In the United States we have an abundance of Bible versions. We could easily list 100 versions that have been translated into English. To help you sort through what you may find on the shelf of your local bookstore, the following descriptions are offered.
VERSIONS: FORMAL AND DYNAMIC
Versions of the Bible are basically divided into two groups, the formal and the dynamic. Whenever possible, the formal translation group tries to reflect the ancient manuscripts word for word. These attempt to be extremely accurate and leave any questionable words or passages for the reader to decide which is best. Unfortunately these versions are not always very readable. Some of these are: The New American Standard Bible (1960) and The New Revised Standard Version (1989). Some scholars feel that The New American Standard Bible (1971) is probably the most accurate translation yet produced. However its accuracy does not make it easy to read, especially from the pulpit.
The second group of versions are referred to as dynamic. These translations try to reflect the thought they think the Bible writers were expressing. In order to do this, difficult passages are smoothed over according to what seems best to the translator. However, if the translator believes the righteous dead are now alive in heaven and the unrighteous dead are now suffering in hell, that person's beliefs will obviously color how the text is presented. Dynamic versions are very useful, especially for devotional purposes, but the speaker should avoid their use for doctrinal study or pulpit use.
Dynamic versions vary from conservative to outright paraphrases (which can be a loose re-writing of the Bible). An example is Psalms /Now by Leslie F. Brandt, first published in 1973. The author's preface states, "These offerings are by no means an attempt to be scholarly or textual. I am expressing what the psalmist might be saying if he were living in the twentieth century." Brandt's paraphrase has a modern, up-to-date sound in its use of words. His version of the 23rd Psalm begins:
The Lord is my companion. There is no need that He cannot fulfill. Whether His course for me points to the mountaintops of glorious ecstacy or to the valleys of human suffering He is by my side; He is ever present with me.
Other dynamic versions and paraphrases include the Good News Bible (also called Today's English Version: 1966,1976), The Living Bible (1971), The New Century Version (1987), The Clear Word (1994) and God's Word (1995), to name only a few. The preface should tell you if you are reading a translation or a paraphrase.
Other versions of note include The Jerusalem Bible (1966), a Catholic Bible in common English with explanatory notes, the New World Translation (1961), a Jehovah's Witness Bible, the New Jewish Bible (1962); and the New American Bible (1970), an American Catholic Bible translated from the original languages. Prominent Adventist theologian Frank Holbrook notes, "It ought to be noted that all the basic truths of Scripture including the Sabbath, Ten Commandments, and Second Coming can be taught from Catholic Bibles. But there will be a contradiction on the state of the dead because the Catholic Old Testament contains a group of writings known as the Apocrypha, which supports the belief in the immortality of the soul."
Sakae Kubo, retired professor and eminent Seventhday Adventist authority on Bible translations, offers the following summaries:
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) (1989)
The NRSV is a revision of the Revised Standard Version (1952), which is a revision of The American Standard Version (1901), which was a revision of the King James Version. This is a version that has had input from a wide group of scholars representing all the leading churches and is the most reliable of versions.
The New International Version (NIV) (1978)
This translation is the product of a wide group of international evangelical scholars representing many denominations from the English-speaking world. It has had general acceptance among evangelical groups. It has been carefully translated and is generally reliable. Its English has been checked by experts and reads well.
Revised English Bible (REB)
This is a revision of the New English Bible (1970), which was the work of the leading church groups of Great Britain. Using modern British English, their translation is fresh and spicy. However, they probably erred in some cases on the side of being a bit too downto-earth. One of the criticisms the REB has sought to meet was that in some of its readings, it was not dignified enough for pulpit purposes. The REB has improved in several areas and can be used for pulpit reading, but it needs to be remembered that it is British English, which in some cases may not be understood by an American audience. Questionable verses can be checked with the NRSV or the NIV.
The New American Bible (NAB) and the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)
The NAB and the NJB are both translated by and for Catholics. They are both good translations and are similar to their Protestant counterparts. The NAB is for American Catholics, and the NJB is for British Catholics. Catholic Bibles today have removed most of their objectional features such as the Catholic interpretations in the notes.
The King James Version (KJV)
The KJV is still widely used among Adventist lay persons, and for this reason, you may be required to use it. It has excellent literary qualities and may be familiar to many. However, you should be careful to use a modern version with it so that it may be clearly understood by younger members and by new members who have no Bible background. You should compare the KJV with one of the newer formal translations because the KJV translators did not have many of the early manuscripts available today. More recently discovered manuscripts provide additional information that the KJV translators did not know about.
The New King James Version (NKJV)
While the NKJV has modernized the language of the KJV, it has kept the text of the old KJV. Therefore, if you use this version, you should always check a new version to make sure you are not reading something that is not found in modern versions.
The language of The King James Version is getting more and more outdated. Over time, words change their meanings. For instance, the word "prevent" in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 has an entirely different meaning today. Now, we would use the word "precede." Another example comes from Ephesians 4:22, which uses the word "conversation," which meant "way of life, conduct or behavior." Never once does the word "conversation" in the KJV mean the word we use today speech. To update problem words such as this, a New King James Version (1979) was introduced. This version has become a respected member of the formal translation group and can be a big help for bridging the gap from the old to the new.
In 1995, the American Bible Society released the Contemporary English Version, which they refer to as "... [having] diligently sought to capture the spirit of The King James Version by following certain principles set forth by its translators in the document."
Which version is best? There is no simple answer. If only the King James Version is used, the younger generation will not understand much of the language and may think the Bible belongs to another age. Children, new Christians, non-Christians, and nonEnglish speaking peoples may find it difficult, if not impossible, to understand. Committed Christians will miss the KJV's beauty of words and expression if newer, more modern versions are used exclusively. However, there is nothing to prevent the speaker from pausing and explaining and updating the KJV as he speaks.
Perhaps, in these days when an abundance of very good translations abound, there is a translation of the Word of God for everyone. Regardless, the rule is don't run ahead of your congregation. If the majority is using The King James Version and you quote from a newer version, it will be very difficult for them to follow along. The pulpit is not the place to try to introduce new versions. Break new ground in prayer meetings and Sabbath School where the people have time to get accustomed to a more modern reading and the reason for using it.
Finally, it should be understood that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has never produced a denominational Bible. Our Church uses translations that the general Christian world accepts. In the final analysis, the truth does not rest on an English translation but on the original Hebrew and Greek.
Marvin Hunt writes from Georgia, where he serves as pastor.