Reading the King James Version of the Bible rather than the English Standard Version does not bring one closer to the inspired writings of Moses, Paul, etc. One must read with discernment: some Bible translations have changed, removed, or added text, which was not inspired by God.
As for modern versions versus the KJV, the main difference is accessibility to the average reader. This is the reason newer translations are released every few years: so that non-theologians can learn about Jesus.
But are there Bible translations, which do not convey the truth about Jesus Christ? Should Christians avoid certain versions?
How Many Versions Are There?
The Bible has been translated into almost every language around the world. The American Bible Society reports that there have been hundreds of versions written in English since the Tyndale Bible of 1526.
Modern readers, however, will typically choose from a handful of options including:
1. The King James Version
2. The English Standard Version
3. The New International Version
4. The New Living Translation
5. The Message
6. The Christian Standard Bible
These are just a few of the most popular translations in English. Although the KJV dates to the Jacobean era, many Bible readers are attached to this translation simply because it sounds as though it should be more authentic. This is a much older form of English after all.
Only The King James Version
Luke Wayne refers to the “King James Onlyists” (KJOs) when he writes about typical objections to modern translations of the Bible. These KJOs believe that Christ’s deity is not as strongly portrayed in modern English as in the centuries-old KJV.
On the contrary, “modern Bible translations are [...] accurate translations of the manuscript tradition on which they rely” and many more recent translators have been able to use documents, which were only recently discovered; documents not available to translators during the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
Wayne asserts that many translations such as the ESV and the CSB came about as a result of working directly with the primary sources: those ancient texts from which the writers of the KJV derived their Bible.
They are not translations of the King James Version or of other, later texts in English. These are still the inspired scriptures, made more accessible to modern readers.
Age is not an indicator of reliability. While both Protestant and Catholic Bibles contain 27 New Testament Books, Catholic Bibles (dating from the 16th century) contain 46 Books of the Old Testament: “Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch. Catholic Bibles also include sections in the Books of Esther and Daniel which are not found in Protestant Bibles [...] called the deuterocanonical books. The Catholic Church believes these books to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.” Christian Bibles contain 39 books.
When one either adds to or subtracts from the Word of God, the resulting translation no longer represents the truth of God.
Other Bibles to beware of include the Book of Mormon and the New World Translation (NWT), the latter of which was designed for use by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Matt Slick lays out some subtle but important differences between a Christian translation and the NWT, which demonstrates how small changes lead to fundamental distortions. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One.
The CBE and Gender Equality in the Bible
Controversy has emerged around the use of gender-inclusive language in Scripture. Is Jesus “The Human One” or “The Son of God”? One can only reach an intelligent opinion by going right back to the ancient Hebrew and Greek with a proper understanding of how those ancient scripts are translated.
Experts at CBE International decry the use of exclusively male nouns and pronouns in places where the original text is not specific.
When a group of male and female theologians translated ancient texts, they arrived at what they say is a gender-inclusive Bible, which still tells the truth.
Not everyone agrees with this point of view; but Alvera Mickelson suggested “the New Revised Standard Version, the International Children’s Bible (the Odyssey Bible) the New Living Translation, or other modern speech translations using gender-accurate language” would be a good choice if one is shopping for a Bible.
While these translations remove the male bias wherever the reference is not specific (“human” rather than “man”), they do not change the Word of God. With the NLT for instance, one “need not worry that her Bible had been changed.”
Christians must decide for themselves what they believe and use discernment based on the evidence of primary resources.
The tenets of God’s teaching must not change as a result of a new translation. Christ is God, but he came to earth as a man (this is still made clear in the NLT); he was crucified, died, and rose again.
He is One with the Holy Spirit, and He is returning one day to defeat Satan. Christ lives in believers by His Spirit, and believers are saved by his grace, not by works. A good translation will not obscure these truths or the fact that he was, in fact, a man.
The Message: a Caveat
Michael Brown does offer a caveat where the Message is concerned. Eugene Peterson’s work is a paraphrase meant to put God’s inspired Word into a more colloquial style of English, which is easy to relate to and understand.
“The Message is not a translation and should not be used as your primary Bible. However, as a very free paraphrase, it is sometimes powerful and brilliant while at other times it is seriously off-target.”
How to Choose a Bible
One way for a person to decide, which Bible is the right one is by determining, which version is being used at one’s own church. This makes it easier to follow along during the sermon.
For those who are more concerned with finding the translation, which is easiest to understand, the ESV, CSB, and NIV use relatively modern language, although there are sections of Scripture, which will always be puzzling at first glance.
A Study Bible with explanatory notes is helpful in any translation.
Supplementary resources and alternative translations are helpful when one wants to conduct a deeper study or unpack difficult passages.
Any Bible containing a concordance, maps, and commentary will typically be thick and cumbersome, but invaluable for exploring ancient words and historical context.
Why Does This Matter?
The most important factor in choosing a Bible is that one selects and reads his or her Bible regularly. Once chosen, that Bible is no good sitting in a bookshelf unused.
Scripture is the best yardstick against which to test itself, so if a passage is difficult, reading from a reliable alternative translation is often helpful if it does not subtract from, add to, or distort the inspired Word of God.
For further reading:
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.