Wednesday, December 28, 2011

So Many Translations

I grew up KJV-Only and remember hearing people play up the confusion factor of "so many different translations." While if you took every translation made and put them in a stack, it might seem overwhelming. However, Bible translations aren't made to necessarily stand in parallel with everything that has come before it. A new Bible translation is designed to move the overall translation of the text forward, both in terms of accuracy to the original manuscripts, and proper representation in today's continually evolving languages.
I put together a list of the major translations in use by English-speaking Christians today, excepting sectarian translations such as the NAB(RE) which is(are) designed for Catholics, and of course the NWT which is designed for Jehovah Witnesses. The major, non-sectarian translations in use today are:
ESV (English Standard Version)
HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible) This one could almost be considered sectarian as it seems to be a phenomenon of the Southern Baptist Convention.
KJV (King James Version)
NASB (New American Standard Bible)
NIV (New International Version) Variants such as the TNIV, NIVI, and NIrV had minor impact.
NKJV (New King James Version)
NLT (New Living Translation)
NRSV (New Revised Standard Version)

Older versions such as the ASV, RSV, Good News, Darby, Moffatt, etc. have become minor translations, although the RSV is still a go to for Catholics who like neither gender-sensitive translations nor the NAB(RE). Conservatives who like the RSV have moved to the ESV.

So we have only 8 translations today of any real importance. To simplify matters even further, we need to look at the generational shift between versions, to illustrate the evolution of Bible versions, specifically their usage. I can divide our list into three generations, and I'll include the RSV because of it's importance to this task:

The first generation:
RSV
NASB
KJV

The second generation (what users of first generation Bibles moved to):
NRSV (non-conservative RSV users)
ESV (conservative RSV and NASB users)
NKJV (NASB and KJV users)
NIV (KJV users)

This second generation shift (for those who actually made the shift) represents the initial market. In other words, first generation translations lost readership as the second generation Bibles appeared.

The third generation (what users of first generation Bibles moved to):
NLT (NIV users)
HCSB (NIV and NKJV users)
ESV (NIV and NKJV users)

Interestingly, the ESV came around the same rough timeframe as the NLT and HCSB, but filled a niche that primarily catered to conservative RSV users. Having come so late in the game, it also qualifies as third generation for those NIV and NKJV users who trended in a more conservative direction theologically, perhaps some who had jumped ship on the RSV already, given that there was no conservative answer to the NRSV for over a decade.

Ultimately, only the second and third generation Bibles (and the KJV, for special reasons) really find a home in most church settings these days. This leaves us with only seven major translations: KJV, NIV, NRSV, NKJV, ESV, NLT, and HCSB. Not that confusing anymore, is it? Especially if you disqualify the HCSB as an SBC-specific translation, which I am tempted to do, except I don't have enough hard data to be certain.

The NKJV is a special case to me for several reasons. One, it should have replaced the KJV in 99% of the cases where other versions are not suitable. That it hasn't can only be chalked up to sentimentalism and KJVOism and the fact that some people just can't change no matter what. Second, the NKJV was never really given enough credit, in my opinion. It is an excellent translation that stands in rebuke of much silly translation you sometimes see these days even in otherwise respectable versions. I'll also point out that the NKJV is the officially sanctioned New Testament for use in the Eastern Orthodox church.

The NASB users are interesting to me. I can see it as a study Bible when I see people drag it to church and I can tell that is their main Bible I just wonder. While the NASB is written in clear English, it just doesn't read well. How they put themselves through that is beyond me.

Well, enough rabbit trails. I prefer the NRSV myself, even(definately) over the NIV2011, if I had to give it up, I would probably go with the NKJV.

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