He commanded us not to add or take away from His words.
When I pick up the Bible, I want to read God’s words, not man’s.
That leads to a major problem with the Dynamic Equivalence/thought-for-thought Bible
The biggest problem with paraphrase “translations”
Arguably the biggest problem with the “Dynamic Equivalence” or “thought-for-thought” translations (i.e. a paraphrase) is that they assume they know the author’s original intent. That idea is explicitly contained in the phrase “thought-for-thought”.
However, this blatantly contradicts scripture.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts higher than your thoughts.
Further, it’s also written:
1 Corinthians 2:11
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
If we accept that God inspired the Bible, then we must accept that God’s thoughts are higher than ours and only He knows them.
Wouldn’t that make idea of a “thought-for-thought” translation problematic?
Despite this obvious problem, there’s another one that’s arguably more serious.
To Translate, or Interpret?
As I just said, Biblical commentaries can be wonderful. But the actual text should only be God’s words, just as He Himself commanded. One of the worst things that all Bible paraphrases do is include in translation what should be left to commentary.
Here are a few examples of paraphrase “translations” (which includes the so-called dynamic/thought-for-thought “translations”) inaccurately rendering words this way.
Matthew 7:13 (double check in an interlinear)
NLT: “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.
NASB ’95: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.
mistranslates removes the Greek word “ἀπώλεια” (apóleia) which literally means “destruction” or “ruin” and translates adds the word “hell”. That’s just plain wrong. Certainly the implication is there, but remember we aren’t supposed to change God’s words. Jesus could’ve said “γέεννα” (gehenna – the word that’s usually translated “hell”) but He didn’t.
Translators should respect God’s word choice, just as He commanded.
You can even argue that going to “gehenna” is what Jesus was pointing to (which is likely from the context), but we still need to be obedient and not change God’s words.
Romans 2:4 (double check in an interlinear)
NIV: Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
NASB ’95: Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
Here the NIV just plain old adds to God’s words. The NASB ’95 has a simple declarative statement just like the Greek. However, the NIV (and many other paraphrases) change this to make it sound like God’s kindness merely “can” lead you to repentance. (The ESV does the same)
Hebrews 6:1 (double check in an interlinear)
NIV: Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God,
NASB: Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
The change here should be obvious. The NIV changes the meaning of the word “dead” to apply to us instead of the works. Instead of saying that the works themselves are dead, the NIV changed things to say they lead to our death.
That’s a very different statement.
I could go on for some time, but I think you get the point.
I have yet to see a paraphrase which can resist this temptation. Again, God’s thoughts are our higher than ours and no one knows His thoughts except Him. Therefore, we should focus on what he has given us: His words.
The Problem of Idioms
Now, despite everything I’ve said about being faithful to God’s words, there is one place – and only one place – where being faithful to God’s words takes on a slightly different form: idioms. According to the Cambridge dictionary, an idiom is:
a group of words in a fixed order that have a particular meaning that is different from the meanings of each word on its own:
- To “have bitten off more than you can chew” is an idiom that means you have tried to do something which is too difficult for you.
Now, this an obvious idiom with an obvious meaning to a native English speaker in the west. But it wouldn’t be obvious to everyone. To drive the point home, I found an article with idioms from other languages.
Click/tap the idiom to expand the meaning. Try to guess as many as you can.
- 'I took him to the bakery.'I told him off. (Icelandic)
- 'While diving, drink water.'Accomplish two things at once. (Indonesian)
- 'A lot of noise and no walnuts.'All talk and no action. (Spanish)
- 'Greedy eyes, full stomach.'To bite off more than you can chew. (Cantonese)
- 'Give the bread to the baker.'Don’t give someone a task they can’t do. (Arabic)
Now imagine that Jesus or Paul was teaching and said something like this:
Now, to the elders concerning the immature I say “don’t give bread to the baker”, and if they do I will take them to the bakery.
Do you see the problem with translating idioms literally? There’s no way anyone reading that hypothetical passage would know the correct meaning without understanding the idioms. Jesus own disciples had this problem, and they knew the language!
5 And the disciples came to the other side of the sea, but they had forgotten to bring any bread.
6 And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
7 They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, “He said that because we did not bring any bread.”
(Jesus explains Himself and they finally get it by verse 12)
Translating the Bible literally means taking a word in the original language and picking the word (or words) in the receptor language that best fits the definition of the original word. When translating idioms, this works the same except with a phrase instead of a word.
Because idioms are phrases that cannot be separated without changing the meaning, sometimes they must be translated as a phrase, not individual words
“But isn’t that changing God’s words?”
Yes, and no. While technically God didn’t say “don’t give bread to the baker” in our example, the definition of that particular phrase is actually different than the sum the words that compose it. That specific phrase doesn’t mean to take some mixture of baked flour and other ingredients and give it to someone whose profession is baking bread. It means “Don’t give someone a task they can’t do.”
Translating it as the former actually conceals God’s words because the phrase means something different than the sum of the words. Thus, sometimes idioms can’t be translated “word-for-word”, but must be translated “phrase-for-phrase” instead.
These examples are fortunately very rare though.
Partially because of this, it’s acceptable to translate some idioms in a non-literal way if – and only if – a literal translation would have a different meaning than the words that compose it. That is, to translate them according to the meaning of the idiom instead of the words that compose the idiom.
Going back to our previous example:
Literal idioms: Now, to the elders concerning the immature I say “don’t give bread to the baker”, and if they do I will take them to the bakery.
Translated Idioms: Now, to the elders concerning the immature I say “Don’t give someone a task they can’t do”, and if they do I will tell them off.
The first one simply doesn’t accurately represent God’s words because while the words are accurately and literally translated, the phrase as a whole isn’t. Now, nearly all Biblical idioms can be translated literally without problem… nearly. There’s relatively few that can’t be, but getting them wrong can cause significant problems.
(I know of one – which we don’t have space to get into – around which many churches/denominations have built a whole theology. They’ve even excluded some true Christians from certain areas of ministry because they didn’t know there was an idiom.)
Neither Greek nor Hebrew has the same grammar rules that English does. Because of this, some re-arranging of the words in a sentence is almost always necessary to make sense of it. For example, here’s John 3:16 with the original Greek word order and no English “linking words” (like “of”, “to” etc.)
Thus for loved the God the world, so that the Son, the only-begotten, gave, that every the believing into Him not might perish, but might have life eternal.
As you can see, the order of the words needs to be changed to be readable in English. Don’t let this bother you. God is very particular about His words, but the word order rules are different between languages. It’s a bonus when a translation uses the original word order when possible/readable, but don’t worry if they don’t.
Sometimes, the Hebrew or Greek will imply words without stating them. In order to make a verse make sense, the translators must supply the implied words. However, the best translations will italicize these added words to let the reader know they are implied.
Here’s an example where I’ve also made the added/italicized words red.
24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife,
Saying “and took his wife” might make sense in Greek, but not in English. In English, it sounds like they were already married, but that’s not the sense from the Greek. However, “took Mary as his wife” does make sense and is clearly implied. Sometimes the translators go too far and veer into interpretation, but at least when the words are italicized you can tell what God said vs. what man thought that God implied.
This is a good feature.
For everything good about literally translated Bibles, they often have one great weakness: Readability. Because they are committed to literal, word-for-word accuracy, and because English has different grammar rules, literal translations are often a bit harder to read.
For everything wrong with the paraphrase Bibles, they do have one great strength: readability. Because they don’t worry about being faithful to the original words, they have great freedom to write in very good English. Almost universally, paraphrase Bibles are easier to read and thus are probably read more often.
That’s a bad thing.
The trouble is that people are more likely to read a poor translation that’s easy to read than a good translation that’s a bit harder to read. Again, that’s bad. We don’t have space to get into the specifics, but this is a poison pill for the church. While more Christians might read their Bibles, the theology present in all paraphrase translations (that I’ve seen) will ultimately weaken the church, not strengthen it.
We’re seeing that now.
The church in the west these days is both impotent and almost irrelevant because it’s so weak. I can make a good argument that watered down translations played a very significant role in this. (though again, there’s not space for that in this article.)
Readability is a good thing, but not at the expense of sacrificing God’s words for man’s words.
Unfortunately, the good, accurate, and literal translations are harder to read than the paraphrase ones. Until someone translates a literal and accurate Bible that’s also easy to read, we might need to put a bit more effort into reading the Bible if we actually want God’s words, not man’s words.
It’s unfortunate, but true.
(I’m working on a solution to that; more details at the end of the article.)
Both the Old and New Testaments each have two possible options to translate from. The Old Testament is much easier to solve, as the differences mostly come from extra books. I have a whole article on this entitled The Bible: 66 books vs 73 and Why (the “Apocrypha” Explained). Spoiler alert; it should be 66 books, as all Protestant Bibles have.
Almost every non-Catholic Bible translates the Old Testament from the same Hebrew text. So as long as you’re looking at a Bible with 39 books in the Old Testament (66 total), you’re good to go. If it has more books, it’ll almost always have “Catholic Edition” in the title.
The New Testament is more complicated.
In fact, I have a whole article on that topic entitled Majority Text vs. Critical Text vs. Textus Receptus – Textual Criticism 101. (“Textual Criticism” is the art of reconstructing a lost manuscript from multiple surviving copies of the original manuscript.) There are essentially three major competing theories, but one is so dominant that all but 2 two modern Bibles use the dominant theory.
The two translations that don’t are the KJV and NKJV, which are translated from a slightly different Greek text. We won’t wade into the discussion of which is better here, as I already spent 18k words unpacking it that in my Article on Textual Criticism. You’ll notice the KJV and NKJV have some verses that all other translations don’t. Some definitely belong, others probably not. It’s a complicated issue, so please see my article on Textual Criticism if you want to learn more.
Long story short: either textual basis is acceptable because there are good arguments for both andthe differences are small.
Don’t snub any translation because of the textual basis. While there are differences, again most of them are small. Basically every other modern translation except the KJV/NKJV is based on the same Greek text, so it’s truly “apples to apples” there.
The “Most Updated Manuscripts” Fallacy
One important thing:
When it comes to the New Testament, some people prefer “newer” translations because they think the translators have access to the the “most updated manuscripts” and thus are the most accurate.
They don’t know it, but the older and newer versions are virtually identical.
Let me explain.
The text from which basically all modern New Testaments are translated is the Nestle-Aland “Novum Testamentum Graece” (“New Testament in Greek”). It was first published in 1898 and was primarily based on Westcott & Hort’s 1881 Greek New Testament. It’s been updated through the years, and now is in its 28th edition (the “NA28”).
They haven’t change much at all in 130 years.
None of the currently popular hand-editions of the Greek NT takes us beyond Westcott-Hort in any substantive way as far as textual character is concerned.
The thing to see is that the text of 100 years ago (i.e., in 1980, the text of 1881, Hort’s compilation) is barely different from the text being published as the 28th edition of Novum Testamentum Graece.
There were only 34 changes between the 27th edition and 28th edition. Changes between other versions have been larger, but nothing particularly substantive as the quotes indicate. Also, the changes were already marked as possible readings in the previous editions. These aren’t “new readings”.
Further, the changes are almost without exception quite minor. Many of the variants are so small they can’t even be translated into English (like word order changes). Seriously, many are that small. Most of the rest have little to no effect on meaning. Suffice it to say the differences between the older and newer Greek New Testaments are so small, that they are completely subsumed by the quality of translation.
So don’t worry about the tiny differences.
Don’t worry at all.
The “based on newer manuscripts” fallacy is basically marketing fluff.
The Question of Gender
There is a huge debate raging in the Church today between about how to handle gender in translation. The basic question is this:
When the Bible uses a masculine pronoun or word in a context that could refer to both men and women, should it be translated in a gender neutral way?
This debate usually centers around the translation of several words, which we’ll look at in detail.
“Anthrópos” & “adam” = “Man” or “Human/Person”
There are two analogous words – one in Hebrew and one in Greek – that are at the forefront of this debate.
The Hebrew word is “אָדָם” (adam), which the ‘normal’ noun form of the proper noun “Adam”, the name of the first man. (Yes, the first man’s name was essentially “man”) Here is the definition, which is shared by every lexicon I’ve seen.
Definition: man, mankind
The Greek word is “ἄνθρωπος” (anthrópos) which means “man”, exactly like the English word “man” and also like the Hebrew word “adam” that we just looked at. It can refer to a specific man as in “he’s a man” or to the human race in general, as in “man knows not his time”.
444 ánthrōpos – man, also the generic term for “mankind“; the human race; people, including women and men[444 /ánthrōpos (“man”) answers to the Hebrew term, ̓adam – and 435 (anḗr) answers to the Hebrew term ̓ish.
Here’s an example of both words translated according to the two different positions.
Proverbs 27:17 (adam = Hebrew/OT)
NIV: As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
NASB ’95: Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.
Matthew 4:19 (anthrópos= Greek/NT)
NASB 2020: And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of people.”
NASB ’95: And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
That is the controversy.
Now, most people don’t realize this, but God has already weighed in on this debate.
In His infinite wisdom, He apparently foresaw this becoming contentious and included a passage in the Bible that gives us His opinion. (He’s good that way. 🙂 )
God’s Opinion on “man” vs “human/person”
In this debate, I’ve never heard anyone weigh in on God’s opinion, which He actually gave us way back in Genesis.
1 This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.
2 He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created.
The Hebrew word there translated “man” in both verses 1 and 2 is “אָדָם” (adam), which which we’ve just talked about. It’s used over a dozen times in Genesis chapter 2 to refer to Adam, the first man.
Notice: God “created them male and female” and then “named them man“.
God named “them” – which means both men and women – He named “them” “man“.
That’s what God Himself did.
Therefore, the proper name of the human race – given to us by God Himself – is “man”. The name “man” – which includes both human males and human females when used in a general way – was God’s choice. As creator, He has the right to name us and He named us “man”.
Therefore, translating it “fishers of men” is showing respect to God’s choice in naming His creation, and being obedient by not changing God’s words. Translating it “fishers of people” or something similar isn’t respecting God. It’s ignoring the name that God Himself gave to the human race and disobeying God’s command not to change His words.
If you don’t like the name that God gave us, please complain to Him, not me. (And perhaps read Romans 9:20)
God Himself named the human race “man”.
Therefore, to rename it as “human” or “person” in the Bible is changing God’s words. You’re essentially saying that either God made a poor choice that you must “fix”, or that you don’t care what God named us; you’ll use whatever name you want.
Neither position is safe before God.
Besides, there is a Greek word that means “human”.
It’s the word “ἀνθρώπινος” (anthrópinos) and it literally means “human”. It doesn’t mean “man”, it means “human”.
Usage: belonging to human beings (especially as contrasted with God), human (as contrasted with divine).
It’s not used often in the New Testament – only 7 times – but it is used. God certainly could have chosen to inspire the men who wrote the New Testament to use anthrópinos (human), but God chose to have them use anthrópos (man) instead. Again, that’s probably because God Himself named our race “man”.
And again, we shouldn’t change God’s words.
EDIT: A woman left a comment saying that this masculine focus seems to be a rejection of women, leaving them out and making everything about men. I completely understand why it looks that way at first glance, but nothing could be farther than the truth. 🙂 In fact, this is actually good news for women. (No joke.) I wrote an article detailing why, and I recommend reading it if the gendered langauge bothers you. Link here: How Crucial are Women to a Biblical Household? Very!
Jesus and Gendered Pronouns
This is often missed. We’ll look at a passage where Jesus is speaking to a single woman with no other males present and yet uses masculine pronouns in a general way anyway. In fact, the scripture is very clear that there were only two people involved in this conversation: Jesus and the woman.
John 4:7-8 and 13-14 (The woman at the well)
7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.”
8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.
13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again;
14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
Jesus and this woman were alone with no one else present, and yet Jesus still used masculine pronouns when speaking to a woman. You can double check John 4:14 in an interlinear Bible if you like. Therefore, it seems that God’s choice of masculine pronouns was intentional.
Since God intentionally used masculine pronouns here when He was only speaking to a woman, then why wouldn’t it be intentional everywhere else too?
God is very particular about His words. Even when we don’t understand why – especially when we don’t understand why – we should respect His word choice and obey His command not to change His words.
“But we don’t talk that way anymore.“
One of the most common arguments for translating anthrópos and adam as human/people goes like this:
Among other things, for instance, the study showed that, between 1990 and 2009, instances of masculine generic pronouns and determiners, expressed as a percentage of total generic pronoun usage in general written English, fell from 22% to 8%. In other words, most English speakers today no longer say “If anyone wants to see me, he should make an appointment.” The pronoun “he” has become strongly masculine rather than generic. People today say, rather, “If anyone wants to see me, they should make an appointment.” The CBT has followed these guidelines to make clear when the Biblical text is referring to both men and women.
However, man has never spoken the way that God speaks. Never. Nor can we, as it is written:
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So My are ways higher than your ways And My thoughts higher than your thoughts.
God inspired the Biblical authors to write “man” (anthrópos/adam). Further, He could’ve inspired “human” (anthrópinos) instead, at least in the New Testament. No argument will change this fact. God’s thoughts are higher than ours, therefore we should respect His decision.
Even more important than respecting God’s decision is obeying His explicit commands. He explicitly commanded us not to change His words. I don’t think I need to remind you of God’s opinion of rebellion.
“Brothers” or “Brothers and sisters”
Another significant word on the gender battleground is the translation of the Greek word “ἀδελφός” (adelphos), and especially its plural form “ἀδελφοὶ” (adelphoi). It’s the Greek word that means “brother”, but some say that in the plural form “adelphoi” it can mean “brothers and sisters”.
However, the definition according to every lexicon I’ve seen is “brother”. Even in the plural form, it still means “brothers”, not “brothers and sisters”. You can double check the lexicon entry for adelphos/adelphoi with the link just above. All say “brother/brothers”, none say “brothers and sisters”.
All of them.
All without exception.
In order to present the discussion fairly, I’m going to quote from someone who believes that adephoi – the plural form – can be translated as “brothers and sisters”. To be clear: this following quote is incorrect on it’s treatment of Greek – it’s flat out wrong – which I’ll prove in a moment. I’m only quoting it so you can see the other side of the argument, because again the following quote is incorrect.
I minister full-time in Spanish, and here it helps me to understand the Greek. The Spanish hermano means “brother”, while hermana, with the feminine ending, means “sister”. But hermanos, plural, is generic. As in the Greek, the Spanish plural can refer to “male siblings only” or it could refer to “siblings.” So in Spanish, if someone asks me, “Do you have any hermanos?” the proper response in my case would be “Yes, I have two brothers. I have one brother and one sister.” But in English, if someone asks me, “Do you have any brothers?” my response would be to tell you how many male siblings I have: “Yes, I have one brother.” And maybe I would add: “Oh, and I also have a sister.” Do you see the difference? If I ask you if you have brothers and you start in by saying, “Yes, I have three sisters,” then it should be evident to all that the English doesn’t work the same way as the Greek does.
So, the plural adelphoi in Greek can mean “male siblings” or “siblings,” depending on the context. Since Paul addresses male and female adelphoi in his letters, then a perfectly proper and literal translation in English is siblings or, less clunkily, brothers and sisters.
Again, while his understanding of Spanish is perfect, that quote’s understanding of Greek is 100% incorrect. No lexicon that I’ve seen offers “brothers and sisters” for the plural of adelphos, which is “adelphoi”.
Further, there is a Greek word that means “sister”. It’s the word “ἀδελφή” (adelphé) and one of its plural forms is used with the plural form of adelphos several times. Since the plural forms are used together, it makes zero sense to say that adelphoi means “siblings” instead of “brothers”.
(Note: unlike English, Greek nouns have multiple plural forms. For simplicity and clarity, I will use the Nominative (subject case) plurals “adelphoi” for “brothers”, and “adelphai” for “sisters” in the verses below.)
And everyone who has left houses or brothers (adelphoi) or sisters (adelphai) or father or mother or children or farms on account of My name, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.
29 Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers (adelphoi) or sisters (adelphai) or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake,
30 but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers (adelphoi) and sisters (adelphai) and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers (adelphoi) and sisters (adelphai), yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
Notice, the plural adelphoi (brothers) is paired with the plural adelphai (sisters). If adelphoi means “siblings”, then why would it be paired with adelphai (sisters)? Additionally, no lexicon I’ve seen has “brothers and sisters” as a definition for the plural adelphoi.
Additionally, there’s good reason to think that when the Bible says “brothers”, it actually means brothers (men).
(For a more thorough treatment of this idea of the Bible speaking mainly to men, I recommend reading the article “The Gender-Neutral Language Controversy” by Michael D. Marlowe, especially the first set of bullet points under the heading “The Patriarchal Bible Problem”.)
We’ll look at those verses in a moment, but some context is needed first. We looked at anthrópos which means “man”, but there’s another Greek word that means “male”. That word is “ἀνήρ” (anér) and it only means a male, and never refers to any female. Ever.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:
1. with a reference to sex, and so to distinguish a man from a woman; either a. as a male: Acts 8:12; Acts 17:12; 1 Timothy 2:12; or b. as a husband:
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance:
A primary word (compare anthropos); a man (properly as an individual male) — fellow, husband, man, sir.
Now, this is important because sometimes God uses language in the Bible that is clearly and specifically directed at men, even when women are present. Specifically, in the following passages, anér – which refers only to males – is used when we know women are present.
However, even the best translations sometimes obscure this fact. Thus is the case with Acts 1:16. Therefore, we’ll be quote from a somewhat wooden – but accurate in this case – translation: the “Berean Literal Bible”. (Which has no association with or relationship to this website whatsoever). Feel free to double check it by looking at Acts 1 in an interlinear Bible.
13 And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room, where they were staying, both Peter and John, and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
14 All these were steadfastly continuing with one accord in prayer, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
15 And in these days, Peter having stood up in the midst of the brothers, and the number of names was about a hundred twenty together, the same said,
16 “Men (anér), brothers (adelphoi), it was necessary for the Scripture to have been fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, the one having become guide to those having arrested Jesus.
Notice, verse 14 specifically says the women were present, but Peter only addressed the “men” (anér = male, there in the plural form “andres”). However, many paraphrase translations intentionally obscure this fact. Here’s the NIV’s rendering:
Acts 1:16 – NIV
and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.
They dropped the word anér (male) and mistranslated “adelphoi” as “brothers and sisters” to make it gender inclusive.
They changed God’s words.
This verse isn’t the only place either. This same “men, brothers” construction is also used in Acts 2:29, Acts 6:3, Acts 13:26, Acts, 13:38, Acts 15:7, and Acts 15:13; though without specifically saying that women are present. (Unfortunately, most translations drop “men”, even the good ones.)
Several times Jesus uses both adelphoi (brothers) and adelphai (sisters), indicating that “adelphoi” (brothers) isn’t generic. Plus Acts 1:16 seems conclusive proof that adelphoi (brothers) should be translated “brothers”, not “brothers and sisters”. Plus, no lexicon that I’ve seen has “brothers and sisters” as a possible translation for adelphoi.
Therefore, “adelphoi” means “brothers”, not “brothers and sisters”.
“Sons of Israel” vs “people of Israel”
I feel like we’re beating this gender issue to death, but there’s a reason for that. Any translation that is willing to alter the gender of a word is – by definition – changing God’s words. Another place this often happens is with the common Old Testament phrase “sons of Israel” being changed to the more gender inclusive “people of Israel”.
- The Hebrew word for “son” is “בֵּן” (ben), which means “son/sons”. It doesn’t have “people” as a possible definition.
- The Hebrew word for “people” is “עַם” (am), which means “people” and nothing else. It’s worth noting that it’s used 1800+ times in the Old testament and usually refers to the people of Israel.
Here are both words used in the same verse, with examples of both mistranslation (ESV) and accurate translation (NASB ’95).
ESV: you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people (ben) of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people (am) bowed their heads and worshiped.
NASB ’95: you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons (ben) of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.'” And the people (am) bowed low and worshiped.
This verse is just one of many examples where unfaithful translators have changed God’s words to suit their preferences. The Hebrew words “ben” (son) and “am” (people) are different words and thus should be translated according to their meaning, thus respecting the words that God Himself chose to use.
Most translations don’t.
Most translation show no reverence nor fear of God when they change His words like this.
This gender change might seem like a small thing, but it’s an indication of larger problems present within every single translation that uses more “gender neutral” language: they NEVER stop at gender, they always change other things too. (even the ESV, which we’ll talk about in detail further down.)
If a translation isn’t concerned about accurately translating God’s words, I’m not interested.
(Note: the word “ben” in certain rare cases can mean “children”, possibly of both genders. Because it’s a possible – though rare – usage, a translation that uses “children of Israel” might not be changing God’s words. It’s not the ideal translation, but it’s not blatantly changing God’s words either.)
3rd Person Verbs, The Definite Article, and Gender
One accurate criticism leveled against translations which use the original Greek genders is that they sometimes insert male pronouns where they aren’t original. This is partly true, and partly untrue. We’ll look at a passage in a literal translation that does it both correctly and incorrectly in the same few verses.
6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;
7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching;
8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
Now, the two instances of “his” are incorrect insertions of masculine pronouns, while the 5 instances of “he” are correct.
Let me explain.
In Greek, verbs have “person”. However, while English has “person”, we don’t have it in verbs. In English we have:
- “I” which is first Person
- “You” which is second person
- “He/she/it” which are third person
Greek verbs have this feature in them, unlike English verbs which don’t. In English, we must add another word to indicate “person”. For example, you would say:
- “I run” in first person
- “You run” in second person
- “he/she/it runs” in third person.
However, in Greek the ending of the verb tells you the person, but not gender. That’s a problem in English because we can’t do this. We must insert he/she/it to indicate 3rd person.
This can result in incorrectly gendered language because English verbs want a subject. (Greek is a bit different.)
In the verse we just saw, this happened with the two instances of “his”. The translators inserted “his” because English 3rd person verbs want a subject (he/she/it). In Greek, there is no “his” there. It simply says (for example) “if service, in service”. That’s slightly improper English, but isn’t gendered.
However, the five instances of “he” are correct.
In Greek, you can use the definite article (“the” in English) as a pronoun. I talk about this in my article A few Fun Things About Biblical (Koine) Greek. Consider Matthew 1:6, which is part of Jesus’ genealogy. It literally says “And David fathered Solomon from the of Uriah”. The highlighted word is the definite article (“the” in English) in the feminine form being used as a feminine pronoun.
So while the Greek definite article can function as a pronoun and convey gender, Greek verbs don’t (except participles). Such is the case in Romans 12, which we’ll look at again with this understanding. All of the instances of the word “he” are the definite article being used as a pronoun
6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of
7 if service, in
hisserving; or he who teaches, in his teaching;
8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
BTW, there’s an easy way to tell when the Greek definite article is being used as a pronoun, even without knowing Greek. If you see the phrase “he who ___” or the phrase “those who ___”, and the “___” is a verb of some kind, odds are 98%+ that it’s the Greek definite article being used as a masculine pronoun. In such cases, a masculine gendering is almost correct.
So when you see “those who ____” in the New Testament, it more accurately means “the (males) who ___”. It’s not gender neutral; it’s masculine almost every time.
Unfortunately, there’s no good way to tell when it’s incorrect.
So while this criticism is valid, it’s vastly overstated by those who don’t know the Greek definite article also functions as a pronoun. In fact, the Greek definite article being used this way is extremely common when combined with a participle.
(Further, Greek participles can convey gender and are almost always masculine when referring to a person. Not only that, but substantives can also convey gender in many cases and are almost always masculine, but not translated that way. Frankly, the New Testament uses masculine words far more often than even the best translations indicate, though this is because of limitations in the English language not translator bias.)
EDIT: and again, if this masculine gendered language bothers you, then I recommend you read my article How Crucial are Women to a Biblical Household? Very! It should help.
How to Tell A Good Bible Translation From a Bad One
We started by examining what makes a Bible translation “best”. After seeing that God Himself is very particular about His words, we arrived at this criteria:
The best Bible translation is the one that changes God’s words the least in the translation process.
Now based on that criteria, plus everything else we’ve talked about, here’s how to tell a good Bible translation from a bad one.
Literal, Word-for-Word Translation Style
God clearly places a high value on His words, so a translation should also place a high value on God’s words. Just a single word can make a huge difference, as we saw. As far as this goes, a literal, word-for-word style translation most closely replicates God’s own priorities as revealed in Scripture.
By contrast, the “dynamic Equivalence” / thought-for-thought paraphrases expressly don’t. They claim to be translating God’s thoughts, which is impossible according to several verses, as we’ve seen.
It should also be noted that sometimes a Greek word can’t be entirely capture by a single English word. In these cases, translating it into more than one English word is 100% acceptable, and even preferable. So while “word-for-word” is the terminology, understand that often a single Greek word might end up being more than one English word. That’s a good thing.
Leave Interpretation to Commentary, Not Translation
The best Bible translations don’t include the translators’ opinions and biases in the finished work. They will work very hard to keep them out of the text. Thus, if you see a translation which inserts doctrinal positions where it shouldn’t or alters passage to fit a certain doctrinal position: beware. (the ESV does this a lot; see the mini-review lower down)
No Changing God’s Words to be Gender Neutral
God commanded that we respect His words. Therefore when God uses gendered language, the translation should too, at least as much as reasonably possible. (Greek and Hebrew both express gender more often than English) That means that anthropos and adam should be translated “man”, the word “human” should be rare, and adelphoi should be translated “brothers” instead of “brothers and sisters”.
Now, a word of caution. The translators of gender-neutral Bibles have co-opted the phrase “gender accurate” to mean “gender neutral”. So if you see a Bible proclaiming itself to be “gender accurate”, it most likely is actually “gender neutral.”
Please be aware of this.
This is admittedly somewhat subjective, which is why we haven’t spent a lot of time on it. All other things being equal, more readable is better. However, if the most important thing about the Bible is accurately translating God’s words, then it’s better to focus on accuracy than readability. Most of the best translations are readable enough, though sadly they don’t tend to shine in this area.
The Things That Don’t Matter
You’ll notice that this entire time we haven’t talked about translation teams. I personally don’t care about who translated a Bible or how many people did. I don’t care about their theological background, I don’t care if there was only one translator or a thousand translators.
I only care about the finished result.
The rest doesn’t matter.
Flashy terms like “newest manuscripts” and the “best scholars” and especially “most recent scholarship” are useless. Frankly, the more I see those things advertised instead of accuracy, the more skeptical I become. It doesn’t matter who translated it as long as the result was accurate.
That’s what matters.
If the finished text faithfully translates God’s words, I couldn’t care less about the rest.
Ignored the marketing and focus on the text of the translation. The only question that matters in Bible translation is how well/accurately they handled God’s words. Nothing else matters by comparison. Don’t get distracted by fluff. 60,932 footnotes is useless unless the text itself is excellent.
Some pastor’s seal of approval is meaningless unless God’s words are accurately translated into English.
Focus on God’s words.
When I pickup the Bible, all I care about is reading the words that God inspired. Focus on that and let the rest fade.
The “Litmus Test” Verse
(Okay, it’s three verses not one)
As we spent the first part of this article discussing, we care about the Bible because it contains God’s words. God commanded us not to change His words. Therefore, any translation that intentionally mistranslates even a single verse automatically gets a failing grade from me for two reasons:
- Intentionally mistranslating a verse means the translators cared more their doctrine than God’s words
- If they intentionally mistranslated a verse once, they’re likely to intentionally mistranslate other places too.
Fortunately, there’s a verse we can use to quickly and easily sort out the wheat from the chaff; the good from the bad.
Is this verse more important than any other verse? No. Everything God said is important. However, this verse is
mistranslated perverted more often than any other verse in the Bible. This verse is my favorite “litmus test” verse for this reason:
If a translation faithfully translates this verse, they usually translate everything else faithfully too. If a translation mistranslates this verse, they always mistranslate other verses too.
No exceptions (that I’ve seen).
This specific verse is convenient because of two things:
- The meaning is obvious in Greek, and therefore mistranslating it is always intentional.
- Almost no unfaithful translator can resist changing this verse.
Here’s the verse in the NASB ’95, which translates it accurately. We’ll also look at the following two verses to make the context clearer. The “Litmus Test” verses are 36-38, but verse 38 is enough all by itself. You do need the context of verses 36-38 though.
1 Corinthians 7:36-38
36 But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry.
37 But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well.
38 So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.
The word translated “gives… …in marriage” (used twice in verse 38) is “γαμίσκω” (gamisko) and it only has one definition/meaning:
give in marriage.
From gamos; to espouse (a daughter to a husband) — give in marriage.
That Greek word is only ever used this way, and it’s the easiest way to prove that this passage is about a father allowing or not allowing his daughters to marry. This is patently obvious in Greek. There are other things that make this passage’s meaning obvious in Greek, but they would all take a bit longer to explain and you probably aren’t reading this article for a Greek lesson.
Now, some think this was limited to Roman fathers back then, and some think fathers today still have this authority. We won’t get into the debate today, but I will say this: That debate should take place in commentary, not translation. God commanded us not to change His words. However, most
translations paraphrases these days can’t resisting change this verse/passage to be more culturally acceptable.
Here’s an example from the NIV:
1 Corinthians 7:36 (NIV)
36 If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married.
37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing.
38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.
(Note: the NIV translators obviously knew the correct translation because their footnote has it.)
The NIV showcases a pretty typical perversion of this passage. A few translations leave it ambiguous in verse 36 and then go off the rails in verse 38. So if verse 36 looks correct, then check verse 38 next. If verse 38 doesn’t say “give in marriage” or something substantially similar, it’s flat out wrong.
Whenever someone asks me about a Bible translation that I haven’t read, I immediately flip to this verse. If it gets this verse right, I look deeper. If it gets this verse/passage wrong, I discard it as having been done by unfaithful translators, or at least translators that I can’t trust.
If the translators intentionally changed a verse once, why should we trust them on other verses?
That’s why 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 makes a great “Litmus Test” verse. It allows you to know if the translators changed the text with reasonable certainty.
To be 100% clear: any translation that makes 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 about an engaged couple is intentionally
changing perverting God words, and thus it should be discarded.
Not because this verse is more important than any other, (it’s not) but because unfaithful translators can’t resist changing it. And if they’re willing to change one verse…
The Top 10 Best Selling Bible Translations: a short(ish) review
We’ll go through each one individually, (except the Spanish “Reina Valera” translation because I speak almost no Spanish) and evaluate them based on the criteria we’ve discussed. The list is from here.
- New International Version (NIV)
- King James Version (KJV)
- New Living Translation (NLT)
- English Standard Version (ESV)
- New King James Version (NKJV)
- Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
- Reina Valera (RV)
- New International Reader’s Version (NIrV)
- The Message (Message)
- New American Standard Bible (NASB) – 1995 edition
We’ll also briefly look at:
- New American Standard Bible (NASB) – 2020 edition
- The New English Translation (NET)
- Good News Bible (GNT)
- Holman Christian Standard Bible (HSCB)
The “New International Version” (NIV)
Many have jokingly called the NIV the “The Nearly Inspired Version”, or even more derogatorily the “Not Inspired Version”. I understand why. There’s a reason that I used the NIV as an example of bad translation so many times throughout this article.
- Translation type: Mostly Paraphrase
- Gender neutral: Yes – high
- Pass Litmus Test verse: No
- Readability: High
- Worth using: No
The first full NIV was released in 1978. However, the 1984 revision became the most popular edition, but it’s now out-of-print. Now, to fully understand the modern NIV, we need to talk about the TNIV (Today’s New International Version).
In 2005, the NIV’s publisher (Zondervan) released an updated and “improved” version of the NIV called the TNIV. The TNIV was very nearly an abomination. It took gender neutral language so far that even some liberal pastors pushed back and it was eventually discontinued.
Then they got sneaky.
On September 1, 2009, a press conference held by CBT, Biblica (the new name for IBS), and Zondervan announced that the 1984 NIV would be revised and the 2005 TNIV discontinued. Some interpreted this to mean the TNIV was a failed experiment and the old NIV would just be freshened a bit. What was actually stated was that the CBT would reconsider every change that the TNIV introduced to the NIV, in light of external feedback, so that the 2011 revision of the NIV would actually be a revised TNIV.
While I’m not a fan of the 1984 NIV, it was certainly far better than the TNIV or post-2011 NIV. The post 2011 NIV is also very nearly an abomination. It’s so bad that I’ve used it as an example of bad translation throughout this article, so we won’t re-quote and re-examine all of those verses.
Essentially what the translators did was to take all the obvious gender changes in the TNIV that everyone complained about and discard them. Then they took all the less obvious gender changes and added them to the 2011 NIV. As a result, the post 2011 NIV is extremely similar to the TNIV, as the numbers show:
|No changes in any||18859||60.7%|
|Uses NIV1984 text||171||0.6%|
|Uses TNIV text||9736||31.3%|
|New text in NIV2011||2320||7.5%|
That graph came from slowly.com’s article on the differences between the NIV 1984, TNIV, and NIV 2011. There’s a lot of good information about the changes and similarities between the three versions. Especially illuminating is the page that shows the gender changes on a single table. There are literally thousands of places where they’ve changed the gender from the 1984 NIV, which was much less problematic (from a gender standpoint).
Obviously, the NIV gets a failing grade.
It should be avoided like the plague.
The “King James Version” (KJV)
No other translation is so revered, hated, lauded, and criticized than the world’s oldest continually printed English Bible: the King James Version. It’s also know as the “Authorized Version” or AV. It’s 400+ years old and has a cult following… but is it good?
- Translation type: Literal
- Gender neutral: Very Low
- Pass Litmus Test verse: Yes
- Readability: Low
- Worth using: Maybe (special case)
The KJV had a lot to recommend it 400 years ago. It was a work of near unparalleled beauty and is quite faithful in translation most of the time. I really don’t have much bad to say about the KJV’s translation work.
There are certainly some problems (like translating “sheol” and “Hades” as “hell” more often than not) but overall it’s certainly of an acceptable quality. Often in controversial passages, it shows a tendency to be less swayed by culture than any other translation, which is wonderful. That last sentence is ironic, considering what I’m about to say.
Surprisingly, the KJV sometimes veers very slightly into gender neutral language territory.
Not badly and probably not with an agenda, but it does. For example, it translates “sons of Israel” as “children of Israel”. As we said before, that’s not technically ‘wrong’, but certainly isn’t ideal either. They do the same thing in the New Testament also, with even less reason.
KJV: For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
NKJV: For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
The Greek word there is “υἱός” (huios), and it means “son”, so “children” is wrong. Perhaps the KJV translators thought that huios was analogous to “ben” in Hebrew? I’m honestly not sure what to make of this mistranslation because they accurately handled gendered language everywhere else.
Since it’s only gender inclusive in these two examples – one of which isn’t technically wrong – and because there’s clearly no agenda given the KJV’s translation of other passages, I’m willing to extend a bit of grace. I marked it blue and “very low” on gender neutrality because it’s on the edge, but still acceptable.
Proving there’s no gender-based agenda, the KJV properly translates Ephesians 5:31, saying that wives must “reverence” their husbands instead of the more modern translation of “respect”, which misses the force of the Greek there. (It’s the same word that’s usually translated “fear” in the phrase “fear of the lord”, and properly means to “reverently fear” or “revere” depending on the context.) That’s just one example, but it consistently translates controversial passages a bit more faithfully than other translations.
Again, that’s a huge strength.
The biggest problem with the KJV has nothing to do with the translation work. It’s something entirely beyond the KJV translator’s control. That problem is this:
The English language has changed a lot in 400 years.
I’m not only talking about the “ye” “thee” and “thou” though. Those are actually quite useful and communicate something that modern Bibles can’t if you know a bit about old English. I’m talking about the definition of words. Some words change meaning over time. Thus, some words don’t mean the same thing now that they did 400 years ago.
Here’s an example from the KJV:
1 Peter 3:1-2
1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.
Won without a word by conversation? In verse 2, how do you observe “chaste conversation”? The answer is you can’t… if you define “conversation” the way we do now. However, 400 years ago “conversation” meant the same thing that “conduct” means today. If you read that verse without knowing this, you’d come to the wrong conclusion about what should be done.
This is just one example.
Another good example is the commandment which the KJV translates as “thou shalt not kill”. However, 400 years ago “kill” meant what “murder” means today. This alone has caused significant confusion. (I’ve had to explain this to more than one Christian who heard the KJV version.)
Or 1 Corinthians 16:15 where the KJV reads “…they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints“, while most other good translations have “…they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints“. The meaning of the word “addicted” has changed in 400 year. I know of a pastor who taught on this verse from the KJV without knowing this, and therefore came to an… ‘interesting’ conclusion.
There are dozens of other words that have changed meaning over time. Unfortunately, the KJV has fallen victim to this change. I don’t recommend it because of this, unless “the King’s English” is second nature to you and you’re fully aware of the original meanings. Even then, you’ll have a hard time having a serious doctrinal discussion with many Christians if you use the KJV. You might understand it, but they probably won’t. At least, they’ll probably have a hard time with the Old English.
I don’t recommend the KJV, but mostly because the English language has changed underneath it.
It does often shine in faithfulness to controversial passages though.
The “New Living Translation” (NLT)
The NLT is in many ways the “Stealth Bomber” of Bible translations. It doesn’t get much publicity but always seems to be climbing the sales charts anyway. This would be wonderful if it was an excellent translation. It’s not.
- Translation type: True Paraphrase
- Gender neutral: Yes – High
- Pass Litmus Test verse: No
- Readability: High
- Worth using: No
The New Living Translation started as a project to revise “The Living Bible” (TLB). The TLB was a paraphrase done by Kenneth N. Taylor for his children. The original goal was merely to revise it, but it eventually grew into a whole new translation project.
More than any other Bible on this list, the NLT veers into interpretation instead of translation. Here are but a few examples of so, so many. (And we’ve already seen one above.)
NLT: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.
NASB ’95: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
The NLT takes this verse to mean “judged by men”. However, that’s not stated in the context. In context, it could be argued that God is doing the judging. The NLT closes that as a possibility, even though the footnote says “Or ‘For God will judge you as you judge others’.”
NLT: Israel is no stronger than its capital, Samaria, and Samaria is no stronger than its king, Pekah son of Remaliah. Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.”
NASB ’95: and the head of Ephraim is Samaria and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.”‘”
Ignoring the first part of the verse – which certainly has problems – it sounds like the NLT took a swipe at God’s sovereignty there. There are many other passages like this and some are worse. I’d list them, but there’s just so many badly translated verses in the NLT.
Another huge problem is their lack of faithfulness on gender. From their website:
The NLT is also sensitive to passages where the text applies generally to human beings or to the human condition. In many instances, the NLT uses plural pronouns (they, them) in place of the masculine singular (he, him).
“At least they don’t make God gender neutral.” <— That’s the most positive statement I can make about the accuracy of the NLT, and it basically boils down to “at least they didn’t mess that up“.
Now, the NLT is incredibly readable. It might be the most readable “translation” on this list. However, it’s certainly not the best Bible translation when it comes to being faithful to God’s words. Not even close. It’s not even in the ballpark. In fact, the NLT can’t even see the ballpark it’s so far back.
The NLT gets a hard pass.
Readable doesn’t equal good.
The “English Standard Version” (ESV)
Many Christians seem to view the ESV as an ideal translation that combines a high degree of literalism with good readability to produce a superior Bible. I will never understand how the publishers and marketing team so thoroughly deceived so many Christians into believing this.
- Translation type: Somewhat Literal
- Gender neutral: Yes – Medium
- Pass Litmus Test verse: No
- Readability: Medium
- Worth using: No
I’ll skip straight to the point with the ESV: it has a real problem with changing God’s words to fit the translator’s doctrinal biases. The ESV fails the Litmus Test verse rather spectacularly, and other verses are intentionally mistranslated as well.
The ESV even completely flips the meaning of a very significant verse!
ESV: “If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the LORD’s commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity.
NASB ’95: “Now if a person sins and does any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty and shall bear his punishment.
The ESV is utterly alone in its rendering of this verse. The ESV makes it sound like you aren’t guilty of sin unless you know you sinned. That’s the complete opposite of what this verse teaches. It’s exactly, 100% opposite to what God said.
Further, this is intentional.
It’s 100% intentional.
There’s simply no way to get the ESV’s rendering from the Hebrew text. There just isn’t. Please, check Leviticus 5:17 in an interlinear if you don’t believe me. Or check literally any other translation of the verse. This “translation” doesn’t just blatantly and intentionally change God’s words, it intentionally reverses God’s words here.
It’s not the only place either.
ESV: but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.
NASB ’95: but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance.
Again, the ESV breaks with other translations to fit the translators’ doctrinal biases. Clearly, they believed you couldn’t sin without knowing it, and had no problem changing God’s words to make other people believed it too.
And we’re not done.
ESV: Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
NASB ’95: Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
The ESV has a very different statement than the NASB and the Greek. (It’s surprising to me that so many Calvinists like the ESV given its translation of verses like this.)
Keep in mind that when you include the Litmus Test verse, that’s at least 4 verses that the ESV has intentionally mistranslated, mostly to push their particular doctrinal biases. (Plus there’s more that we’ll get to in a minute.)
Because of that, I don’t trust the ESV.
Not one bit.
Further, the ESV often veers into commentary in the translation. Not as much as the NIV and NLT, but certainly often enough.
ESV: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
NASB ’95: “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
Hell is not Hades. Hades is not hell. They are completely different Greek words. (The difference is actually quite significant.) This is including commentary in translation again. Granted, this verse raises a a yellow flag not a red flag like the first three verses and the Litmus test verse. Still, that’s 4x red flags and a yellow flags for the ESV.
So we’ll add yet another red flag to the ESV: gender issues
Now, the ESV isn’t as bad as other gender-neutral translations. It doesn’t usually render “brothers” as “brothers and sisters” or anything that obvious. It also doesn’t make gender neutral language a focus like the NIV, NLT, and other paraphrases.
However it does change things, it’s just more… sneaky about it.
For instance, the word “man, men” is “neutered” in the ESV 968 times. The masculine pronoun, “he, him, his” is neutered 1832 times! And the new-age, evolutionist, neuter buzz-word “human” is employed 63 times.
Source. (that’s compared to the KJV)
The quote above is from a KJV-only website, and so that’s compared to the KJV. Even so, the ESV plays with gender hundreds of times. Again, this isn’t showing preference to God’s words, nor His command not to change his words. (Even if we pretend the gender issues are overstated by double, that still over a thousand times that they changed God’s words.)
Another place where the ESV intentionally uses gender neutral language is in the Old Testament phrase “the sons of Israel”. It appears 78 times in the book of Exodus (and many times in other books) but the ESV has it… *drum roll please* …one time. It appears hundreds of times in the Old Testament, most of which the ESV neuters into the “people of Israel”.
That’s not what God wrote.
Now, they could possibly have translated it as “children of Israel” like the KJV, because the Hebrew word “ben” is occasionally used in a way that could mean “children”. It’s a rare usage, but possible. But the ESV didn’t. That makes me think it was changed for gender neutrality reasons, just like all the instances of man/men and he/him/his which the ESV also changed.
As we already covered, God is very particular about his words. Unfortunately, where gender is concerned, the ESV isn’t. It’s more careful than some others, but not nearly enough for serious use/study.
Not by a long shot.
At the intersection of “gender issues” and “changing text to suit your biases”, there’s the ESV’s treatment of Malachi 2. For space/time’s sake, we’ll only deal with verse 16, but verses 14 and 15 also have problems and I recommend you look them up.
ESV: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
NASB ’95: “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
Notice that in the correctly translated NASB ’95, God says He hates two things:
- “and him who covers his garment with violence”
However, the ESV says that divorce itself “covers his garment with violence.” Worse, you can read it so a man who merely “does not love his wife” actually “covers his garment with violence”.
You might think that the ESV translators have no problem adding to/changing the Bible because they do it so often. But it gets worse: they knew this translation is flat-out wrong. Here’s the footnote:
Probable meaning (compare Septuagint and Deuteronomy 24:1 – 4); or “The LORD, the God of Israel, says that he hates divorce, and him who covers
The footnote version says almost exactly what the NASB ’95 says, with just a slight change in word order (which is 100% fine). So the ESV translators knew about the correct meaning, but put the correct meaning in the footnotes and put their own words in the main text. They literally relegated God’s words to a footnote in favor of their own words.
Oh, and the ESV also mistranslates “do not deal treacherously” into “do not be faithless”. The Hebrew word is “בָּגד” (bagad) and means “to act or deal treacherously”.
How about another? This time on a gender issue verse that even the NIV 2011 gets right!
1 Timothy 4:7
ESV: Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;
NIV 2011: Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.
NKJV: But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.
The phrase there is two Greek words. The first is “γραώδης” (graódés), which means “characteristic of old women“. The second is “μῦθος” (muthos), which is the root of our English word “myth”, and means “an idle tale, fable, fanciful story“. Again, even the NIV 2011 got this right, but the ESV intentionally mistranslated it.
One last one, because there isn’t space to keep listing them forever. (There are plenty more)
ESV: To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”
NASB ’95: To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”
Again, the ESV is completely alone in this translation and – not surprisingly – it’s simply wrong.
I could go on, but I hope you get the point: the ESV is not a reliable translation, seemingly especially where gender issues are concerned.
(It’s interesting that many of the ESV’s issues seem connected to gender issues. It makes me wonder if the translators had an agenda... It almost seems sneaky how they only used the less obvious gender neutral language and changed gender-related passages so consistently.)
EDIT: Here’s another one I just recently found, and it’s important enough (and disturbing enough) for an edit:
1 Corinthians 6:9
NASB ’95: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,
ESV: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,
Notice what’s missing from the ESV?
The NASB correctly translated “μαλακός”, (malakos) as “effeminate”, though it’s masculine there and so means “effeminate men”. This word likely refers to transgender and/or cross-dressing men… and the ESV translators apparently decided to delete it from their translation.
The fact that the ESV translators made a choice to completely erase – to take away from – God’s words is highly concerning to me. That choice looks like a concession to certain ideologies to me. Further, we know it was a choice because the Greek word is present in every single Greek text that modern Bibles are translated from, and you can double-check me in the NA28, the Majority Text, and the Textus Receptus. You’re looking for the nominative masculine plural form of “μαλακός”, (malakos) which is “μαλακοὶ” (malakoi).
(Note: the NKJV translates it “homosexuals” here, likely thinking that it refers to pederasty. That’s is certainly possible, though not the primary meaning.)
As we’ve seen, the ESV seems to have no trouble changing significant verses like Malachi 2, Leviticus 5:17, Hebrews 9:7, etc. Even more troubling, no one seems to know that the ESV made all these changes! While many will critique the smallest splinter in the eye of other translations, they seemingly ignore the massive log in the ESV’s eye. Seriously, no one talks about them! It took forever to find these mistranslations (once I found the first, I went looking for more) and I stumbled onto a couple by accident while researching other translations.
BTW, the ESV is only “somewhat literal”
I want to cringe when someone say that the ESV is a literal translation. Not because they’re wrong, but because there’s more to the story. It’s “somewhat literal”, but much less than most people think. It veers into dynamic/paraphrase more often than it should. I lost a lot of respect for the ESV pretty quickly when I started going through the New Testament in Greek.
That’s not the hallmark of a faithful translation…
Despite the enormous number of people who love the ESV, it does have three huge problems:
- The ESV intentionally changes God’s words to to fit the translators’ doctrinal biases in many theologically significant passages. That’s a serious problem; a massive problem. That alone completely disqualifies the ESV from my perspective. I trust the ESV so little that I always double check whenever someone quotes from the ESV.
- Another major strike against the ESV is their use of gender-neutral language. While not as bad as some, it’s still very serious and changing God’s words, ultimately pleasing man rather than God.
- The translators decided to delete “effeminate [men]” from 1 Cor 6:9. That’s nigh unforgiveable, and especially because the word they deleted hints at the frightening possibility that there’s an agenda there.
These three things together demonstrate a lack of commitment to accurately translating God’s words. I have no interest in a Bible which doesn’t accurately translate God’s words. Further, I have a sense of revulsion for a translation that actively and intentionally perverts God’s words, especially when they know better, and even more especially when they go about it such a ‘sneaky’ manner.
ESV Verdict: It’s poison but tasty. Run – don’t walk – away.
It might taste sweet, but…
The “New King James Version” (NKJV)
Our first translation that’s good across the board is also one of the most ignored in the best Bible translation debate. It’s still ranked in the middle of the top 10 by sales, but in my humble opinion it’s worthy of being #1 or # 2.
- Translation type: Literal
- Gender neutral: Essentially No
- Pass Litmus Test verse: Yes
- Readability: Medium
- Worth using: Yes
The NKJV started it’s life in 1975 and was finished/published in 1982. While the NASB is often cited as the most literal of the modern English Bible translations, I humbly disagree. I think the NKJV actually edges it out just slightly. (It’s definitely far more literal than the ESV.)
Not by much, but I’d say the NKJV is more literal than the NASB by a hair.
The NKJV wasn’t even on my radar until I started going through the New Testament in Greek. I was comparing what I was reading in Greek with various translations to see which was the most accurate. I lost all respect for several translations almost immediately, and the ESV started to lose my respect not long after.
I wasn’t even looking at the NKJV.
Then one day I checked it on impulse, and was shocked to discover that it was even more literal than the NASB in that verse. The longer I read, the more impressive its literalism became was when compared to the Greek. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s certainly up there with the NASB ’95. It’s the first translation in several decades that seriously made me consider switching.
Going back to it’s history, the goal of the NKJV translators was to update the KJV to modern English, eliminating the archaic language while keeping the literary style intact. By all accounts they succeeded. Since the KJV is already a good translation, the NKJV inherited that same accuracy and arguably improved on it. Having compared much of it to the Greek, I can attest to that accuracy first hand.
The biggest flaw of the NKJV is: (and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but…): It’s too literal in some places.
By “too literal”, I mean there are places where they’ve stuck so closely to the Greek that the verse becomes confusing to read in English. (Think of the example of word order in John 3:16 above.) Once in a while, it reads more like an interlinear than a translation. As far as flaws go, there are certainly worse ones to have.
Fortunately, these places are somewhat rare. Further, it reads very well in most places.
I’d rather have a translation that’s slightly confusing at times than one that intentionally mistranslates. *cough*ESV*cough* Further, the NKJV tends to read very well in verses which aren’t this way.
The NKJV also has one feature that I really like: The NKJV italicizes words added by translators for clarity.
Sometimes translators need to add a word to make the meaning of the sentence clear because of the differing grammar rules between Greek/Hebrew and English. All translations do this (and need to do this), but the NKJV makes it very transparent by italicizing those words so the readers know that they are added.
This a wonderful feature.
I love it.
Now, there’s a slight downside to the NKJV in the gender arena, but it’s better than the KJV even. The KJV and NKJV both translate the “sons of Israel” as the “children of Israel”. The Hebrew word there does mean “son”, but in a few rare cases it might refer to “children”. As such it gets a pass because it’s not technically wrong, though it’s less than ideal. Significantly, there’s no other gender issues I’ve found. (And unlike the original KJV, it translates “sons” correctly in the New Testament.)
Now, it should be noted that the NKJV uses a different textual basis in the New Testament. I actually think this is a good thing, and I go into incredible detail about the different textual basis of the NT in my article: Majority Text vs. Critical Text vs. Textus Receptus: Textual Criticism 101. The NKJV and KJV are both based on the Textus Receptus, while every other translation on this list uses the Critical text.
I slightly prefer the textual basis of the NKJV/KJV, but neither is perfect and both are acceptable. (see the article for details.)
You will notice that the NKJV has some verses that other translations don’t, again because of the different textual basis. One of the major differences is the Johannine Comma of 1 John 5:7-8, which is the strongest Trinitarian passage in the entire Bible… but its sadly missing from most Bibles. (See the link to read my article on the topic)
The NKJV also capitalizes pronouns that refer to God, which I prefer.
All said and done, I think the NKJV is one of the two best Bible translations on the market. There is one I slightly prefer, but the difference is slight and it’s on this list so we’ll get to it eventually.
The “Christian Standard Bible” (CSB)
The Christian Standard Bible has gotten a lot of traction lately. It began life as a revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB, review lower down) but it’s definitely not an upgrade.
- Translation type: paraphrase
- Gender neutral: Yes – High
- Pass Litmus Test verse: No
- Readability: High
- Worth using: No
So, let’s start with gender. The CSB translates “adelphoi” as “brothers and sisters”. The CSB is so committed to gender neutral language, that they translate “aner” (which means “male”) as “person” in Romans 4:8. Needless to say, they translate “anthropos” (“man”) as person or human a lot.
The CSB now translates the term anthropos, a Greek word for “man,” in a gender-neutral form 151 times, rendering it “human,” “people,” and “ones.” The previous edition had done this on occasion; the new revision adds almost 100 more instances. “Men of Israel” becomes “fellow Israelites;” when discussing Jesus’s incarnation the “likeness of men” becomes “likeness of humanity.” The CSB translates the term adelphoi, a Greek word for “brother” in a gender-neutral form 106 times, often adding “sister.” “Brotherly love” is translated “love as brothers and sisters.”
The translators even go so far as to translate adelphos (“brother“) – in the singular – as “brother or sister” in Matthew 5:22 and Romans 14:10. I’m completely unaware of even a single lexicon or Greek scholar who supports that.
As far as literalism goes, the translators admit right up front that it’s not as literal as the ESV. That’s a problem, as the ESV is right at the very edge of what I would consider “acceptable” for translation in terms of literalism. The ESV isn’t nearly literal enough in many places, which makes the CSB problematic because God is concerned with His words.
1 Corinthians 7:1
CSB: Now in response to the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”
NASB ’95: Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
Several translations including the NIV, NLT, and ESV also paraphrase/mistranslate this verse. However, The Greek word “ἅπτομαι” (haptomai) does actually mean “touch” and the NASB is correct. Here’s one translation’s footnote on that word in this verse:
“touch” this Greek word has the basic meaning of “touch” It’s most often used to indicate a simple touch, like Jesus “touching” various sick people to heal them. However, it can vary considerably in nuance depending on the context. At the other end of the spectrum, it can mean to “touch sexually”, which is interesting considering the same word can also be used of kindling a fire. It can also mean to “fasten or adhere to” perhaps in an affectionate sense, like how we would use the words “snuggle” or cuddle”. It can also mean to feel around with the fingers; i.e. to “grope”.
The CSB (and NIV, NLT, and ESV) completely miss this by mistranslating haptomai as “have sexual relations”. There’s a whole range of inappropriate sexual behaviors that “touch” addresses, but “have sexual relations” doesn’t. Notice, the original Greek word can include groping or heavy petting too, which the CSB’s rendering can’t.
CSB: How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers!
NASB ’95: How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
There’s two bad things and one good here:
- Happy does not mean blessed; blessed does not mean happy. The word “bless” is used all over the Bible and the CSB obscurs that fact here. Further, not being wicked doesn’t guarantee happiness. I know some good people who are blessed, but not always happy.
- The CSB did well translating it “stand in the pathway with sinners” instead of the NASB’s “stand in the path of sinners”, because the latter is unclear due to an English idiom.
- The CSB makes it clear that the man is merely “in the company” of scoffers. However, the NASB and Hebrew allow for him to be a scoffer because he sits “in the seat of scoffers”. There’s a natural progression of: “take their council > stand with them > be one of them“. The CSB destroys this possibility.
These are some of the problems encountered when you don’t translate literally; when you don’t show reverence for God’s words. The CSB has these sorts of problems all over, I just picked a couple verses to showcase them. (Actually, I picked verses that they themselves showcase on their website as examples of good translation. If this is what they’re proud of…)
In summery, even if the CSB didn’t get gender issues wrong – and intentionally pervert our “Litmus Test” verse – it simply takes too many liberties in translation to be tolerable. While most would say it’s “pretty accurate”, I would disagree on gender issues and further add that “pretty accurate” isn’t good enough.
You saw how a real Supreme Court Case we mentioned earlier as an example was decided by a single, one-letter word (“a“). We should take just as much care – preferably much more – with God’s words, just as He commanded us to.
The “New International Reader’s Version” (NIrV)
The NIrV is basically the NIV written at a 3rd grade reading level. As such, it suffers from all the problems that the NIV suffers from, plus one additional one: it’s written for 3rd graders.
- Translation type: paraphrase
- Gender neutral: Yes – High
- Pass Litmus Test verse: No
- Readability: High
- Worth using: No
Now, I don’t want to be too hard on the NIrV for what they’re trying to do. The idea was to make a Bible that children and new English speakers could easily read and understand. Sadly, this requires a very non-literal approach which includes chopping up verses into small sentences to make it work.
Here’s an example:
Ephesians 2:8-10 – NIrV
8 God’s grace has saved you because of your faith in Christ. Your salvation doesn’t come from anything you do. It is God’s gift.
9 It is not based on anything you have done. No one can brag about earning it.
10 We are God’s creation. He created us to belong to Christ Jesus. Now we can do good works. Long ago God prepared these works for us to do.
I’m sure you see the problem.
The NIrV has (not inaccurately) paraphrased the verse, but that’s the problem: it’s a paraphrase. It paraphrases God’s words which He warned us not to change.
“But what about the kids. Shouldn’t they have something to read?”
The same Bible you do; as it is written:
18 “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.
19 “You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.
God seems to think that children can handle the adult version. He commanded the Israelites to teach their sons the same thing the men learned.
Who are we to disagree?
Further, that’s what my parents did. As soon as my siblings and I finished learning to read, she took us to the local Christian Book Store to get us our first Bible. I still have the NASB she bought for me that day. I finally had to retire it in my 20s because it was falling apart from nearly two decades of use.
While I understand the desire to bring things down to a child’s level, that’s the wrong focus. The Bible doesn’t command us to “bring things down to a child’s level” but rather to “raise up” a child in the way he should go. God said the kids could handle the adult version.
Trust Him on that.
(Further, it says something to a child when they use “adult things”. That’s a vote of confidence you can’t replicate another way; it was nearly a badge of honor in my house growing up. I got an NASB because that’s what my dad used and I felt immensely proud to be using the same Bible that my dad was using. It made me more interested, not less.)
Additionally as it concerns the NIrV, there’s also some… odd things happening in the translation that I noticed when I went to check the Litmus Test verse.
1 Corinthians 7:1
NIrV: Now I want to deal with the things you wrote me about. Some of you say, “It is good for a man not to sleep with a woman.”
NASB ’95: Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
We already discussed the mistranslation of “touch” to mean “have sex” in the CSB, but the NIrV adds another problem. The NIrV makes it sound like the Corinthians – not Paul himself – said it. That’s a problem; a big problem. It appears the NIrV is about as faithful as the NIV, which isn’t a compliment.
I had never heard of this translation until I started writing this article. There’s probably a reason for that. I give the NIrV a “hard pass” rating, even for children. Especially for children. Why would you fill a young child’s mind with a corrupted version of God’s words?
“The Message” (Message/MSG)
The Message is the “translation” of the late Eugene H. Peterson, who wrote and published it in segments from 1993 to 2002. Now, I have no problem with a translation that was done by a single man as long as it was done well. The Message wasn’t.
- Translation type: hyper paraphrase
- Gender neutral: Yes
- Pass Litmus Test verse: No
- Readability: It’s painful to read it because it’s so unfaithful to Scripture, (high otherwise)
- Worth using: Never
Saying that the Message was translated poorly would be an insult to poorly translated Bibles. Yes it’s that bad.
Now, it wouldn’t be so bad if it was presented as a commentary.
That is, if they were upfront that this is one man’s partisan, biased interpretation of what the Bible means. I would still vehemently disagree with the content, but he’s entitled to his opinion and anyone can publish a commentary/interpretation of the Bible. My problem is that they called it a translation.
And they do on the official website:
Peterson’s work has been thoroughly reviewed by a team of recognized Old and New Testament scholars to ensure that it is accurate and faithful to the original languages.
Source. (And they list the names of the “scholars” too)
Don’t take my word that it’s an abomination though, here are a few verses to prove the point:
MSG: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
NASB ’95: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
(Insert your favorite facepalm meme/emoji here.)
But it gets worse…
MSG: “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
NASB ’95: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Need I go on?
Avoid this perversion of God’s words like the plague.
The “New America Standard Bible” (NASB) – 1995 edition
Sharp-eyed readers have probably already noticed that the translation that I’ve used all throughout this article as an example of a good translation is the NASB ’95. There’s a reason for that.
(Note: the following only applies to the 1995 edition, not the newer 2020 edition, which uses gender neutral language and is far less literal. Important: these days, if you see “NASB” without a specific year cited on major bible aggregator websites like BibleHub, then it’s almost certainly the NASB 2020, not the far better NASB ’95.)
- Translation type: Literal
- Gender neutral: No
- Pass Litmus Test verse: Yes
- Readability: Medium
- Worth using: Yes
The greatest strength of the NASB is its literalism. The NASB is almost universally regarded as the most literal Bible translation and there’s a good reason for that. Having gone through a large portion of the New Testament in Greek, I can attest to its literalism. I would ordinarily quote some verses to show you how well translated it is, but I’ve been doing that all throughout this article.
While the NKJV is arguably slightly more literal, the NASB has several features that – at least in my opinion – put it over the top by a hair. One of which is that it has fewer passages that are so literal that they don’t make sense. While the NASB can be wordy, it’s usually understandable.
Like the NKJV, the NASB italicizes words added by the translators for clarity. All translations need to add a few “linking” words because of differing grammar rules. (Which is fine; Greek uses different methods to associate words that English doesn’t have, so the Greek meaning must be conveyed with additional words.) The NASB is very transparent about this, where most translations aren’t.
The NASB also puts Old Testament quotations in SMALL CAPS so the reader instantly knows it’s an OT quotation. Seeing the Old Testament quotations can be very important to understanding certain passages, and the NASB makes this obvious in a way that almost no other translation does.
Gender-wise, there are zero complaints. (with the 1995 version anyway)
The NASB ’95 accurately renders the original genders of the Greek and Hebrew words the overwhelming vast majority of the time. I’ve found the odd verse that could be more accurate to the original genders, but never one that alters meaning. (usually it’s a readability thing.)
The NASB ’95 is a great Bible translation.
Maybe its the best Bible translation, though the NKJV is also a contender. As of right now, there aren’t any other translations even in the running.
The NASB’s downside: Readability.
There’s no sugar coating it, the NASB reads less smoothly than the other translations on this list. (except possibly the NKJV depending on the verse) However, that doesn’t mean it’s hard to read. I got along with the NASB just fine at age 7 or 8.
It might be a bit harder to read, but the payoff is worth it.
Time and again I’ve had people read from other translations and thought: “that doesn’t sound right to me.” So I’d look it up in the NASB and the original language. Near universally, the NASB had a better, more accurate translation.
That’s not to say the NASB is perfect.
I’ve encountered verses in the NASB that I didn’t think were translated well. However, in those cases the other translations either missed it just as much or (more commonly) missed it more. (NKJV excepted)
It’s the translation I primarily use for that reason: accuracy. It’s extremely faithful to translate God’s words. I don’t think I can pay a higher compliment to a Bible translation than that.
Verdict: One of the best
It’s well worth using, if slightly harder to read.
Other Notable/Popular Translations
While not top sellers, there are several other translations that we’ll look at. None are contenders for the Best Bible translation, but they bear a look anyway. Unfortunately, all of them because they aren’t good.
The “New America Standard Bible” (NASB) – 2020 edition
Sadly, the Lockman Foundation (publishers of the NASB) have caved to the gender-neutral crowd in their most recent revision. I was grieved to hear this, but thankfully they will still keep printing the ’95 version alongside the 2020 version.
- Translation type: mostly literal
- Gender neutral: Yes – low
- Pass Litmus Test verse: Barely
- Readability: Medium
- Worth using: No
Everything I said about the NASB ’95 applies to the NASB 2020 except where it concerns gender. I struck through that sentence because since writing this article, I’ve seen more of it. The NASB 2020 not only ruins gender, but it’s also significantly less literal. They decided to put culture and man’s approval ahead of faithfulness to God’s words. In many ways, they did this similar to the ESV, but in some ways worse.
Here’s one example:
NASB 2020: Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. A prayer of a righteous person, when it is brought about, can accomplish much.
NASB ’95: Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
They added a whole clause to make the gender-neutral language fit and it just doesn’t read very well. There are other examples of wordier passages which do the same to accomplish the gender-neutral agenda.
You can read their complete rationalization on the website, but here are the
- Adephoi (brothers) is translated as “brothers and sisters“, though the “and sisters” part is at least italicized to indicate it’s added.
- “Anthropos” (man) and “adam” (man) are now often translated as “person”, “people”, “human” or occasionally “mankind”. Not always, but often.
- The Greek phrase which was correctly translated “he who ___” (It could also be translated be translated “the man who ___”) is also neutered into “the one who”.
- Completely at odds with the above, they retain generic masculine pronouns, as in Matthew 13:9 “The one who has ears, let him hear“. They flat out say they couldn’t make it work gender neutral, which is why they kept it as masculine. I give them no points for it since that’s their reasoning.
That 3rd point above bears more looking at. On the rationalization page, they say this:
The new phrase, “the one who”, is not only gender-accurate, but also closer to the original sentence structure because it directly translates the Greek and Hebrew articles (“the”), when present, instead of simply replacing them with a pronoun.
This is a strange statement because the Greek definite article can function as a pronoun!
To repeat something we looked at earlier in the article:
In Greek, you can use the definite article (“the” in English) as a pronoun. I talk about this in my article: A few Fun Things About Biblical (Koine) Greek. This is also the case in of Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1:6, where it literally says “And David fathered Solomon from the of Uriah”. The highlighted word is the definite article (“the” in English) being used as a feminine pronoun, as it’s in the feminine form there.
The NASB 2020 translators made a strange choice as they obviously knew this, they just chose to ignore it for the sake of political correctness.
The NASB 2020 also deletes the word “effeminate [men]” from 1 Cor 6:9, just like the ESV. See the ESV section for details, and in both translations this at least looks like caving to certain political ideologies.
The NASB 2020 is also far less literal.
Take John 18:38 for example.
NASB 1995: Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him.
NASB 2020: Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And after saying this, he came out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no grounds at all for charges in His case.
You can check John 18:38 in an interlinear Bible to see that the NASB 1995 nails it. The NASB 2020… not so much. That’s quite a change, and veering into NLT level paraphrase. The NASB 2020 doesn’t do this everywhere, but it does do it.
Regardless, the 2020 NASB isn’t worth using for the gender reasons alone. Add the significantly decreased literalism, and it’s even worse. The NASB ’95 is a much better choice because it more accurately represents God’s words, especially when it comes to gender. The NASB 2020 took itself out of the running when they decided that caving to political pressure was more important than accurately translating God’s words.
The Legacy Standard Bible (LSB)
The LSB is another offshoot of the NASB 1995, and I have high hopes for it. I say hopes because it’s new enough that I’ve haven’t spent enough time with it to be sure.
- Translation type: Literal
- Gender neutral: No
- Pass Litmus Test verse: Yes
- Readability: Medium
- Worth using: Almost certainly (not sure yet, details below)
The LSB was put together as an edit of the NASB 1995 by the Master’s Seminary and University. For those who don’t know, the Master’s Seminary is associated with John MacArthur
It aims to be a window into the original language, and thus cites consistent translation of words as one of the goals. For example, the word “seed” is often used to indicant descendants, and many translations translate it “descendants”. The LSB translates it the more literal seed, and that’s a good thing in my mind. (Especially in Hebrews)
Another example: it always translates the Greek word “δοῦλος” (doulos) as slave, which is great. It doesn’t mean servant as many/most translations render it; it means slave, which can be important as Paul calls himself a ‘slave’ (doulos) of Christ. It tends to take this same highly literal approach everywhere, yet it doesn’t seem harder to read than the NASB 95.
Big positive check mark there.
The biggest change that many people will notice is in the Old Testament, where they use “Yahweh” instead of LORD in all caps. I love this. While the exact pronunciation of God’s name is unknown (though I have an article about my theory on its pronunciation), any scholarly accepted possible pronunciation is better than LORD in all caps.
It passes the litmus test verse, and have the same fidelity to gender that the NASB 95 does too, including “sons of Israel” being used in the OT instead of translating it “children of Israel”, or mistranslating it “people of Israel”.
I haven’t spent enough time with it to be sure, but I think the LSB will likely end up in the ranks of the NKJV and NASB 95. I haven’t seen anything in it that’s worse than the NASB 95 yet, and I have seen some things which are better. (like Yahweh instead of LORD in the OT.) Given time, it will likely supplant my NASB 95 as my primary physical Bible… but I’m not sure.
Again, I’d like to qualify this mini review by saying I haven’t spent enough time with it to be sure. So I have high hopes and it’s looking good, but it’s possible that is has some fatal flaws. It’s unlikely, but possible.
EDIT on Jan 8 of 2022: I had a brainwave many months ago and switched my daily Bible reading from the NASB 95 to the LSB to get more experience with it and compare it. (You can read the LSB free online). I’m doing a chronological reading this time, and I’ve covered about half of the Old Testament starting at Ruth, which was when I had the brainwave.
Here are my impressions:
First, it seems slightly easier to read than the NASB 95. The difference isn’t huge, but it seems to be there.
Second, it’s more literal most of the time… but only most of the time. I did a verse-by-verse comparison in Isaiah chapter 40 using a text comparison tool and simply checked all the differences against Hebrew. I’ve also been checked whenever I noticed a difference from my NASB 95 while reading. By and large, the LSB was more literal overall. Where it wasn’t, I usually scratched my head a bit at the changes. They weren’t necessarily wrong, but they were odd.
Here’s one example in a well known verse:
Isaiah 40:31 – NASB 95
31 Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
Isaiah 40:31 – LSB
31 Yet those who hope in Yahweh
Will gain new power;
They will mount up with wings like eagles;
They will run and not get tired;
They will walk and not become weary.
The Hebrew in the first line means “wait”, but virtually every translation renders it “hope” in Job 6:19, so that’s not entirely outside the range of the word’s meaning. Still, that translation is… odd. Not necessarily wrong, but odd and less correct than the NASB 95. “Wait” is definitely more correct, and I don’t understand why they changed it to “hope”.
It’s the same with strength vs power on the second line. Strength is a more proper meaning and makes far more sense given the context. “new power” sounds like someone is going to gain new abilities, not be renew/refreshed. Now, “power” isn’t wrong since the Hebrew word can mean that, but “strength” is a much better choice here given the context. Again, I struggle to understand this choice/change, and it isn’t a good one.
Overall – and despite the example above – I usually found the LSB to be more literal.
Not always, but more often than not.
For example, the common phrase “made a covenant” is more literally rendered “cut a covenant”. If you remember from Abraham, cutting the animals was necessary to make a covenant, and I appreciate the change. Many of the differences were like this. Another change that jumped out at me is in 1 Sam 9:17, which is when Saul is chosen as king.
Notice the difference:
- 1 Sam 9:17 NASB95: When Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said to him, “Behold, the man of whom I spoke to you! This one shall rule over My people.
- 1 Sam 9:17 LSB: Now Samuel saw Saul, and Yahweh answered him, “Behold, the man of whom I spoke to you! This one shall restrict My people.”
That really stuck out to me, and it’s a case where the LSB definitely gets it more correct. The Hebrew word there isn’t the usual one for “rule”, which is “מָשַׁל” (mashal). Instead it’s “עָצָר” (atsar), which does indeed mean to restrain or restrict. That lends a very interesting nuance to this verse, and I’m glad the LSB got it right.
Often the changes in the LSB are like this… but not always.
Sometimes they’re like the Isaiah example.
But more often than not, they are good changes.
I like the LSB enough that I ordered a nice leather one because I want to have it in the house. I don’t know if it’ll be my primary Bible yet instead of the NASB 95 though. I want to go through the New Testament since I know Greek far better than Hebrew before I make that decision… but I liked it enough to buy one and I’m considering it.
I’ll have more to say when I’ve finished reading through it.
(NOTE: Keep in mind that this is only based on half the OT and none of the NT. I’ll update this portion when I finish the New Testament and have had some time to think about it.)
The “New English Translation” (NET)
The “NET” Bible has gain a lot of acclaim lately but I can’t understand why. One of the things that a lot of people like about it are the footnotes, but again I haven’t found them to be very worthwhile.
- Translation type: Paraphrase
- Gender neutral: Yes – high
- Pass Litmus Test verse: No
- Readability: High
- Worth using: No
As usual, a large problem is paraphrasing God’s words.
NET: and make them a little less than the heavenly beings? You grant mankind honor and majesty; you appoint them to rule over your creation; you have placed everything under their authority,
NASB ’95: Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet,
Notice the complete lack of literalness = complete lack of respect for God’s words. This is especially important in this verse because the writer of Hebrews uses it in his argument for the deity of Christ in Hebrews 2. They actually needed to change both verses to make it fit, but it doesn’t fit well.
Even more worrying is the intentional changes to the text to fit their doctrinal biases.
NET: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.
NASB ’95: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Now, I’m as ardent a defender of the deity of Christ as anyone. I have a few articles proving Jesus’ deity on this website. It’s an important doctrine that’s worth defending to the death if necessary.
However, Adding to God’s words is still wrong.
It directly violates the command of God and that’s exactly what the NET Bible translators have done. It doesn’t matter if we support the doctrinal position that they changed God’s words to support; it matters that they changed/added to God’s words.
Their desire to support the deity of Christ isn’t an excuse. The story of Uzzah touching the Ark of the Covenant in 2 Samuel 6:3-6 makes it clear that right motives don’t justify wrong actions. Changing God’s words is wrong, no matter the motive.
The NET Bible changes God’s words for several reasons. Gender being one, but also to support the translators’ doctrinal biases. It fails both the Litmus Test verse and John 1:1 (no matter how good the motives), and doesn’t translate literally in many, many places.
Therefore, the NET Bible gets a failing grade.
Further, I’ve found the footnotes in the NET Bible – which many people love – to not be useful. Or to put it as bible-researcher.com put it:
The version contains a very full margin of footnotes, which, like the translation, are of uneven character and value.
Most are labeled “tn” for “translator note,” and these are sometimes highly technical, using grammatical terms which few readers will understand. They may be compared to the notes in Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament or in Rienecker’s Linguistic Key to the New Testament. They will be helpful to advanced students, but many of these “tn” notes are tiresome and tendentious (e.g. informing the reader over and over again that ανθρωποι needs to be translated “people” because it is inclusive of women) or merely trivial, and clutter the page to no purpose.
Some of the “tn” notes show an annoying tendency to defend the translation by associating other interpretations with mere ignorance of the languages, or with theological agendas.
But the “tn” and “sn” notes cannot be relied upon to inform the reader where scholars differ on important points of interpretation. When they do notice other interpretations, they tend to be dismissive, defensive, and sometimes misleading. These notes are in need of some careful revision.
Source. (the whole article is worth a read if you are considering the NET Bible, as it’s scholarly and should disabuse you of that notion.)
An footnote example occurs in Ephesians, where the note on 1:1 blatantly calls into question Paul’s authorship. Thereafter, the footnotes refer to “the author” of Ephesians, never calling him “Paul”. Ironically, the same phrasing of “the author” also occurs in 1, 2, and 3 John, John’s gospel, and 1 and 2 Peter. It seems they doubt the authorship of those books too. I’m not sure why, as they are near universally agreed upon.
So the NET Bible isn’t even worth it for the footnotes.
The “Good News Translation” (GNT)
Also known as the “Good News Bible” (GNB), the GNT was originally published as “Today’s English Version” (TEV). It’s also extremely similar to the “Contemporary English Version” (CEV), which is an offshoot of it. With only minor differences, everything you can say about the GNT can also be said of the CEV.
- Translation type: Paraphrase
- Gender neutral: Yes – high
- Pass Litmus Test verse: No
- Readability: medium (sloppy translantion)
- Worth using: No
The usual suspects are at fault in the GNT. It uses gender-neutral language, is mostly a paraphrase, and intentionally perverts our “Litmus Test” verse. Intentional perversion in one verse is enough to cast suspicion on all others.
In addition to being a Dynamic Equivalence version, the Good News Bible is also what some translation theorists call a “Common Language” version. “Common Language” is defined as the language which is “common to the usage of both educated and uneducated” in any given language, (3) or, to put it more bluntly, it is the level of language used by uneducated people and children. Bratcher says that the version was originally conceived as one which would be suitable for people who speak English as a second language. (4) But the main “market niche” of the Good News Bible was from the beginning the mainline Protestant churches in America and Great Britain, where copies were bought by the box for use in Sunday-school classes. The version was promoted as one which was suitable for children.
Therefore, much of the commentary on the NIrV above applies, at least as it relates to writing for children. Further, some of the translation work is… there’s no other way to put it: “sloppy.” The sloppy renderings are why I gave it only a “medium” in readability, even though the actual text isn’t hard to read.
GNT: What the Law could not do, because human nature was weak, God did. He condemned sin in human nature by sending his own Son, who came with a nature like our sinful nature, to do away with sin.
NASB ’95: For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
The GNT makes it sound like Jesus had a sinful nature. Now, I don’t think this is intentional; it seems like just sloppy translation. There are other examples, but I think that suffices given the GNT’s other problems.
Long story short: hard pass on the GNT
There are much better options.
The “Holman Christian Standard Bible” (HSCB)
The HCSB has been overshadowed by its successor the CSB, but don’t apply the sins of the CSB to the HCSB. It’s much better than the CSB, though still not a good choice.
- Translation type: paraphrase with some literalism
- Gender neutral: Yes – medium
- Pass Litmus Test verse: No
- Readability: good
- Worth using: No
Ultimately, the HCSB is a middle of the road translation. It’s not nearly as bad as most on this list, but not good enough to use either.
In general, the HCSB translation is slightly more literal than the New International Version, but much less literal than the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version. In various ways the text is simplified (long and complex Greek sentences are broken up into smaller and simpler ones) and made easy to understand by interpretive renderings. The style is on a level much lower than the NKJV, RSV and ESV.
Likewise, its treatment of gender is also middle-of-the-road. It’s not as horrific as some, but also not good.
The translation of generic masculine nouns and pronouns in this version is conservative — that is, the version does not aim to conceal the fact that the authors of Scripture regularly use what modern feminists have called “sexist” language. But the plural of the Greek word ανθρωπος (“man”) is regularly translated “people” instead of “men,” and occasionally we also see a gender-neutral rendering of the singular ανθρωπος. For example, in Romans 3:4 γινέσθω δὲ ὁ Θεὸς ἀληθής, πᾶς δὲ ἄνθρωπος ψεύστης is translated “God must be true, even if everyone is a liar.” Masculine forms are also avoided where the Greek or Hebrew texts have participles, substantial adjectives, and pronouns which may be rendered with gender-neutral equivalents such as “someone,” “one,” “no one,” “another,” etc. The HCSB is more gender-neutral than the NASB, the NKJV, and the 1984 NIV.
It occasionally makes some strange translation decisions too. For example:
HCSB: Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
NASB ’95: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Obviously the HCSB’s translation is neither accurate nor literal – so it’s not usable – but it usually doesn’t veer into total paraphrase either.
The HCSB does contain a lot of footnotes, which many find helpful. However, it fails our “Litmus Test” verse – meaning they intentionally mistranslated God’s words – it isn’t very literal, and it engages in gender-neutral language perversions.
The HCSB’s Verdict: pass
There are better options.
Basically, there’s only two translation that are worth using: the NASB 1995 edition and the NKJV. I wish the list was longer, but it’s not. Both can be slightly harder to read than other translations. However, that’s a small price to pay for accuracy. That is, for knowing that you’re actually reading God’s words.
I double check all other translations, especially the ESV.
(Admittedly, I often double check the NASB and NKJV too, but I almost always find that they are correct in their translation.)
I actually consider the ESV to be among the most dangerous of all Bible translations.
Not because it’s the worst translation – it’s not – but because it’s subtle, almost sneaky, about being bad. It’s just literal enough and just gender-accurate enough to escape detection as being mistranslated. This is especially bad because all the passages where they intentionally mistranslated God’s words also go undetected. (And there are more besides the half dozen we looked at.) In my opinion, that makes it more dangerous than something obviously mistranslated like the NIV and NLT. Plus, there’s that word it deleted in 1 Cor 6:9…
If there’s a Bible translation you’re interested in that I didn’t cover, go ahead and mention it in the comments after checking the litmus test verse. I might add it. No promises though.
Also, please check the comments before asking about a specific version.
You can do this on a desktop by hitting CTRL+F (for “find”), which will search the the whole page for specific text, comments included. On mobile, there should be a “find in page” option on your browser’s menu; different name, same function.
You might also be interested in my article on Textual Criticism, which explains about the underlying Greek texts from which our New Testaments are translated. Or perhaps my article where I explain the structure of the Greek language, entirely in English; no Greek words/letters at all. This becomes practical at the end, since you can use this knowledge to look up the Greek in a free online interlinear Bible… all without knowing a single Greek letter.
No joke. 🙂
(P.S. Wow, you stuck with me for ~22,000 words. I commend you on your tenacity and commitment to finding a good Bible translation. Well done, and may God bless your desire to understand scripture better.)
(P.P.S. A while back, I started translating the New Testament from Greek to English for myself/my benefit. It’s online with a forum attached so anyone can critique the translation work and help improve it. In my (biased) opinion, I think it’s more literal than the NASB ’95 and NKJV yet also much easier to read. It’s definitely less gender neutral than either. It’s incomplete, but available online completely for free here if you want to take a look, and you can view its translation philosophy and principles here.)
I really like the literal Concordant version. You can even read it for free here:
It fails the litmus test verse and is really hard to read. Like, really hard. I checked the Greek in a chapter I’ve been looking at lately and it doesn’t consistently translate verb forms correctly. For example, in Hebrews 10:28 it has “is dying”, which is sort of “hyper-imperfective” action, while the Greek is the present tense, and should simply be “dies” to communicate the only slight imperfective force. Likewise, in 10:31, they translate “to fall” as “to be falling”.
I suggest you try the Berean Literal Bible instead, and least for the New Testament (it doesn’t have the Old). It’s a bit easier to read and the verb forms are more correct.
(I can’t answer so I will write a new comment)
Thanks for the suggestion, you gave me something to think about. Sometimes Paul’s letters are a bit difficult and the concordant version usually clarified it for me, which is why I suggested it (I’m not a native English speaker, but translations in Spanish are less common so even if the language is more similar to Greek I tend to read the bible in English).
I’m new to this so I have much to study. I found this interest comment online that I think is worth sharing (I don’t know if it’s correct or not):
“The so-called “tenses” of
Greek are not fundamentally about time as such but about the way action is
viewed, as completed (perfect: APOTEQNHKEN hO PAULOS “Paul is dead”), in
process (progressive or present system: APOQNHSKEI hO PAULOS “Paul is
dying” or APEQNHSKEN “Paul was dying”), or as a complete action (aorist:
APEQANEN hO PAULOS “Paul died”). In the indicative (with the augment) the
aorist describes a complete action in past time, but we could conceivably
show by imperatives the real difference between an aorist and a progressive
of the same verb–outside the indicative that basic linkage to past time is
NOT determinative for the aorist, just as surely as it IS when the aorist
is indicative). So the imperatives:
APOQNHSKE: “Start dying!” or “Go on and keep dying!” or “Die again and again!”
APOQANE: “Die! (right now and all at once)” “Get dead!”
But it is a fundamental mistake to look at the Greek Present, Imperfect,
Aorist, and Perfect primarily in terms of the TIME of an event to which
they refer. The augmented indicatives do refer to the past and the future
tense does refer to the future, but outside of the indicative mood, the
different verb systems refer describe the way the action is viewed, not
when the action takes place.”
As for the concordant failing the litmus test, I’m not sure. The virgin being the daughter is implied, but it is not there in the greek. Being a literal translation, they left it out.
The article you linked to is about what I was describing. That is, completeness of action in verbs. In Hebrews 10:28, you have the present (dies) while the Concordant incorrectly made it hyper-imperfective (is dying), blurring the lines between the two tenses.
To the Litmus test verse, if you look at all three verses, the meaning is patently obvious. They should’ve had the phrase “give in marriage” in verse 38, which is what “γαμίσκω” (gamisko) means. But instead of translating it “give in marriage” they translated it “taking his virgin in marriage”. They completely flipped the meaning = intentional mistranslation.
I must admit, I use (and don’t plan on retiring the use of) my NLT bible. It was the version my first bible was, and I liked the readability, so I’ve stuck with it. As I matured I took greater note of the, “peculiar” shall we say, ways it renders several passages, and if I’m taking a more serious study I like to compare other translations, and ultimately whip out my interlinear if I need maximum precision.
While I certainly don’t disagree with most of your points, I think they are quite good actually, some of this article comes across as “translation elitism” (sort of like KJV only-ists)
If I have someone ask me what I think the best translation is, I certainly will not tell them NLT, (we agree there) I am aware of it’s shortcomings and will not direct someone to it so as not to stir up confusion that may come with it. But if they ask my preference, I’ll be honest with them.
While reading I am conscious of the variants in my bible, I am personally willing to take responsibility for accurate interpretation on my own time in exchange for daily readability.
That’s my two cents… again though, I learned a lot from this article and appreciate all the time and care you put into it!
thx for all your work, it is appreciated.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I am not smart enough or educated enough to engage with post modern TC scholars without damaging my faith, so my bible choices come from from what I think God would do with his word.
He wouldn’t hide it away for 1500 years. He would not allow 6 billion copies to be made of a bible of errors. And he would not use non-Christian hostile academics/publishers who want to make money by copywriting the word of God.
So I am left with KJV and and the 2005 American Revised Version sourced from Robinson-Pierpoint Byzantine textform. Have you looked at the 2005 ARV?
I haven’t, and can’t download the file for some reason. However, it says it’s the ASV in the NT modified with the MT readings, which could be very good. Beyond that I can’t comment, not being able to download the file for some reason.
What of the LEB, Lexham English Bible?
It fails the Litmus test verse = unfaithful translators and so I wouldn’t trust them. Plus, there’s “sons of Israel” translated as “people of Israel” in the OT = changing God’s words to be more politically correct. If they would’ve gone with “children of Israel” like the KJV/NKJV it would’ve been “okay”, but they didn’t. I would say the NASB ’95 and NKJV are better options. Since there are better/more accurate options, why bother with it?
What an amazing blog. Thank you so much. I was raised on the NJB. It passes your litmus test. Any thoughts on it?
I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂
NJB = New Jerusalem Bible? If so, it definitely doesn’t pass the litmus test verse, making the passage about an engaged couple. Further, it has other problems as well. It certainly isn’t very literal, it plays with gender, including making Exodus 20:17 “You shall not set your heart on your neighbor’s spouse“, instead of “wife“. That change is a horrible travesty and alone completely disqualifies it, but it gets worse.
The NJB includes the Deuterocanonical books, which is also a deal-breaker. If you want more information on that, I recommend The Bible: 66 books vs 73 and Why (the “Apocrypha”; Explained). If you are Catholic and so want those (not-inspired) extra books, your options are extremely limited. The only Catholic translation that I know of which passes the litmus test verse is the Douay-Rheims Bible. It reads much like the KJV though.
Maybe too old, meaning not in print, but wnat avout the Revised Standard Version (RSV)?
it fails the litmus test verse = unfaithful translators = wouldn’t recommend. Also, my wife has an old RSV that she occasionally reads from when we do devotions, so I’m fairly familiar with it. It’s quite a bit less literal than the NASB ’95 or NKJV. Further, I’ve notice it uses some of the less visible gender changes, like “sons of Israel” to “people of Israel”. Overall, not recommended.
The Amplified Bible passes your litmus test, what is your opinion of it?
The translation itself seems decent, the [bracketed comments] of are varying value. Some are doctrinal insertions, some are useful expositions of the original words, and some are good expansions of the meaning of the text which aren’t always obvious when reading the text in English. On the flip side, they sometimes contain the wrong understanding/word definitions, or insert theological bias, or are simply useless and thus annoying/irrelevant. That last one is particularly common. As with all commentary, it’s sometimes insightful and sometimes wrong. The text itself is pretty good from what I understand (It’s based on the ASV, a predecessor of the NASB), but I haven’t given it a serious look so it might not be. I’d pass.
This is a great review. Thank you for spending the time in such a write-up. Yes, I made it to the end. I did have a comment which maybe you might like to consider? It’s up to you though. I’m not sure about your “litmus test of 1 Cor 7:36-38” as being a good test honestly? I have recently purchased the “New Testament: A Translation (NTAT)” from David Bentley Hart. I really like the translation. I checked it and in fact, he has a remarkably interesting translation comment I’d like to share. He writes:
“This verse is a thicket of grammatical and syntactical ambiguities. It is not certain whether the adjective ὑπέρακμος (hyperakmos) refers to the virgin or her potential husband, as its gender is indeterminate. Nor is it certain that it means “post-pubescent,” rather than “past her [or his] youth,” or “sexually mature”; some interpreters even take it to mean a state of being erotically excitable. Nor, indeed, is it certain that the phrase I have rendered as “it ought to happen” does not really mean something like “so [she or he] ought to become.” The phrase “his virgin” is also obscure; usually taken to mean the man’s fiancée—the young woman to whom he has been betrothed by arrangement of the parents—a few interpreters believe that the man in question is the father and that “his virgin” means his daughter, in which case the end of the verse should be read not as “let him marry” but as “let him give her in marriage.” This seems unlikely; the first verb in the verse, ἀσχημομεῖν (aschēmonein), could perhaps be read as “to fail to do right by” or something of the sort, but its typical connotation is “to disgrace oneself” or “to behave in a shameful way.””
I think he actually gives a very honest statement of this verses. The challenge I see in your litmus test in relation to Dr. Bentley Harts statement is that when you say to look at verse 36 and what follows in context with verse 37-38. I’m wondering how anybody could now take verse 36 – 38 to be talking about a father giving his daughter away? I mean, the whole context of everything before verse 36 is Paul talking about men and women marrying or to not marry. There is 0 context of a father daughter relationship and him giving his daughter away. Then if we look at verse 39 it goes on speaking about a wife being bound to her husband.
Personally, I am grateful for your writeup as I never looked at this before. But honestly, I find it uniquely out of context to think Paul just went from the unmarried man and unmarried women, jumping to fathers giving their daughters away as virgins, then now to the bond married women have with their husbands. Looking at this on biblehub.com and seeing the Geneva 1587 bible and the Tyndale 1526, they also clearly reveal it probably is more to do with a man planning to marry his virgin.
Otherwise, I am thankful for your review on the ESV. I was a bit shocked on all the other things you shared and will be avoiding that in the future. Personally, as a reference tool I love the Concordant Literal Version. As imperfect as it can be at times in readability, it is fantastic in doing the best they can in one word in English consistently being used for a Hebrew and Greek word. It really opens the eyes up to some interesting connections between the OT and NT. Lastly, I also love David Bentley Harts version. He also maintains a word consistency.
I completely disagree with Mr. Hart that verse 36 is unclear.
For starters, the adjective “ὑπέρακμος” (hyperakmos, translated “past the flower of youth” by the NKJV and “past her youth” by the NASB) is feminine singular, making the link with the virgin clear, because the word for virgin is also feminine singular. It’s not ambiguous as he says, it’s clear. There are other things, but they would take too much space to explain.
But even if verses 36-37 were unclear (which they aren’t), verse 38 is perfectly clear. In fact, it’s crystal clear and the NASB/NKJV both nail this perfectly:
The word translated “gives [her] in marriage” is “γαμίσκω” (gamisko) and it only has one definition/meaning:
That’s pretty much case closed for me.
Further, Paul already addressed the “if you can’t control yourself then marry” idea earlier in the chapter – twice. Look at verses 1-2 and 8-9.
Thank you so much for your enlightening articles. I am confused about your article concerning “eternal/aion/everlasting” which you say means an age. So is God eternal/aion/everlasting? Thanks and God bless.
You’re welcome. 🙂 As to your question, please leave a comment on that article (to keep things on topic) and I’ll explain there.
Thank you for your inspiring work. I’d like to humbly submit a translation of the New Testament for your review called the Revised Geneva Translation (an update of the 1599 Geneva Bible). Full disclosure, it is a personal labor of love by an unlettered layman. But since you said you don’t care about how many translators there are, only their devotion to the primacy of God’s word, I can at least testify to a shared motivation with regard to Bible translation and would greatly value your opinion. (Note: It does pass the litmus test.)
If you are interested, I can email you a link to a free download. Thank you again for your work.
Go for it! 🙂 If it’s a free download, you can just post a link in the comments here if you like. And yes, I don’t really care about who or how many translated it; only that the finished result is as close as possible to God’s words.
(You know, I’m something of an unlettered layman myself, 😉 with my own labor of love.)
I came up with my own solution, as the WEB Bible uses Yahweh instead of LORD, which still throws me off as I read, and is not as precise as the NKJV. What I did was take the NKJV and added the text notes from the Byzantine/Majority text to create a “NKJBV” New Testament which I have in PDF and Logos formats. I printed out a copy as well to read, since my request for Nelson publishers to print a version updated this way was not considered by them.
Thanks for this article!
Your comments on the ESV are quite unfair and suggest you did not make any effort to understand why the translation choices were made. Now you have every right to disagree, but you consistently impute bad-faith motivations when all the ESV’s translation choices are at least defensible (and I would argue correct).
First, the translation you object to in Leviticus 5:17 involves the Hebrew ‘ashem. This word also appears in Leviticus 4:13 and 5:1. It may be translated as “are/is guilty” but “feels guilty” or “recognizes guilt” is defended as the proper meaning by Gordon J. Wenham in his commentary on Leviticus, p. 99 fn 24. Wenham also cites Stanley Milgrom’s Cult and Conscience, p 77 as supporting this translation.
The scholars involved in the New English translation make a similar choice: “If a person sins and violates any of the Lord’s commandments that must not be violated (although he did not know it at the time, but later realizes he is guilty), then he will bear his punishment for iniquity”. The NET’s notes at Leviticus 5:1 justify the translation as a “consequential use” of the word ‘ashem.
Regarding the Romans and Hebrews passages, the ESV’s translation is perfectly legitimate, and the differences between it and the NASB are hardly worth commenting on (and I am no Calvinist I might add). I will agree with your objection to “gates of Hell” however as that is a flawed translation choice.
Regarding Malachi 2, the ESV is probably the correct translation of the verse and it is the NASB that is adding things. The NASB renders the verse as “I hate divorce” when the Hebrew text literally says “he hates divorce,” a fact the NASB footnote acknowledges. (“g. Cn: Heb he hates”). While the NASB interprets the verse as a first person statement from God about hating divorce, the ESV takes the third-person of the Hebrew seriously and renders it as God’s statement about a man who hates his wife and divorces her.
The Greek Septuagint (the primary Bible used by the New Testament authors and the early church) likewise translated the Hebrew of Malachi 2:16 as “But if, since you hate her, you should send her away, says the Lord, the God of Israel, then impiety will cover over his garments” (NETS). Both the ESV and NASB translations are defensible, but the Greek evidence does tend to support the ESV’s rendering.
Your objection to the ESV’s translation of Genesis 3:16 is also unmerited. The Hebrew word used for “desire for/desire contrary to” is teshuqah, a very rare word. However, it appears once again in Genesis 4:7 where God says to Cain that sin is crouching at the door and “its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” This neatly parallels the use of the word in Genesis 3:16 where Eve’s desire is for Adam but he will rule over her. The meaning of desire in Genesis 4:7 cannot be interpreted as sexual desire (and interpreting the desire of Genesis 3:16 as sexual desire would make a woman’s desire for her husband part of God’s curse). Instead, it is best understood as desire to control or dominate. Therefore translating the phrase as “desire contrary to your husband,” while somewhat interpretative, better communicates what is probably the actual meaning of the word. A nice discussion of the issue is found in Susan T. Foh, “What is the Woman’s Desire?” WTJ 37 (1975): 376-83. The New English translation renders the verse very similarly to the ESV (“You will want to control your husband,
but he will dominate you.”) and provides some helpful notes (including a citation to the aforementioned article).
As for the ESV being only a “moderately literal” translation, I must object. There are a number of places where the ESV is more literal than the NASB. One of particular interest to me is the rendering of the Greek word σχιζομένους in Mark 1:10 at Jesus’ baptism. The Greek is dramatic, literally saying the heavens were “split” or “ripped” open. This contrasts to the Greek word in Matthew and Luke which uses the ordinary word for “opened” when describing the heavens opening (ἀνεῴχθησαν). The ESV properly distinguishes between the two words, translating the heavens as being “torn open” in Mark 1:10 while the heavens merely “opened” in Matthew 3:16 and Luke 3:21. The NASB which translates all three as “opened” or “opening.” (I note this verse only because I’ve done research on potential links between Mark 1:10 and Isaiah 64:1)
Now the ESV is not perfect or immune from criticism. But you consistently imagine a bad motive where there is simply a different interpretation of some ambiguous verses. It would appear you have made no effort to understand why these translation choices were made before condemning them and imagining nefarious intentions where there are simply honest disagreement.
Look at the litmus test verse; that alone is proof of unfaithful translators with an agenda. Also look at their consistent neutering of gender; that’s more proof.
To Leviticus 5:17, The word “אָשַׁם” (asham) Appears to mean “is guilty” according to every lexicon I’ve looked at, which is consistent with every use I’ve seen, including the two verses you mentioned. The NET Bible is a terrible translation, and the notes are sometimes worse (see the NET’s section)
From my understanding (I’m still learning Hebrew) the reason Malachi is translated “I hate divorce” instead of “He hates divorce” has to do with differing grammar rules, and “I hate” is how you’d properly convey the same idea in English. Further, if the “he” is a man, then it should read “he hates divorce”, which makes literally no sense in context. Further, even if the ESV’s understanding was right, adding the word “love” and the poor wording makes it terrible there anyway.
To Genesis 3:16, I think you’re looking at the wrong word. We could argue all day about “תְּשׁוּקָה” (teshuqah), but it’s the word “אֵל” (el, pronounced “ale”) that the ESV gets wrong. It means “towards/in the direction of”, which we express in English with the word “for” when applied to speech. The ESV has “contrary to/against”, while the word means “towards/for”. They’ve literally flipped the meaning. (As an aside, I do think “desire” there refers to desire in the sense of romantic/sexual desire. I have a mountain of research on this, though a comment isn’t the best place for it. Regardless, translation it “contrary” removes that very possible understanding, which is a problem.)
To the ESV’s literalism. As I’ve been going through the New Testament in Greek recently, I’ve been comparing it with modern popular translations. The ESV is indeed occasionally more literal than the NASB, but those instances aren’t common at all. Further, it’s much more common that the ESV is far less literal. Overall – have compared it with the original Greek – I stand my my “mostly literal” statement.
Finally, I’ll point out the litmus test verse again. You can’t unintentionally mistranslate that passage to be about an engaged couple. You simply can’t. That means it was purposefully changed. Any translation that purposely changes/perverts God’s words isn’t trustworthy in my book. That’s even setting aside all the other issues.
Can you add your thoughts on the Modern English Version Bible (MEV)? I don’t know how popular it really is but I’ve seen it pushed in articles and church discussion.
Interesting. It mostly gets the the Litmus test verse right, but adds “and passions so require” instead of more literally “and thus is obligated to be/become”. The footnote is misleading though. Hmm. Fascinating. I did a little looking and it seems overall “okay”, but that’s just a little looking. I’d need to look closer to give a more firm answer. However, I will say it doesn’t seem to have anything over the NKJV. In some places the translation is a bit funny (like 1 Peter 3:21), which the NKJV doesn’t suffer from. It seems “okay”, but from the looking I did it is a downgrade from the NKJV. Maybe not a large downgrade, but a downgrade.
Hi, so, I just have a question. I agree that we shouldn’t change God’s words as He commanded (and even if He didn’t command it I would think that), so this question doesn’t have anything to do with that, even if it may seem like it.
In the places where it says man or sons or brothers, my native English brain, with zero knowledge of Hebrew or Greek, would just automatically assume a neutered usage (such as sons meaning children or descendants in general or brothers referring to all present) unless context implied otherwise. I was a bookworm growing up, and preferred the more regal style of gendered English to the more modern neutered English, and came to understand that gendered English is often used in neuter context. However, after reading this you seem to place a lot of importance or stress on the usage of gendered language.
With all of the stress on the gender of the words, it makes me feel like.. I don’t know.. does God not love women, too? Or does He not love women as much as men? Aren’t we just as much the children of God? Is it just a boys club that I’m not welcome in? Are women really just the property of the men in their lives and not their dearly valued helpers?
These sort of questions don’t come from a place of offense, but more a place of rejection. It makes me sad. I deeply crave for the love of God, but when it seems so much like I was never made to receive His love, when it seems like so much of His attention is directed only to men, I feel like the child left out. I didn’t ask to be born a girl, so that makes me even sadder, that it’s through no fault or decision of my own. And there aren’t many good answers on this out there either, they all seem like fluffy feel good answers that are just made to reinforce an egalitarian worldview and only cite the one verse that pretty much states we are all one in Christ.
What say you?
Anyway, thanks I’ve enjoyed your articles on textforms, and a few others, as well. They are all very thorough, and well cited.
EDIT #2: I wrote an article to address these concerns, which can be found here: How Crucial are Women to a Biblical Household? Very!
God certainly does love women, and calls them “fellow heirs of the grace of life” in 1 Peter 3. In the Garden, the first thing that wasn’t good was solved by woman’s creation. If a man doesn’t honor his wife God doesn’t listen to his prayers, and women are called daughters of God in the Bible. The Bible also records many women who made incredible contributions, and two Bible books are about women (Ruth and Esther), and the latter saved Israel.
The gender issue has more to do with the “chain of command” I think. looking at the military origin for the Greek word “submit” could make the husband like the captain of a ship and the wife like the first officer. (and if you do some research, you’ll see that’s a high responsibility and vital/crucial role.) An Admiral (God) usually addresses orders to the captain, who then discusses how best to accomplish them with the first officer, and then the captain makes the decision, which the first officer carries out.
I intend to send you an email in the next couple days with more detail/scriptural backing because I don’t want to write another article in the comments section.
EDIT: it also occurs to me that Paul didn’t write his epistles to us, but he did write them for us. So while much of the bible isn’t written to women, it most certainly is written for women.
What about pre 1995 NASB Bibles. I have a 1977 model.
1977 NASB is good. 🙂 I like the 1995 version better because it’s more readable, but the 1977 version is also a fine translation.
Good day. Thank you for your life of study regarding the word of God. I enjoy your articles….it helps me to understand more especially in dealing with different translations.
My question: in Luke 4:18 Jesus is reading from the book Isaiah. Isaiah 61:1 reads…”He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted”…. NASB 95. However, in Luke 4:18 it leaves out the portion He heals the brokenhearted. Once again, Jesus is reading from Isaiah 61. However, in the NASB and many others it leaves out that portion. KJV and NKJV (possibly a few more) “He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted” is included as it is written in Isaiah.
This baffles me because Jesus is reading out of the book of Isaiah. Please help me to understand how this is possible. When i teach on this text, how do i explain that so believers do not lose confidence with their Bible.
Try this link: https://carm.org/about-the-bible/does-luke-418-misquote-isaiah-611/. CARM is usually a fantastic resource for those kinds of things.
Have you looked at the MEV? It’s very close to the KJV, like the NKJV, but the MEV seems to flow better (more readable) than the NKJV.
I don’t think I’d looked into it before your comment, and was pleasantly surprised when I did look; a rarity with Bible translations. It gets the litmus test verse right and seems to handle gender reasonably well, though it’s inconsistent on translating “sons of Israel” in the OT. It’s reasonably literal, but not as literal as I would prefer. From the looking I did it seems to be in the ballpark of the ESV in terms of literalness. Overall – based on a brief look – it seems like it’s usable, though not as good as the NASB95 or NKJV.
I’m in the process of picking either the NKJV or the NASB95 as my one and only translation and I want your opinion on this piece on the NKJV. I really like your site and you seem VERY knowledgeable on the Bible and scripture.
Notice the assumption that a change from the KJV must wrong. Well, that’s certainly not true. There are changes that the NKJV that made it more accurate in places than the KJV. The article just doesn’t talk about them. Here’s one article with a long list of places where the NKJV is more accurate than the KJV.
The article is right about a few things, like the problem with not differentiating between “you” singular and “you” plural. English has lost this feature, and it’s a great loss indeed. He makes a few other valid points as well, though none as major as that one (and there’s no good fix because modern readers won’t read a Bible with “thou/thee/thine in it.)
However – and I can’t stress this enough – the problem isn’t does _____ translation (in this case the NKJV) have problems because they ALL have problems.
I could produce a document of similar length (or longer) nitpicking the problems with the KJV, the NASB95, the NJKV, and the LSB (an NASB95 edit which looks very promising) I could even produce such a document about the BOS Bible that I’m personally translating, and I translated it!
The question is which translation have the fewest, least severe problems.
The KJV was translated well, but the English language has moved under it. I view the KJV’s translational “landmines” that I mentioned in the article to be a FAR greater problem than my few gripes with the NKJV. No, the NKJV isn’t perfect. No translation is. However, I would argue that the NKJV and NASB95 (and quite possibly the LSB) have fewer problems than the rest, including the KJV.
What do think about the King James 2000?
The King James 2000 made more changes than they claimed they did, and in so doing dramatically reduced the KJV’s strength of not caving to culture.
If you want KJV in today’s language, I would suggest the KJ21 instead as a far superior option. Same basic idea, but they actually stuck to only updating archaic words. The KJ21 solves the translational “landmines” problem perfectly, and you do get the thee/thou distinction between singular and plural 2nd person. However, it also does include the “eth” endings and other archaic forms too. That can be useful if you know old English, though KJV-only people won’t accept it and modern English speakers probably won’t either.
Ultimately, I would still say the NKJV is a better work of translation overall.
Really appreciate your post here and thank you for investing the time on this for us.
My question is, do you have any recommendations as far as good resources to use to deep dive historical, cultural, and biblical contexts?
I’ve only really looked at word studies in hebrew/greek using blueletterbible.org but am wanting to further my understanding of scripture by taking into account these different contexts as I draw out the gold in the scriptures.
Thanks for any recommendations or suggestions.
I have an article on Hebrew context here: Seeing the Bible from the Hebrew Cultural Perspective with some resources, mostly a few videos by other people.
I also recommend the book “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes” by Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’brien. There’s a few things I disagree with in the book so read with discernment, but otherwise it’s very good.
I don’t like blueletterbible.com, and would suggest Biblehub.com’s interlinear as a FAR better resource for Greek and Hebrew word definitions.
Well written article. Also really liked you Textual Criticism 101 article. Thank you for both.
You recommended, to the first comment posting person, to try out the Berean Literal Bible. However, based on your litmus test verse comments, it doesn’t pass either. I was wanting to know your thoughts on the Berean Study Bible (https://biblehub.com/bsb/1_corinthians/7.htm) and the Evangelical Heritage Bible (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+cor+7&version=EHV). Both claim to base their NT translation utilizing all of the available NT resources (regardless of Text Type).
Interesting about the Berean Literal. I could’ve sworn they had the litmus test verse right. Hmm. Either I remembered wrong or they changed it. About the BSB, I don’t like it at all. I’ve looked into it before and the translation way too loose/sloppy, it’s bad on gender issues, and it gets the litmus test verse wrong.
To the EHB, they fail the litmus test verse and place themselves to the paraphrase side of the CSB and NRSV on their website, which are both way too loose (see the CSB section in the reviews). However, a quick look at the text itself makes it seem closer to the ESV in literalism; make of that what you will. That said, it looks like they were trying to be faithful and merely got it wrong on gender issues. I won’t ascribe poor motives to the translators, but they still missed it badly on the litmus test verse and gender issues.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on translations!
Could you please tell me your thoughts on the WEBBE (World English Bible British Edition)? I prefer the British edition because of their use of Lord instead of Yahweh. It is simply more familiar to me. Thanks!
It passes the litmus test verse, but (unusually) it twists gender issues elsewhere. Take a look at its rendering of 1 Cor 11:10, which they translated to mean the exact opposite of what the verse says. That alone gives it a failing grade, even if it had done well everywhere else.
Thanks for the prompt reply. I dont think I am understanding what you are referring to in 1 Corinthians 11:10. Would you mind explaining exactly what is translated wrong there in the WEBBE? Thank you so much.
The WEBBE has:
Their phrasing makes it sound like the woman should be in charge of herself, which the opposite of the Greek meaning there. They added the word “own” without textual basis to get there, while the Greek make it clear she should have (male) authority over her. I have a whole article on that passage, and the WEBBE’s translation is exactly opposite of what the passage says in Greek, and is completely contrary to the context too.
Any translation that willing to completely flip the meaning of a verse obviously has problems, and is one I’ll never recommend.
Thanks again for your reply! I took the time to read the article you posted and researched some other translations and dictionaries. After considering these things, I see your point. But I would also like to point out that I think this passage as translated in the WEBBE can be taken different ways.
The MEV (as well as some other translations) uses the word “over” instead of “on”. In the MEV it is referring to a veil being placed over her head. And according Thayer’s and Strong’s it certainly appears to be a viable option for that word in general. (Though I know little to nothing about Greek myself.)
So, I think their choice here is not completely unwarranted by the Greek.
About the word “own”. I see your point that it could be taken that she should have her own authority over her head. But upon further consideration, I realized if they simply said She should have authority over her head, some folks might missconstrue this to mean that she should have authority over the man (who is stated to be the head of the woman earlier). So perhaps they thought it necessary for sake of clarification to insert a word that wasn’t in the Greek to make sure people knew it was speaking of her “own” head and not the man as her head. I see the WEBBE here as being rendered perhaps more literal than most translations and working just as well or perhaps better with the article you wrote on this topic considering that other translations insert other words for “clarification” that aren’t in the Greek either. I hope I am making sense here.
Please forgive me if I am overlooking something.
I feel that this translation can work well with your interpretation of this passage in the article you wrote.
“For this cause the woman ought have authority over her own head, because of the angels.”
You said: “Paul is drawing an analogy about ‘long hair= under male authority’ because the ‘covering’ of hair is symbolic of the ‘covering’ of male authority.”
It seems to me that the language the WEBBE uses here of her having authority “over” her own head makes sense in light of her being “under” that authority.
Thanks again for taking the time to reply to these comments. I really enjoyed the article you pointed me to, and I hope I dont sound like I am trying to argue with you. I just think that upon further examination the WEBBE can work well with your interpretation of this verse. I would gladly hear any further thoughts you have.
I agree that it *can* work, however the way it’s worded would make nearly all English readers assume that the woman have authority over herself. The Greek word “ἐπὶ” (epi) Primarily means “on”, not “over”. “Over” would be “ὑπέρ” (huper). Sticking with the primary meaning of “on” produces a translation that’s much less likely to create confusion. “on her head”, or “upon her head” are as literal as possible and the least prone to misunderstanding. While it’s possible that the WEBBE translators simply chose a confusing translation, I find it unlikely.
I looked at the WEB a while back and noted a liberal/feminist bias in the notes, and I would guess the WEBBE has inherited that given their treatment of this passage. Even if their intentions were right, that earns them nothing. (again, Uzzah and the Ark in 2 Sam 6:3-6) Their translation of this passage is – in my mind – so bad that it would disqualify the translation all by itself; no other verses needed.
Again, if a translation completely flips the meaning of a verse, I won’t trust it or recommend it.
Would you mind if I ask you to share what you found in the notes of the WEBBE that was feminist/liberal?
I am not looking for an argument. I simply have had great interest in the WEBBE translation and would appreciate any info you are willing to share. Thanks again for what you have already shared! Have a blessed day!
It was quite a while ago and I’m afraid I don’t remember what they were. Sorry. It was also the WEB, not the WEBBE, which is why I said I would assume the WEBBE has inherited these footnotes.
Also, I just noticed that there’s a footnote on 1 Cor 11:3 which states “origin” as an alternative translation for “head”, which of course it’s not. There’s no real reason to make that case unless they had a feminist bent (that’s the standard feminist ‘answer’ to this passage.). Saying that God (the Father) is the “origin” of Christ is essentially a revival of Arianism, which denies the Deity of Christ. I have a problem with that, doubly so since they inserted an incorrect footnote to claim it.
Thanks for your input!
Good afternoon! Just stumbled upon your blog last night and wow, what a great TC and translation comparison. Thank you for putting in the work to share with everyone!
Quick question. Now that the Legacy Standard Bible (LSB) is out, what are your thoughts?
What is your opinion of Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)?
It passes the litmus test verse.
I’ve started reading it along with my NKJV.
I haven’t spent a lot of time with YLT, but the impression I got was good with the little time I did spend. It’s a bit hard to read, but otherwise I liked what I saw from my limited time with it.
Thanks again for your hard work in putting this all out there for the average reader. I had asked previously in a comment what you thought of the LSB, but didn’t see your response. Another translation that seems to be quite popular, is the Berean Study Bible (BSB). Have any thoughts on that one? Thanks again!
I’m sorry, I must have missed your question about the LSB. I’m really interested, and the little bit of it I’ve read has been good. It seems like the translators have kept the spirit of the NASB ’95 alive, and I love that they use Yahweh in the Old Testament. They’ve also been more consistent with certain words (like the more literal ‘seed’ instead of ‘descendent’ in places), and sometimes more literal too. I’m planning to get a paper copy and try rotating it in with my NASB ’95 as my primary Bible to see how I like it.
By contrast, the Berean Study Bible is pretty much garbage. If I was forced to choose between the BSB and the NIV, I’d hold my nose and pick the NIV. (and if I were Catholic, then I’d feel like I had to go to confession afterwards. 😉 )
Hahaha, love the analogy above. I didn’t know much about the BSB, but saw in the FB Group, “EVERYTHING BIBLES!!!!!”, that it was gaining a lot of attention.
I have the LSB and thoroughly enjoy reading it. Seeing and reading “YAHWEH” does take some getting used to, but the translation is definitely consistent throughout. Since I agree with much of what you’ve written in your blog posts, I was anxious to hear your take on it.
Thank you and keep up the great work!
Thank you for this article and the one about Textual Criticism 101. I was wondering if you have any comments about the Apostolic Bible Polyglot? I discovered it because it uses the LXX rather than the Masoretic. Of which the ages of many people are differing. The ABP also uses the word wife in Matt 5:28. The 1525 Tyndale uses wyfe. They are the only two translations besides the BOS that do(from my efforts searching). I believe that both ABP and TYND pass the litmus test as well. I was going to us the Catholic Public Domain Version in a study to give it a chance but it fails the litmus (not surprised).
I hadn’t heard of it, but I’m already not a fan since it uses the LXX for the OT. Setting aside that the OT was originally written in Hebrew (and bit of Aramaic), the LXX texts that we have don’t really go back as far as most people think. I’m reaching back a ways memory-wise, but I do think that one of the church fathers said that back in his day, they only had corrupted versions from… Origen? Maybe? Don’t remember exactly. Again, since the OT was originally Hebrew, then going from Hebrew > Greek > English is bound to lose more than Hebrew > English. In more than one article on this website, the nuance of Hebrew word was important, and you lose that when you translate from Greek.
As far as translation, most people will never read it since it is essentially an interlinear.
I would be most curious as to your thoughts in regards to LXX vs Masoretic. You dive into the New Testament manuscripts with a lot of details and 18k words. A review of the OT scripts is also important. Your quote “Origen is of course speaking of the manuscripts of his location, Alexandria, Egypt. By an Alexandrian Church father’s own admission, manuscripts in Alexandria by 200 AD were already corrupt. Irenaeus in the 2nd century, though not in Alexandria, made a similar admission on the state of corruption among New Testament manuscripts.” Origen’s Hexapla included Hebrew and Greek OT.
If you are interested:
The creator of this site does appear to be less critical of the New Testament manuscripts and focuses on OT. He does state “If you are a serious student of the bible throw out your NIV and use the NASB, the NET bible or the good old KJV.”
Perhaps Roman Catholics like the Septuagint because of the Apocrypha?
IMO, it is better to have multiple manuscripts to compare, so that if alterations occur they are less likely to be in the same places and the original can be understood by using both. Our issue is then when translating to English, how close to the original inspired words is linguistically possible?
From the looking that I’ve done, it seems that the Masoretic text and the dead sea scrolls are near identical, and the Samaritan Pentateuch is close to being identical to both of those as well. That alone seems like an excellent confirmation of the transmission.
Contrast that with the LXX, which the oldest copies we have are the great uncial codices I mentioned in my article on textual criticism. The dead sea scrolls are older.
More importantly, it’s *SO* easy to lose things in translation. Like I said before, going from “Hebrew > Greek > English” will always have more problems than going from “Hebrew > English”. This article should be a testament to that, as the importance of translation is front and center. If the translation into Greek wasn’t done with INSANE levels of dedication to literal accuracy, you’ll lose too much. Further, even a perfect translation loses things.
“Nevertheless, there are differences (some quite significant) between the scrolls and the Masoretic text. Furthermore, these differences have made scholars rethink variant readings found in other ancient manuscripts.”
“Most Scholars saw the LXX as inferior to the Hebrew Bible called the Masoretic Text (MT). With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this all changed. Ancient Hebrew scrolls were found that follow the LXX, not the Masoretic Text. The DSS showed that the LXX had an underlying Hebrew Text that was different from the MT.”
“There was a time when many Protestant scholars assumed that the Septuagint was an often loose translation of the Hebrew text, and that when it differed from the Masoretic Text, it was due to changes made by the translators. However, since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we now know that the Septuagint is based on a different, and older Hebrew text than the Masoretic text.”
“The Masoretic Text is the traditional Hebrew text of the Jewish bible, “This monumental work was begun around the 6th century ad and completed in the 10th by scholars at Talmudic academies in Babylonia and Palestine.” (1). Right on the outset, the question arises why do Christians value the translation of scholars at the Talmudic academy? The Talmud that blasphemes our Lord Jesus Christ saying He is burning in hell
Non-Christian Jews began making changes to the Old Testament texts to undermine the Christian use of prophecies concerning Jesus Christ, it makes no logical sense as to why their translation should be held above that which the apostles themselves used.”
“The Masoretes admitted that they received corrupted texts to begin with. They combined the consonants of the Tetragrammaton (YHWH ) with the vowels of ‘Adonai’ and created the bastard word ‘YEHOVAH’ which became the more familar ‘JEHOVAH’, which literally translates ‘Jah is perverse’, a blasphemy if ever there was one.”
“First, we must be open and honest. Yes, while we’ve found many errors in the Hebrew text, the Greek Septuagint text is hardly perfect. It also has some errors (they become clear in translating). We are also well aware that we’re producing a translation of a translation (from Hebrew/Aramaic to ancient Greek, and then from ancient Greek to modern English). The accuracy of our translation can’t be any better than the accuracy of the original translation. Also, there are several different versions of the Septuagint text that have key differences.
So, how can we say that the Septuagint is reliable? Well, is that really the right question? Surely the question should be: “Are the Greek Septuagint manuscripts more reliable than the Hebrew manuscripts?”
We feel that the evidence says, ‘yes’.”
I must rely upon other peoples research. From my evaluation, this makes it even more difficult for a KJV only view.
I just discovered (today) this 1808 English translation from LXX. It is the first complete one! it also passes your litmus.
Oh interesting, and thank you for sourcing everything! ^_^ I foresee another large research project in my future… but not for a while. My plate is really full right now. The only thing I will say is that an argument based on the oldest LXX manuscripts is a bit of a non-starter for me. It’s B and א, which really aren’t great manuscripts. (For those who haven’t, you can read why in my article on Textual Criticism)
I appreciate all of the study that you have put into this. Your litmus test is good, but I’d like to offer a better one. While no translation, except a true interlinear, gets this completely correct, Isaiah 14:12 truly shows when a mistranslation is perpetrated. The Hebrew word translated in the KJV, NKJV, and the newer MEV as being Lucifer, is translated in virtually every other version as morningstar. The Hebrew word means neither morning, nor star.
By use of both of these litmus test passages, I would place the NKJV, KJV and MEV slightly above the NASB95, as the NASB95 misses the correct translating of Isaiah. I do this because of people claiming that Jesus and satan are the same person by citing Isaiah 14:12 with Revelation 22:16, where Jesus says that he, himself, is the morning star. Whether you agree that Isaiah is referring to satan, the fact remains that it is pretty much universally accepted that Isaiah 14:12 is referring to satan. Therefore, mistranslating that word into English as morning star, has serious implications. At best, this is confusing, and satan loves confusing people.
I, myself, prefer the KJV, because it sounds better. There is just something beautiful about the Elizabethan English that we have lost today. However, I also use the NKJV, when discussing the Bible with others. Anyway, I really appreciate your writings, as they really do treat all views fairly.
I actually disagree about Isaiah 14:12. “Lucifer” comes from the Latin word meaning “light-bearer”, which ended up remaining as a transliteration when the Bible was translated into English. The lexicons I looked at say it does mean either “morning star”, or “star of the morning”. I actually don’t like the NKJV, KJV, and MEV’s rendering, since it’s importing a Latin word instead of translating the Hebrew one.
I am grateful for easy to read translations because they work well for young adolescents, less educated, or my wife who speaks english as a second language and refused to study in another language. But yeah an educated adult native english speaker should probably have something that sticks as close to the original as possible.
What about the Legacy Standard Bible?
Others have asked in the comments and I’ll give the same reply: It’s likely to be very good. Quite possibly on par with the NASB ’95, and potentially better. I’d need to spend a lot of time with it to be sure though, which I haven’t done yet.
I have recently been trying to understand the various translations and the underlying texts used for translation. I have read your article on the majority text vs the critical text vs the text vs receptus and now this one on the different translations, both have helped me understand and put some perspective (hopefully objective) on the critical issues.
I also wanted to see if you had read any of The New English version of the Bible (1972 ed.). I was given a copy and told it was “the most accurate”. I checked 1 Cor. 7:36-38. It failed…but then put the correct interpretation in the footnotes. I read it through once, but had to keep a dictionary close by, as it is a British translation full of words we Americans don’t use often. Every once in a while I found a verse that I was completely unfamiliar with, so I would look it up in my trusty NASB1995. It was just a completely different translation of the verse.
Thank you for sharing all you have learned!
i know you are reviewing only NT portions of the bible, but some OT portions are especially important, and need to be included. For example, the translating of “Man” to mankind in gen.6:1,2 leads to an unwarranted comparison with the sons of God and “mankind”; which in turn leads to the blending of mythology in the account of why God sent judgment. “Now it came about, when mankind began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of mankind were [a]beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.” NASB Please include an OT review.
The translation of Gen 6 that you posted is the NASB 2020, and I agree that it’s definitely wrong. The NASB ’95 gets this verse right, translating it ‘men’ not mankind. I did add a note to the NASB 95 section warning that “NASB” (without a year modifier) now usually refers to the NASB 2020. I added a note to the article to watch out for this.
Thoughts on the American Standard Version, ASV 1901? I just picked up one at a garage sale for $5, and I like what I see! It seems to be in line with all the criteria discussed in this piece.
It’s a great translation. IIRC, I once heard that being in possession of one while taking a Greek class used to be considered cheating at some schools because it’s so accurate/literal.
Fantastic article! However, both the NKJV and NASB 95 and many other new translations appear to make horrific theological errors in Romans 8. They apparently decided that the carnal mind can be redeemed by positive thinking. Both use “set their mind on” rather than “mind of the flesh” and “mind of the spirit”. That clearly implies that there is only one mind, your brain, and you have to redeem it by thinking on spiritual matters.
But if they would just continue reading in v 7 they would see that the carnal mind cannot be redeemed and cannot please God no matter how much it “sets itself” on spiritual things.
Keep up the good work!
I am trying to understand the different ways or styles. Your example based on Luke 9:44 puzzles me. When we translate, do we translate as to how Jesus would speak to us today, or as he spoke to them in Ancient Greek and Jewish culture? Would Jesus actually say, “Let these words sink into your ears” to us today? So, I’m confused as to the purpose for translating historical idioms and expressions verbatim. I would think the purpose would be to make his Word understandable to us in our language. Otherwise, I think there should be footnotes for every such historical verbatim translation. Thank you.
I think the primary goal should be to obey the commands not to change God’s words. So where an idiom can be understand with a literal translation (“let these words sink into your ears”), then it should be translated literally. Only when it’s a true idiom where the meaning is different that the words suggest (example: “give bread to a baker”) should the idiom be translated non-literally. Doing otherwise is to forsake God’s command not to change His words.
While it might not matter as much in Luke 9:44, it definitely matters in other places. In some places, the exact wording is incredibly important (see the supreme court analogy in in the article). You might be surprised at how often I’ve found the exact wording to be crucial. While making a Bible translation more readable/accessible is a good thing, it’s never good to compromise accuracy for the sake of readability.
Hello! I’ve been loving and enjoying your articles!
This has really helped me immensely. Just today I prayed that God would help me use the right translations. The ESV had been my favorite, and I’d cross reference between other translations. The translations I compare it with are the NASB 95, 20, LSB, AMP, BSB and NKJV. I always look at the AMP with a hefty grain of salt of course, but it can be useful I think. And the BSB is only to see it rendered in more colloquial English incase it helps me understand better.
I’ve honestly been noticing more and more issues with the ESV as I’ve been studying and reading the past few weeks. I’ve always felt the ESV and NASB 95 were about equal, just different.
The NASB 95 being a bit more literal and the ESV aiming for a bit more comprise on literal rendering for smoother, more modern English. Although honestly the ESV often sounds archaic and hard to understand even compared to the NASB 95 at times.
Everyone says the NASB 95 is more wooden than the ESV, but in my experience it’s about 60/40, slightly in favor of the ESV. It just depends on the passage.
My biggest reason I love the ESV is it’s helped the personality of the authors and people written about really come to life. It’s a bit harder for me to really feel like I’m there experiencing it with the NASB 95 sadly.
I’m sure it’s simply because it’s closer to the Greek, and being an English speaker it’s harder to hear the personality shine through a more foreign tongue. Perhaps I just need to read the NASB 95 and then it’ll be just as lively :).
I’ve also hated how the ESV adds words that don’t seem to appear on the interlinear from biblehub.
Here’s an example from Revelation that honestly shocked me.
And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft.
Revelation 9:1-2 ESV
Vs the NASB 95
Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit.
Revelation 9:1-2 NASB 95
Here’s the biblehub interlinear
Now, I don’t actually know Koine Greek (tho I understand more then most, and, God willing, I’d like to learn and master it) but the interlinear doesn’t seem to have anything that would correlate to “shaft” used in The ESV.
Thank you for this article! I’m going to start using the NASB 95 as my main translation for a while and see how it goes.
Also, I’ve been extremely interested in the Legacy Standard Bible and was wondering if you have/will review it.
I really like the use of Yahweh, it saddens me that other translations just use LORD.
It also has more footnotes than the NASB 95, but often ad nauseam.
I’m also skeptical of the LSB’s philosophy of trying to always translate every phrase and word consistently every time it’s used. I agree that the use of repetitive themes and words are important in scripture, and knowing when the word “heart” vs say “mind” or “conscience” is used is important. I’m just concerned that the LSB may sacrifice different contextual readings in the name of “consistency”.
I’ll be using the NASB 95 for a while, then I’ll compare with the LSB. My hope is the LSB is more accurate and also reads more smoothly. I’ve never read a more beautiful Bible than the ESV, but as stated earlier, I’m switching to the NASB 95 for now. I’d love the LSB to have more of that same literary beauty the NASB 95 slightly lacks at times.
I’d love your thoughts on the LSB! Especially since you actually understand and can read Greek. Since I really can only compare it’s accuracy with an interlinear until I learn Greek for myself, and Hebrew for the OT. if you have a review or would be willing to make one, I would deeply appreciate it!
On a side note, I wish the NASB 95, and honestly most translations, would use Yahweh and Yah instead of just LORD or GOD.
Thank you for reading my comment and God bless!
P.S. I found a typo in your review of the NASB 2020. You cite John 18:19 instead of John 18:38. No big deal, I’m not upset or bothered, just wanted to let you know 🙂
It makes sense that you typed “19” instead of “38”, since you probably typed “19” a million time referring to the NASB haha.
Thanks for pointing out that typo; it’s now fixed. 🙂
I added a section for the LSB, since it’s the most asked about translation in the comments here it seems.
What is your take on the 1977 NASB?
Harder to read than the 95 and uses some archaic language, but otherwise everything I said about the 95 applies.
Is there no way to comment on bosbible.com without an account? (and the email server for the forum (register) is down)
There isn’t a way, and I’ll have to look at troubleshooting the email on BOS Bible.
What are some guest acc login credentials that can be used? also, how long has the account registering page been broken?
If you like, I can manually create an account for you over there. Just make your next comment here with the email address you’d like me to use and tell me what username you’d like. (No one else will be able to see your email if you put it in the email field)
I don’t know how long it’s been broken, which is troubling. I’m working on a fix now, and I’ll have it up again as soon as I can.
Are you entirely certain you’re not simply reasoning to reenforce your own prejudices? The word used in Rev 22:18&19 is logos which despite the spooky demi-god reasoning of the early Church speculators basically means expressed thought, thus concerned with the content of speech, as does the Hebrew dabar which surely explains the LXX translators’ liberty, a translation which our Lord and his apostles were happy to use, and should their example not instruct us more than modern arguments, clearly too complicit with one’s politics, to truly reflect God’s impartiality of judgement.
When one argues against the value of the KJV based on ‘outdated’ language it amounts to saying that Christians shouldn’t study, because while Chaucer needs modernising, Shakespeare certainly doesn’t, he just needs a dictionary on occasion. To change his language would destroy it because the form is necessary to its power, so the real problem with a modern translation as Robert Alter observed is that its translators have a shaky grasp of English as poetry.
Your litmus test seems somewhat harsh in its judgement on those translators who disagree with you, as although all accept that the word usually means to give in marriage, the coupling with the term virgin promotes uncertainty as why didn’t Paul use daughter if that was his meaning as the notes to this verse in the NET bible explain, and the argument is reasonable is it not? and certainly in a modern context where the problem is more the teaching of appropriate behaviour to media saturated hounds of lust perhaps the engaged view is to be preffered with due praise to the eternal God for leaving the matter open to judgement.
Now my litmus test is John 1:1-3. Does the word logos (masculine pronoun in Gk.) become an he to support a particular reading of this text or remain an it as it should be in english? Only the CEB attempts fidelity, all others keep the use of him in the belief that it supports their notion of Trinity and then as they use the CT have a begotten god at 1:18 like card carrying members of the Watchtower and like all enslaved not to reason but prejudice are to blind to the absurdity.
Well that old question of Jesus still roars just how can any believe when they’re more concerned with glory from one another? Now before you dismiss this comment please read the ringing endorsements from several respected scholars for my…God find you well, Peace.
To John 1:1-3, you’re ignoring the demonstrative pronoun in 1:2, which is clearly masculine and thus indicates that a (masculine) person is in view. John elsewhere mismatches the gender of nouns and pronouns when it suits him better (John 16 for example) so there’s no reason he couldn’t have written “it”. He didn’t. There’s no good argument that John 1:1-3 should be translated “it” as the relevant words are all masculine. Thus, “him” is a perfectly reasonable translation of the demonstrative pronoun used there, and it’s translated that way almost everywhere else.
To the KJV, notice my problem wasn’t with archaic words, but with words that have changed (even reversed) meaning.
To my litmus test verse, I might expand that section of the article to offer more proof. Here’s the super short version. First, the Greek word is translated “giving in marriage’ everywhere else. Second, marrying because you can’t control yourself was already covered earlier in the chapter, and the following verses say a woman can decide who she marries if her husband dies. Third, contextually, the “engagement” understanding makes no sense and the correct understanding makes perfect sense. Additionally, you have to change the meaning of several Greek words to make engagement work. You can’t do it on accident, and virtually every older translation (before the advent of feminism) translates it correctly.
Just on opinion after reading this. “Readability” is such a subjective topic. It is relative to the person, so many variables. About the words of the KJV, yes there are words that have changed meaning. But if you are educated in these differences, I think it’s fine to read it. There’s nice article here:
That being said, I do think the NKJV is preferred in cases of new Christians, for understanding. I’m not a KJV only person, but I do tend to lean on the side of majority text and textus receptus. The arguments for these manuscripts being the earliest are very compelling to me, but not to the degree I will ignore other bibles based on different manuscripts. The difference is fortunately very little. I did read this whole thing, thank you for it.
What is your evaluation of the 1904 patriarchal text and the orthodox study bible?
Which Greek New Testament and would Greek text of the Septuagint do you recommend?
I suggest you read my article Majority Text vs. Critical Text vs. Textus Receptus – Textual Criticism 101 for more on the NT. No comment on the OT, as I’d have to do a lot more research.
Thank you so much for the effort you have put into this blog, it is an absolute gem of information and learning and I appreciate it more each article I read. This breakdown in particular was incredibly eye opening, I have an NASB 95 on the way and looking forward to getting into it.
In regards to litmus tests, you passed a very critical one of mine of people, which is the use of the phrase “I couldn’t care less…” I’ll be honest, if you wrote “I could care less…” I may have had to just stop reading it all. 🙂
Thank you. 🙂 And yeah, that’s a personal (grammatical) pet peeve of mine as well.
Any helpful comment about the KJV, The 1967 Scofield Study Bible?
You might like the Literal Standard Version, a modern update to Young’s Literal, which translates the grammar as much as possible into English. In OT narratives like Exodus 12, translating the imperfect verbs into English present tense conveys the urgency whereby the Israelites left Egypt. It does make the English sometimes unnatural though.
LSV, following YLT, has Genesis 1:3 “Let light be”, which no other version has (accurate since “there” is not in the Hebrew).
While going to look at my litmus test verse, I noticed that the LSV added the word “proper” in 1 Cor 7:2 completely without textual basis (and didn’t even bracket it), and the translation of the litmus test verses is highly suspect, even questionable. Though not the worst I’ve seen, it’s unclear at best and seems to lean in the wrong direction. Based on that alone, I’d stick with better options.
I think the idea was to distinguish “heautou” (“own”) and “idion” (“proper”). In Jude 1:6 both NASB and LSV have “idion” as “proper”. As for the litmus test it’s the closest to interlinear i’ve found — not sure which parts are suspect.
It gives the wrong impression mostly, and it would take a lot of typing to explain. The NASB 95 has it translated really well, and comparing them side-by-side should make it clear.
Also after reading your other posts, i checked them on LSV and it does have the 3 missing words in Mark 3:29 and translates grammar of Matt 28:19 correctly (“having gone”, not “go”). It’s worth another look.
Hmm, I might have to give it a more thorough look, I don’t have time right now though.
My top five:
3) HCSB (disappointed this came out as a No, but the litmus test doomed it)
4) The Complete Jewish Bible (See Biblegateway.com)
5) The Names of God Bible (See Biblegateway.com)
Thank you for your exhaustive work on this critically important topic.
Best seller, doesn’t mean best for you.
The NKJV deletes the word “blood” 23 times out of the KJV. Doesn’t the NKJV mislead people to believe that it is a language update from the old english, when it seems to be an actual edit using the critical text and notes ??
What is your opinion on the JB Phillips version?
It’s utterly abysmal. It’s 100% a paraphrase with no fidelity to the original words. It would be awful even if it got the litmus test verse correct, which it definitely doesn’t. Hard pass.
The NKJV deletes the word “Repent” 12 times out of the KJV. Just like it deletes “Blood” as mentioned above. The NKJV has hundreds of references to variant readings from the critical text, casting doubt upon and causing the reader to question the KJV. It is NOT just a language update of the KJV – it’s a transition version to lead people to the critical text versions. My humble opinion.
The NKJV deletes the word “Heaven” 50 times out of the KJV. One source says the NKJV ignores the Textus Receptus over 1000 times. Again, my humble opinion is that the NKJV is a transition version to lead people to the critical text versions. It is NOT just a language update with all the references to the critical text. Why the charade ??
I’ll direct you to this article, which does answer some of what you’ve posted in your comments. I think you’ve been misled into believing a few things about the “KJV vs NKJV” debate that simply aren’t true.
On a more personal note, I’ve personally translated almost 2/3 of the New Testament. After translating, I checked a few other translations to compare accuracy (which is when I started to dislike the ESV). I can say that while I respect the KJV, based on my own reading I think the NKJV was more accurately translated than the KJV. The difference isn’t huge (after accounting for the change in word meanings over time), but it definitely is there.
Merry Christmas! Thank you for your research. Quite a read! It does help me on my own internal debate I have on sticking to at least 2 or 3 translations to read from as I haven’t “graduated”to learned Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic yet. I spend to much money on getting physical copies of every translation I can afford. I had narrowed mine down to NKJV, LSB/NASB1995/BSB and the ESV (with HCSB). I have had my doubts on ESV and after reading, confirmed them a bit more. But I see you don’t like the BSB (Berean Standard Bible) but didn’t offer why other than you said, “it is garbage”. I have it with me as a parallel with my NKJV or LSB when reading/studying and haven’t found anything that makes it “garbage”, yet. Would love to know more why you don’t like it and the issues with the BSB. Thanks and may God bless you!
Merry Christmas to you as well! 🙂 My issues with the BSB start at the litmus test verse, continue with its treatment of gender, and the final nail in the coffin is the non-literal translations in many places. (1 cor 7:1 is one example, which I always end up checking on my way to the litmus test verse).
If an English Bible cannot correctly translate a Biblical (Hebrew) word like “Elohim” in the singular or plural, or if they are unwilling to use the proper “transliterated” names, many which are compound words that form names, like Yahushua (Yah-is-Savior) than “Jesus” the translation is worthless and unreliable.
If translations used the proper proper pronouns (the article) when referring to the Greek word “pneuma” (spirit) for example, (which is always an “it” in Greek) Christians would not be stuck with a spirit “person” or the non-biblical invented “pagan trinity”. All of this confusion, and deception is there because most translations are developed by Christians, and all of them have preconceived doctrines they want to protect, even if they are not supported in the Hebrew or Greek language. . . . . really sad
To Elohim, so you would prefer the Shema was translated “Hear O Israel, Yahweh your Gods, (plural) Yahweh is one”? Or perhaps Genesis 1:1 should be translated: “In the beginning, one Gods (plural) created…”. That accurately captures the plural of the Hebrew word Elohim, and seems clearly Trinitarian in it’s meaning. You can check out my article List of Pro-Trinity/Deity of Christ Bible Passages for more examples.
To the Holy Spirit, masculine pronouns are ALWAYS used of the Holy Spirit, and neuter pronouns are never used. You can read this scholarly article by the man who literally wrote the book on advanced Greek grammar, or my article Is God Male, Female, or Neither/Both? (“What are God’s Pronouns?”) is a bit more friendly for those who don’t know Greek.
For the seeker’s information, one of the better “translations” out there is the CLV the Concordant Literal Version of the Bible, with the key word Concordance. Yes, it is some times a bit awkward to read, but I have found it quite accurate when translating from the original language’s intended meaning.
But it will not be suggested on this site, for reasons outlined in my previous reply.
I wouldn’t recommend it because it fails the litmus test verse and also grossly perverts verses like 1 Cor 11:10. Gross intentional perversion should disqualify any Bible. It also gets Greek verb forms wrong, and in a way that makes it needlessly harder to read.
Good article. What is your opinion of the Recovery Translation of the Bible? Seems to get the litmus test right.
I’d never heard of it before so I did a little looking. From the looking I did it seems pretty decent. Obviously I couldn’t look at the whole thing so it might have problems, but it did reasonably well in the half dozen or so passages I checked. It might be worth a further look, though I don’t have much time to do so. The base text is the same as the NASB, so I would do a direct comparison to that.
Thank you, very helpful!
Thank you for this article. I myself use the NKJV and NASB95 translations for study and comparison. From a text-critical perspective however, I lean towards the Byzantine Majority position. Recently, I’ve discovered Robert Adam Boyd’s new English translation based on the Robinson/Pierpont text. He also published a text-critical version featuring very helpful footnotes. His works can be downloaded free of charge from the Internet Archive in several formats: https://archive.org/search.php?query=creator%3A%22Robert+Adam+Boyd%22
Printed editions are also available on Amazon.
I would be very interested in your opinion of this new English translation.
It seems at first glance to be better than most other translations. I checked a few places and it rendered them passably well. It seemed literal most of the time and then to veer into paraphrase occasionally, so I read their translation notes section and apparently that’s intentional when they think literal doesn’t make enough sense. I understand their reasoning for it, but with a bit more work the paraphrase isn’t needed. (It took less than a minute to think of ways to literally translate their example passages).
Their section on gendered language seems to reflect the common (and incorrect) culturally-driven beliefs about Greek gender application. The choices they say they make seem passable… but then don’t seem to stick to them as much as they should. “Human” and “people” should occur 7 and 142 times respectively, and yet occur a dozen+ and 400+ times respectively. (Even accounting for differences in the MT that’s way too much) That’s a bias in gendered language that I wouldn’t tolerate, and that disqualifies this translation for me. That said, at a cursory glance it seems the changes are a genuine mistakes/misunderstandings and not motivated by a feminist agenda. So while I still wouldn’t use it, I wouldn’t ascribe intentional mistranslation either, merely mistaken ones.
Overall from the limited looking that I did, it seems like the NKJV and NASB 95 are significantly better overall. However, if someone truly thought the MT was correct, this might be a translation that’s worth a deeper look. I don’t have time to, and again this is based on a quick look at several passages, so YMMV and do your own due diligence.
I should also add that the translatable differences between the MT and TR aren’t terribly large. Present, but not huge in most cases. Thus if you like the MT, the NKJV is probably your best bet even though it’s a TR translation and not an MT translation.
Thank you for your quick and detailed response. Very helpful. Yes, I’ve been relying on the NKJV footnotes for the differences between the MT, TR and CT. The footnotes Boyd provides in his text-critical edition are more detailed however and that’s what I personally find most valuable.
Thank you for the time spent on this article. I am curious as to your thoughts on the Knox translation (putting aside the fact that it includes the apocryphal books)? It appears to faithfully translate your litmus test verses and interestingly makes the same translational point on the “to give in marriage” translation in verse 38, as you make above.
It’s translated from the Latin Vulgate, which automatically disqualifies it because the Bible wasn’t written in Latin, but Hebrew and Greek (and a tiny bit of Aramaic) Even if it wasn’t translated from the wrong language, it uses words like “mayst” and “hast” from old English, making it archaic. It also uses thee/thou/thine (which I personally like because of the singular/plural 2nd person distinction) but again we don’t talk that way anymore. I checked a few passages and in some of them it bears no resemblance to the Greek, which is what happens when you get a translation of a translation, instead of a translation from the original. Hard pass.
Really appreciate your research! It certainly a lot to “chew on”. I will have to dig into all of it some more. I’m curious if you’ve done anything with the “Recovery Version”? Let me know what you think. I’m trying to compare it to these other Versions… Thanks, Rob O’
Check my response to Kyle on Dec 25 of 2022, since he asked the same question.
I recently found your website and in turn this article. I really appreciate the described methodology with which you approach to Bible translations. I do have a couple questions and comments though.
For the King James Version you mention that the English language has changed much over 400 years and gave several specific examples. Both because I enjoy diving into stuff like this and because I on occasion like to compare the KJV, I am curious if there are resources of which you are aware of that outline in detail the changes the English language has undergone since the period were KJV was written?
Concerning the ESV I have for years used it as my primary Biblical translation under the impression that it was indeed a good word for word translation. It pains me to read that you believe it is inaccurate and even more so your reasoning behind determining it to be so as I cannot help but agree. It would indeed appear that my go too is not faithful to Gods word. I’ll certainly need to look into it more myself, but I do thank you for bringing to my attention that it may not be as I had believed it to be.
You mentioned that the Legacy Standard Version appeared good but admitted that you ultimately did not have sufficient experience to reach a definitive conclusion. A couple years have passed and I’m wondering if you have since explored the translation in greater detail and if so, if you have any more detailed or definitive comments to give on the translation?
Thank you. 🙂
I don’t know of such a resource, but given the KJV’s popularity I’m sure there is one. If you find it, please post a comment here and I might add it to the KJV’s section of the article.
Yeah, the ESV came as a bit of a shock when I started going through the NT in Greek. Biggest disappointment by far.
To the LSB, I just added an edit to the LSB section because of your comment. I’ve been meaning to, but your comment gave me the push to do it.
If this question has been asked, please forgive the question. What are your thoughts on the Amplified Version?
Check my response to “Scott” on June 23 of 2021. (comments are listed in date order, so it shouldn’t be hard to find.)
You forgot to mention the American Standard Version of1901. It is the most unbiased translation and the most literal I have ever investigated. When I am doing sermon prep, I have the ASV KJV NKJV and Majority text open on my Bible Software.
The ASV is indeed an excellent translation, but I think many people are turned off by the KJV-style language. I also don’t know of anyone (except you 🙂 ) who uses it, and the NASB95 is an descendant. BTW, that’s a brilliant spread of bibles for study/sermon prep.