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Does It Matter Which Bible We Use?

The Old Testament was written in the language of its writers, which was Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in the language of its writers — or at least the dominant language of commerce and culture — which was Greek. The Bibles we read are translations of those languages into the English language. 

So every Bible is, by necessity, a translation.

As with any translation from one language to another, there is often some freedom in regard to the most appropriate word or phrase that can be used to convey the actual Greek or Hebrew word.

Further, a language such as English is in constant flux. We use different words, or give different meanings to words, all the time.

This raises an important question: Does it matter which Bible we use?

Yes, it does.

In the days of King James, they used words like “thee” and “thou.” That was contemporary for them. We don’t speak that way anymore, so the King James translation, while beautiful, is not as easily understood as a more “modern” translation.

By modern, I mean newer translations from trained teams of linguists which better capture the original meaning of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts in light of the ever-changing dynamics of modern language. 

Why would you use a translation that is so dated you need to offer a translation of the translation?

Those who treat the King James edition as sacred, as if the Apostle Paul himself spoke King James English, fail to understand the nature of a translation.

There is nothing more sacred about that translation than any other, and if its language is so cumbersome to modern ears that it becomes an impediment, then it makes no sense to continue using it.

As for the many newer translations that exist, I have long enjoyed the New International Version (NIV). I was not as much a fan of the subsequent TNIV; the degree of gender neutrality was not only unnecessary, but often did violence to the clear intent of the original text. But the original NIV was one of the better translations of our generation. 

Another good translation, even newer than the NIV, is the New Living Translation (NLT), a work that took a popular paraphrase (the Living Bible) and brought it to translation status while keeping the easy reading that paraphrases tend to provide. I find myself using the NLT more than the NIV of late in my teaching because I find some of the language of the NIV sounding a bit dated to my ears.

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James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.