Why I am changing Bible translations

November 27, 2012

Dr. Bob Rogers has been pastor of First Baptist Church, Rincon, Ga. since 1999.He earned a B.A. from Mississippi College, and an M.Div. and Th.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He is an avid cyclist and regularly writes blogs at www.bobrogers.me.

 


The New International Version (NIV) of the Bible was published in 1979, the same year that I became pastor of my first church. Immediately, I liked how it was easy to read, yet more accurate than other popular, easy-to-read Bibles of the time, like The Living Bible and the Good News Bible. The NIV went through a minor revision in 1984, and I have been preaching primarily from the NIV ever since then, although I often quote other translations. However, beginning in the summer of 2012, I will change to the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). Why the change, after all these years? The answer is simple: I’m changing, because the NIV changed.

In 2011, the NIV went through a major revision, and the 1984 edition will no longer be sold in stores. If you buy a new NIV Bible, it will be the 2011 edition. The revision is more accurate in many places, correcting some translation errors of the old edition. However, the 2011 revision also chose to use gender-neutral language when referring to people, following the model of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), a translation that is owned by the liberal National Council of Churches. In some cases, the gender-neutral language is justified, as when the word “man” refers to all of humanity or when Paul addresses the “brothers” but clearly means all believers, “brothers and sisters.” But the 2011 revision of the NIV goes much farther than this, consistently using gender-neutral language even when the context does not necessarily call for it.

I spent about a year carefully studying the 2011 revision, and although I liked some of the improvements in accuracy, the extremes of gender-neutral language outweighed the other improvements. Thus, I began to prayerfully look for another translation to use in my preaching.

There were two main options I considered, because both are accurate translations, readable, and they avoid gender-neutral language unless the context clearly calls for it: the English Standard Version (ESV) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). The ESV is a great translation. It is a conservative response to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The NRSV uses gender-neutral language, while the ESV does not. The ESV is very close to the New American Standard Bible (NASB) in accuracy, and it flows better than the NASB.

However, I chose the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) over the ESV, because the HCSB uses more contemporary language than the ESV. For example, while the ESV uses “behold,” the HCSB says “look!” and while the ESV says “made manifest” the HCSB says “made evident.” The HCSB is as readable as the NIV, while it is more accurate than the NIV. The HCSB translates the name of Yahweh in the Old Testament in places where the context implies God’s name (rather than the all capital “LORD” used in other translations). It translates “Christ” as “Messiah” in the New Testament when the context is referring to Jesus’ title as Messiah. It shows respect for deity by capitalizing pronouns when referring to God. That is why I have been using the HCSB in Wednesday night prayer meeting for several years, and beginning in the summer of 2012, the HCSB will become my primary Bible when preaching on Sundays.

Am I saying that I expect my congregation to go out and buy a Holman Christian Standard Bible? No, I am not. This decision is for my own preaching, as I feel a responsibility to preach from a Bible that best communicates God’s Word with clarity and faithfulness to the original languages. Everybody is welcome to bring to our church whatever translation of the Bible you prefer. If you want to continue using your NIV Bible or other favorite translation, you are welcome to do so. It is useful to compare various Bible translations, and although I will primarily preach from the HCSB, I will continue to quote other translations of the Bible in my sermons whenever it sheds light on the meaning of God’s Word.

If you wish to sample the HCSB, you can download it for free on the Kindle at amazon.com and the Nook at BarnesandNoble.com, and the application “You Version” has the HCSB available for free on smart phones and iPads, available at www.youversion.com. The website www.mystudybible.com is a free website using the text of the HCSB, including excellent Bible study notes in the margin. The HCSB translation is used in Sunday School literature printed by LifeWay. Our church will also place HCSB pew Bibles in the worship center for the convenience of those who wish to follow the same translation as the pastor. convenience of those who wish to follow the same translation as the pastor.

Here are some sample comparisons of the 1984 NIV, 2011 NIV, and the HCSB.

Genesis 4:26 (The context refers to all people.)

1984 NIV: “At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.”
2011 NIV: “At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD.”
HCSB: “At that time people began to call on the name of Yahweh.”

 

Esther 3:6 (The context is explaining why Haman wanted to kill all the Jewish people.)

1984 NIV: “Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai.”
2011 NIV: “Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai.”
HCSB: “And when he learned of Mordecai’s ethnic identity, Haman decided not to do away with Mordecai alone.”

 

Psalm 1:1 (It is debatable whether the context refers to people in general.)

1984 NIV: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.”
2011 NIV: “Blessed is the one who does walk in step with the wicked.”
HCSB: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked.”

 

Psalm 23:4 (“valley of the shadow of death” was a Hebrew idiom for a dark valley)

1984 NIV: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
2011 NIV: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
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.”

 

Psalm 90:2

1984 NIV “… from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
2011 NIV “… from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
HCSB: “… from eternity to eternity, You are God.”

 

Proverbs 27:17 (It is debatable whether the context refers to people in general.)

1984 NIV: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
2011 NIV: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
HCSB: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”

 

Malachi 4:6 (The Hebrew word here is “fathers.”)

1984 NIV: “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children…”
2011 NIV: “He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children…”
HCSB: “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children…”

 

Matthew 5:19 (The context refers to all people.)

1984 NIV: “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’”
2011 NIV: “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’”
HCSB: “Follow Me,’ He told them, ‘and I will make you fish for people!’”

 

John 11:27

1984 NIV: “’Yes, Lord,’ she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.’”
2011 NIV: “’Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’”
HCSB: “’Yes, Lord,’ she told Him, ‘I believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.’”

 

Romans 16:1

1984 NIV: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea.”
2011 NIV: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.”
HCSB: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchreae.”

 

Romans 16:14 (All of the names listed are male names in Greek.)

1984 NIV: “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them.”
2011 NIV: “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them.”
HCSB: “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them.”

 

Ephesians 5:18

1984 NIV: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
2011 NIV: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
HCSB: “And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit.”

 

Hebrews 12:7 (After Hebrews 12:5 comments that Proverbs 3:11-12 addresses us as “sons” when referring to God’s discipline.)

1984 NIV: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.”
2011 NIV: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.”
HCSB: “Endure suffering as discipline; God is dealing with you as sons.”

 

I John 3:16 (The context is referring to all Christians.)

1984 NIV: “… And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
2011 NIV: “… And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
HCSB: “We should also lay down our lives for our brothers.”

 

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cab97

I have been using the King James Version all of my life. It is an excellent version of the Bible. You can see a great comparison of the King James to the New International at

matt1926.wordpress.com/2011/08/13/kjv-vs-niv/

I hope that you will take the time to look it over. Thank you and God bless!

rhutchin

The fisher’s of men citation is Matt 4:19 (not 5:19).

What is the best translation of this verse? Jesus is talking to men who were actually fishermen, not to an accountant or teacher. Translators need to maintain context plus tone of voice, sarcasm, anger, dramatic pause or anything else that is going on.

So we have:

2011 NIV: “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’”
HCSB: “Follow Me,’ He told them, ‘and I will make you fish for people!’”

HCSB uses the exclamation point to try to bring out the contrast Jesus makes. Another translation might be:

“Follow Me,’ He told them, ‘and I will make you fishermen – of people!’”

The dash would be read as a dramatic pause. It also preserves the actual words used. The Greek does use the noun “fishermen” and not “fish for,” a verb.

As some say, translation is art and not science.

Ron F. Hale

Thanks Bob for your research and writing on this issue. I purchased the newer NIV and I have not been happy with it. I’ve used the 84′ version since 1986, however, if they will no longer be printing it, I must switch. Your article has been very helpful.

    Max

    Hi Ron – Sounds like you need to hint for a 1984 NIV stocking stuffer while they are still on the shelf, so you don’t get tongue-tangled by switching to another version! We grab the 1973 NIV when we see them at yard sales. Personally, I prefer the KJV, a Thompson Chain version – I grew up with that one and still find that it speaks Truth after all these years! However, I’m not a KJV-only guy and have most versions in my library for cross-reference. It’s clear that the ESV is the sword of choice amongst the SBC reformed, with the ESV Study Bible ranking high on their holiday wish list. LifeWay Sunday School literature for adult classes present lessons in both HCSB and KJV for us old guys, I guess. I’m sure glad that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, was sent to lead us into all Truth regardless of the version of His text that we read, while also giving us discernment to sort out error in modern presentations.

Robert Vaughn

The use of “people” for “men” — even when the context justifies it — is more about our modern sensibilities than it is about the English language or accurate translation. Any good dictionary will point out several senses in which “man” means any human without reference to gender (so “man” means “person” and “men” means “people”).

Stephen

The ESV would be a very good translation if they simply followed their literal philosophy everywhere instead of resorting to dynamic translations in places (I don’t have any examples handy but occasionally they are more dynamic than the NIV). The HCSB similar would be probably even better if they took their own improvements/suggestions and followed them everywhere.

For example, you mention the Yahweh/Messiah translations. In the Hebrew text, there are around 6800 uses of the personal name of God, “Yahweh.” All of these uses “imply God’s name” (as the blog post says) and typical translations have either translated God’s name following the Jehovah tradition as the KJV or the LORD tradition. There are various reasons for doing so that I won’t rehash, but I agree with the HCSB that the Jehovah/LORD translations are not the best. The problem is, out of the 6800 uses of Yahweh in the text, the HCSB only says Yahweh around 400 times and the other 6400 times they stick with Lord! And that’s in the newer edition, the older one was only 75 times. So we have Exodus 15:3 “The Lord is a Warrior, Yahweh is his name.”

Same thing with Christos. The Greek word has little if any meaning apart from a direct translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, but the HCSB is not consistent in either rendering “Messiah” or “Christ.” So you get awkward verses like Ephesians 2:13 “But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.”

Bob Rogers

rhutchin, thanks for the correction on the reference. I like your point about translation being an art, not science.
Ron, I’m glad the article was helpful.
Robert, perhaps I was not clear when I said the context sometimes “justifies” translating “men” as “people,” etc. The English language is changing, and whereas it is true that the dictionary use of the word “man” is gender-neutral, one must also take into account the connotation– what you call “modern sensibilities,” which is another way of saying how the modern reader understands the word. This, of course, is what the NIV revision was trying to do, and I don’t doubt their sincerity; I just believe they went too far with it, while the HCSB and ESV do not.
Stephen, you made some very good points about the lack of consistency in translating “Yahweh” and “Messiah.” It seems that the HCSB translators were trying to use “Yahweh” when the proper name was implied, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case. Likewise, the HCSB seems to try to use Messiah unless “Christ” appears to be used as a proper name, but again, it doesn’t always seem to be the case. I didn’t get into that issue since it was not the main focus of my article, but you make a good point.

    Robert Vaughn

    Bob, I don’t think you were unclear. I italicized justify because I felt I might not be using it the way you used it. To translate “man/men” as “person/people” can be “justified” as a correct translation where its meaning is any human without reference to gender. What I am questioning is the motivation. Perhaps I am a dinosaur (not in age, but in “inability to adapt”), but I’d say while the HCSB and ESV do not go too far technically, they are unnecessarily capitulating to an “anti-gender” movement. Yes, our language is changing — always has been — but we are nowhere near the loss of understanding the use of man/men as person/people. It’s mostly that some people don’t like it and have been campaigning against for years. Hope that helps clarify.

      Bob Rogers

      Robert, I understand what you are saying. I think we just have a slightly different opinion about when it is correct to translate the generic use of “men” as “people.” As an English major, my training has been on clarity of understanding. If modern hearers would misunderstand the use to be exclusively male, then I would translate it as “people.” The complexity is that different modern hearers will hear it differently.

Daniel Wilcox

Bob, thanks for bringing this topic up–finding the right Bible translation. How so difficult!

I change translations about every 5 to 10 years so as, again, to experience Scripture freshly. Have gone through the KJV, RSV, old ASV, NASB, NIV, JB, NEB, NKJV, etc. as well as sampled the lesser known ones.

My favorite is still the old American Standard Version because as a literature teacher I love idioms, metaphors, and other figures of speech (and really dislike when modern translations often translate the basic meaning instead of the exact words).

But I know that not everyone is a literary-hog;-) and that clarity of meaning is more important for congregational settings than Hebrew and Greek word images.

Right now I am reading through the New Testament in the NRSV and am visibly disappointed, not only with the, at times, strange gender inclusive language, but also its tendency, it seems (so far) to lose literary flavor.

Anyway, thanks for bringing up the points about HCSB. I haven’t read this version, will check into it. I think “reckless living” will communicate the Greek much better than the NIV’s “debauchery,” a term that many may not be familiar with, and that others will get only a narrow connotation. I still like the ASV’s “riot” better, however, and prefer “valley of the shadow of death” to “dark valley.” Once a literature teacher, always a literature-nut:-)

Daniel

Dell Russell

The Holman is nothing more than an NIV. I probably have 12 or 15 versions in hard print and even more on software, but nothing is better than the KJV.
The more the liberal the version, the more liberal the church.

    Donald

    Nothing? How about the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia plus a Critical Greek New Testament?

Bob Rogers

Daniel and Donald, thank you for your comments.
Dell, the Holman is consistently more accurate than the NIV, and differs from the NIV frequently, as my examples above show. Regarding the KJV, it uses beautiful Elizabethan English; however, I fear that verses like “gay clothing” in James 2:3 (KJV) might leave the wrong impression and “ye are straitened in your own bowels” in 2 Corinthians 6:12 (KJV) would leave today’s readers scratching their heads in bewilderment (just to name a couple of examples).

Robert Vaughn

Bob, just to add what hopefully will be further clarity: We can guarantee that some people will misunderstand some words that are chosen, regardless of what those words are. I don’t doubt that somebody somewhere at some time will misunderstand whether men means male persons or people generically. Why, we even have people who don’t understand that “people” means “people”. In my job I relate to a spectrum of people from educators to men on the street. I’ve never noticed anyone who didn’t comprehend this part of our language unless he didn’t want to. My experience doesn’t create a standard, but I give it an part of the explanation as to why I don’t find the “man/men” translations troubling. I’d rather not start down the road where the TNIV, 2011 NIV and others have gone. (Also I had rather interpret for myself within the confines of our language whether man/men means male/males or person/people rather than have the translators do it for me.)

Max

I just encountered this issue at a local Christian bookstore while Christmas shopping earlier today. In talking to some folks there – both store employees and shoppers – it’s clear that the NIV2011 gender-neutral issue is not common knowledge. Shoppers are buying it thinking it’s just a continuation of the same trusted text of the NIV version they have known since 1973. While the preface clearly addresses the gender-neutral translation, most men/people are not picking up on this change.

Southern Baptist messengers at the 2011 annual convention attempted to deal with this and voted to adopt a resolution pertaining to the gender-neutral concerns of the NIV2011 noting that “we cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.” http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/amResolution.asp?ID=1218

In that resolution, a request was made “that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores.” Unfortunately, the LifeWay trustees subsequently voted to not adhere to this resolution and authorized LifeWay to continue selling NIV2011. http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=37181

We seem to have a lot of mixed signals within SBC ranks these days.

Andres

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Baptist. Regards

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