For some reason, I've recently become re-interested in bible translations.
The first bible I ever owned was an New International Version, a Christmas gift from my parents. I loved it. I remember sitting by the Christmas tree in a new Christmas sweater and turning to the Sermon on the Mount. Reading the Sermon on the Mount in my first bible on Christmas morning was the holiest I've ever felt in my life. To this day, when I pick up a new translation the first passage I turn to is the Sermon on the Mount.
Unfortunately, the church I was raised in frowned upon the NIV. Apparently, the NIV was too "Calvinistic" as it taught the doctrine of "original sin." My tradition is Arminian so this was unacceptable. How did people reach this conclusion about the NIV? Well, they took my bible out of my hands and flipped to Psalm 51, David's psalm of confession after his affair with Bathsheba:
Psalm 51.5 New International VersionThis translation, which seemed to teach original sin ("sinful at birth"), was, I was told, a mistaken translation. The better translations of this passage came from the King James, American Standard, and New American Standard versions.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Psalm 51.5 King James VersionBeyond arguments like this (i.e., the NIV taught false doctrine) I was also told that the American Standard version was the "best" translation as it is the most literal and word-for-word translation of the bible. So I ditched my NIV for my second bible, an American Standard version. This was also my first fully black, high quality leather bible. So it looked and smelled very cool.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Psalm 51.5 American Standard
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me.
Psalm 51.5 New American Standard
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
Unfortunately, the American Standard is virtually unreadable. It's really awful. By straining for an exact, literal translation the ASV imports the syntax and sentence structure of Greek into English. This creates long, awkward and convoluted sentences.
So after a year or so I switched over to the New American Standard which preserves the "literalness" of the ASV while smoothing out the worst of the ASV's syntactical awkwardness. I preached all my early sermons in High School and college from the New American Standard version.
However, as time went on, I grew tired of the NASV. For two reasons. First, the prose of the NASV didn't sing. And second, the NASV preserved the verse structure of the KJV and the ASV where the verse numbers were flush left, thus breaking up the text. For example, here is a picture of how the NASV is set up:
This setup obviously breaks up the text, cutting sentences in half and obscuring where paragraphs begin or end. One advantage of the NIV, to my mind, despite its being a damnable bit of heresy, was how it allowed the sentences and paragraphs to remain whole. Paragraphs look like paragraphs in the NIV.
So I started to drift back to the NIV later in college. But the translation that really had a impact upon me as an upperclassman was J. B. Phillips' The New Testament in Modern English. The fresh and colloquial style of this translation, combined with a lack of verse markers, made the New Testament epistles come alive for me. In Phillips' translation the immediacy of the epistles shone through. For the first time I felt I was reading actual letters, written by real people to real people. Philips made me forget I was reading "The Bible."
But Phillips' translation isn't good for teaching Bible class. With no verse markers it's hard to guide people to the passage you want them to read. Plus, Phillips' translation is so different that it is hard to track with when reading along with a more traditional translation. The phrasing is often very different, often unrecognizable. In this, the New Testament in Modern English is similar to The Message. However, I've never liked The Message. I'll take The New Testament in Modern English over The Message any day of the week.
So, when I started regularly teaching adult Sunday School classes I went back to the NIV. It's the most common version out there. But, once again, I grew tired of it and eventually switched to the New Revised Standard. Mainly because the NRSV is considered to be, by scholars, the "best" translation on the market. But despite its academic reputation, the NRSV doesn't read as smoothly as the NIV. So it's a trade off.
But lately, for some reason, the NSRV prose has been bothering me. So I've made another switch, one I'm really enjoying. My new favorite translation is the New Jerusalem Bible. Mainly used by Catholics, the NJB has a good academic reputation but its best feature is the poetry and melody of its prose. The NJB is, simply, the most lyrical and beautiful translation I've found. It's not perfect, but it's the best on the market.
And, never satisfied, this recent switch to the NJB has made me interested in a whole lot of other translations. Old and new. For example, I've recently enjoyed nostalgic feelings for the line drawings from The Good News for Modern Man. I'm also curious about "thought-for-thought" translations like the New Living Bible (anyone have an opinion about the quality of the NLT?). I also want to buy a copy the Jewish Publication Society's Tanakh ("Old Testament"). And I've recently been enjoying Willis Barnstone's The Restored New Testament, where Barnstone "restores" Hebrew names in the New Testament (e.g., "Jesus Christ" is rendered as "Yeshua the Mashiah"). So the search continues...
All told, it's been a life in translation.