You may have noticed that the readings for Pentecost 9 through 12 sounded a little different. That’s because The Message translation was used instead the more frequently used English Standard Version translation of the Bible. There is much debate about the “correct” or “appropriate” translation to use when reading the Scriptures.
What follows is a short explanation of three popular Bible translations and why each might be beneficial for cross-comparative study of the Scriptures. In the end, Christians should use the version of the Bible that allows them to both experience the joy of understanding the tension of confusion; finding hope reading and hearing the Scriptures and frustration as we all seek to further expand our understanding of the text and most of all, Christ within that text.
The English Standard Version
The first translation to review is the one used across the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod as our standard translation for weekly readings and used in The Lutheran Study Bible. The English Standard Version (ESV) is was published in 2001 by Crossways. The translation team included one of, if not the largest, multidenominational and international cross sections of Christian theologians while sitting under the directorial leadership of Crossways International Publication company. The ESV is considered a “formal-equivalence” literal translation in that it provides a word-for-word translation of the original text. This is helpful in that common, theologically unimportant words receive no “embellishment.” This can be confusing when very theological pregnant words and phrases are consolidated in meaning and leave out important details that inevitably impact the entire meaning of the passage.
Pro: Well researched and “literal” in translation preference which forces the reader to do less self-interpretation and seek deeper knowledge regarding specific word and phrase choices. Basic editions come with a significant amount of footnoting and referencing which is typically a feature of more expensive study Bibles.
Con: Translations are so literal at times that they become awkward and difficult to read. ESV is not conducive to public reading unless interpretation is provided. ESV is appropriate for study Bible use since the literality requires expanded interpretation so frequently. In summary: great for study. Not great for public speaking.
Eugene Peterson published this translation in parts from 1993 to 2002. Peterson is heralded as one of the great modern Biblical translators and exegetes of our time. The message is translated in an extreme form of dynamic equivalence, making use of modern idioms, contemporary phraseology and word choice.
Pro: Awakens the reader’s ears and mind to contemporary application of ancient texts by using words and phrases that are known to the reader. Interpretations are narrow and get to the point.
Con: Idiom is trapped in a specific “time zone” of experience. “It’s raining cats and dogs,” is a phrase most understood by those who invented the phrase. Everyone else has to reach for understanding. For this reason this translation will have a short shelf life and causes excessive background noise and distraction due to it’s heavy reliance on modern jargon.
The New International Version
Originally began translation in 1956, the NIV eventually became the go-to-version of the Bible among most American Christians with the 1982 translation. It was published by a small but recognizable group of Evangelical exegetes and theologians including Charles Ryrie and Robert Mounce who brought a well balanced interpretative approach to a robust exegetical process. The newly unearthed dead sea scrolls (1956) brought new information, vitality and excitement to this modern edition of the Holy Scriptures.
Pro: Easily readable, well researched and easily accessible to both Christians and non-Christians. The publication avoids excessive referencing and cross-referencing and presents the text directly with simple and moderate translations.
Con (possibly): More current NIV translations have attempted to further address the issue of pronouns. Specifically, those referencing the Trinity and some generally held theological statements in the Epistles. Though laudable (and exegetically accurate) these choices have politicized this translation not unlike the context in which the NIV replaced the New King James version as the most used version of the modern Bible.
If you have thoughts on these or other translations please feel free to make comments in this post. Please, as always show Christian love and charity in your comments, attempting to educate and instruct one another with your well reasoned and loving thoughts on Bible translations.