Bible translation preferences

But that translation was done in 1862, so it’s also a bit dated. It also looks like he was also influenced by the language of the KJV, and has used artificially antiquated English.

YLT 1 Corinthians 13:

1 If with the tongues of men and of messengers I speak, and have not love, I have become brass sounding, or a cymbal tinkling; 2 and if I have prophecy, and know all the secrets, and all the knowledge, and if I have all the faith, so as to remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing; 3 and if I give away to feed others all my goods, and if I give up my body that I may be burned, and have not love, I am profited nothing. 4 The love is long-suffering, it is kind, the love doth not envy, the love doth not vaunt itself, is not puffed up, 5 doth not act unseemly, doth not seek its own things, is not provoked, doth not impute evil, 6 rejoiceth not over the unrighteousness, and rejoiceth with the truth; 7 all things it beareth, all it believeth, all it hopeth, all it endureth.

I prefer the modern annotated version of the NT by David Bentley Hart, published in 2017. Hart is a serious and respected Greek and Bible scholar. His translation is clearer, more readable, and uses the latest scholarship:

1 If I speak in the tongues of human beings and of the angels, but do not have love, I have become resounding brass and a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophecy and know all the mysteries and all the knowledge*, and if I have all faith, of such a sort as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I distribute all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may be burned, and do not have love, I am profited nothing. 4 Love is magnanimous, love is kind, is not envious, love does not boast, does not bluster, 5 Does not act in an unseemly fashion, does not seek for things of its own, is not irascible, does not take account of the evil deed, 6 Does not rejoice in injustice, but rejoices with the truth; 7 It tolerates all things, has faith in all things, hopes in all things, endures all things.

 * τὰ μυστήρια πάντα καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γνῶσιν (ta mystēria panta kai pasan tēn gnōsin): Paul’s use of the article—“the mysteries,” “the knowledge”—may suggest that he is not speaking of mysteries and knowledge in general, but of a special knowledge possessed by only those initiated into them (this would, in fact, have been the common understanding of mystēria: literally, “things kept closed”).

I took an “English Bible as Literature” course in college, which was a very secular look at the bible, and the KJV was the required version. Because the KJV is the version that’s influenced western literature with its particular poetic language and turns of phrases, so it’s the version to read in order to be more fully versed in Western cultural touchstones.

I didn’t read the entire bible in that class-- later I took on a project of reading the entire bible cover to cover, and took turns reading the KJV and a modern translation side-by-side, so I could experience the poetic but archaic language of the KJV, and the modern version to better understand what was going on.

The translation one reads has a lot to do with one’s denomination. For example the Catholic standard for liturgy in English is the New American Bible.

Protestants exclude certain books the Catholics include, considering them valuable but less than canonical. So Protestant Bibles are a bit different.

There are many translations which attempt to make the language more modern and supposedly more accessible. I find that the NAB is pretty good at retaining dignity of language while eschewing archaisms.

There will always be those who use a specific translation as a signal of being one of their tribe. Screw them.

Like the Catholic lady said, “if Latin was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”

(Jesus spoke Aramaic, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New, in Greek).

My preferred version is the New English Translation, because of its copious translation notes. If there’s any complexity about the translation, there’s a note describing the original words and why they made the translation they chose.

It also has a very relaxed copyright license, which makes it easy to quote at length. And that is an advantage of the KJV, since it is public domain now.

We seem to have wandered away from GQ into people describing their favorites, so if anyone cares to hear about the approach taken by this Jew, here goes…

My Hebrew is good enough to recognize most root forms, but I often have trouble figuring out the various tenses and forms and such, so as much as I hate to admit it, I rely on translations a lot too. When there’s a passage that I want to study in depth, I first go to the most modern, not-necessarily-literal translation I have, just so that I can get a general idea of what it is talking about. Then I go to one (or more) of my more literal translations, matching up the Hebrew with the English, to try to get the nuances of each word.

For those who are set for English-only mode, and are looking for more than just inspiration, who want to really understand the real intentions of the Author, my advice is to use at least two different translations, and the more “copious translation notes” they have the better. Compare them and figure out which differences are merely the translator’s style, and which point to a nuance of the original text.

One of my teachers stressed the poetry aspect: the most important stuff is what’s between the lines.

That is an interesting example, since in the original (and the KJV!) it is not merely dark, but deeply dark like a death-shadow, yet all three translations you quoted seem to have elided that bit of imagery, for some reason.

Sure, but let us not forget that in some chapters the original author was going for poetic and/or archaic language, so the good translator has the extra burden of reflecting that.

I was raised Catholic, so the King James Bible in any of its iterations doesn’t hold a special place for me. It certainly standards as a monument in English Literature, but I have known ever since I was a precocious kid that a lot of things in it are not correctly translated (look up the etymology of “helpmate”, for instance). The bible as we have it is the last link in a series of translations, and if you want to get as close as possible to the original meaning, you want to minimize the number of links

On the other hand, the Douay-Rheims Bible that I was raised on was the result of a similar, if different, series of links, and just as unreliable. When the complete New English Bible came out in 1970, I got a copy. It was newly translated from the most reliable original sources (as far as that can e determined – a topic in itself), and made up in accuracy what it lacked in poetry.

If it’s annotations you’re looking for, that’s a whole different category, and depends upon your religious and philosophical leanings. There’s an advantage in having annotations that explain things that are pretty well established and not subject to theological debate – there are LOTS of things in a document originally written for a nomadic people a few thousand years ago (and their more sedentary descendants, although still a couple of millennia away) that could use some explanation. But I don’t know of any such neutral commentaries. Most do take some king of ideological stand.

Anybody who reads the KJV for theological instruction doesn’t give a damn about biblical scholarship. For the NIV, same, except most of them just don’t give a damn in general. They read it because it’s popular in Evangelical circles. The NIV has a specific, intentional, admitted ideological bent. One biblical scholar I know recommends the HCSB and NRSV.

If there’s a problem with how that person’s wikipedia page is written, just correct it.

You forgot the Jules Winnfield version!


Thanks all 28 posters - I’ve learned a lot about bible translations that are doing the rounds and which all seem to have their fans. Not sure what I’ll do with all that but, as they say, knowledge is power.

Regarding Jimmy Webb, thanks @Thudlow_Boink for finding the extended quote which says he loves the language of the King James version. It doesn’t rule out the religio-political stance but as a wordsmith it probably a dominant factor.

Since the original question has been answered I’d be happy if this gets shunted to Cafe Society, which seems to be a more fitting home as the conversation develops.

The other issue - Look at Exodus 21:22

The original translations (KJV, Douay-Rheims) basically say, if a man cause a miscarriage but no other mischief, then it’s a property crime - ie. abortion is not the same as murder. (life of a life).

Whereas, more modern translations say “if she gives birth prematurely but no other harm” or words to that effect.

One has to wonder to what extent the decisions on how to translate certain passages are affected by the transient issues of the day, rather than an attempt to be faithful to the meaning of the original.

(Which original, in fact, is sufficiently ambiguous that everyone can put their own spin on it. Where’s Heisenberg when you need him? )

Similarly, one of the common mangled quotes is Luke2:14 “…and on earth peace, good will toward menl” (KJV).Or… “and on earth peace to men of good will.” (DR) which for example, NET gives as " and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!"

What does this verse really mean to say? When the different versions don’t seem to agree on the gist of the message, you have to wonder.

Recall in Jerry Falwell’s interview in Penthouse in 1981, he said that it was important to note that the first book every printed was the Bible, and it was printed in English.

I turned away from the NIV when I noticed that they had altered the language in certain areas to smooth over contradictions. In particular, the two creation stories of Genesis. In the first story, animals are created first, then man, but in the second story man is created and then later in Genesis 2:19, according the the revised standard and most other translations, …l

So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them…

Implying that man was created first and then the animals were created, contradicting the Genesis 1 story.

But the NIV has

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them…

effectively back dating the creation of the animals to before man so as not to contradict the first version.

My personal preference is the Oxford Annotated Bible which follows the new revised standard but with lots and lots of academic notes.

I think an excellent example of this is gender neutrality.

Hebrew (I know nothing of Greek) has zero gender-neutral nouns, and the only gender-neutral pronouns and verbs are the ones in the “I” or “we” forms. So whereas an English speaker might be put off by using the masculine forms (“He”) for God or other genderless things, to a native Hebrew speaker this aspect relates more to the language than to the specific text.

For example: Someone writing in English can choose from three words: daughter, son, child. In Hebrew there are only two options: one (“bat”) which is unambiguously “daughter”, and the other (“ben”) could mean either “son” or “child” depending on the author’s intent. So whereas a Hebrew speaker might just read “ben” and understand it in context, I find myself wondering about each and every case. (If you don’t follow me, just ask yourself what “All men are created equal” means.)

You’re mixing up Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. Very, very few Evangelicals use the KJV anymore.

If you follow the link you get the source:

War Cry, Jimmy Web: “‘I read the Bible – I love the language of the King James Bible”

The Wikipedia statement is uninformative, misleading, and badly written. So… par for the course.

I like the language of The Jerusalem Bible. I just downloaded the JPS Tanach. I’ll probably save it for another pilgrimage or really long walk, and it will be interesting to compare.

I can’t really read the KJV. It’s a lot of old-timey language.
I prefer NIV, and sometimes the ERV:

I also might read the NRSV because of it’s preference from Bible scholars

If you’re really interested, there’s 100+ English translations out there, most of them online.

There’s also a dozen Greek New Testaments, again, available online, as well as the Latin Vulgate and the Peshitta.

I like the NET (New English Translation) for its footnotes, the Comprehensive New Testament for its additional background sources, and Robert Alten’s recent translation of the Old Testament.

I live in central Indiana where a good many people will look at you funny if you say the Bible wasn’t written in English. When talking with them I tend to use the NIV.

The majority of Bible translators think the worst (or at least one of the worst) is the Jehovah Witnesses’ New World Translation. The translator(s) of that work added a new declension to the ancient Greek to explain some of its choices. This declension doesn’t appear in any other ancient Greek writing, and is completely unknown to academic tradition.

For now, NRSV-CE and NABRE. Let’s see what happens with the updates.

An older fellow I worked with long ago was a former Baptist minister, and also a bit of a humourist. He pointed out the long-standing grammar rule about gender was:

“The male embraces the female in all cases where desirable.”