Copyright by Bob Rogers
What translation of the Bible is best for a pastor to use in the pulpit? Pastors and laypeople feel differently about the issue.
My Unscientific Survey
Recently I did an unscientific opinion poll on Facebook among pastors and laypeople about what Bible translation they preferred for use from the pulpit. On a Facebook page with 1,300 pastors, I asked them what translation they used in the pulpit. Then I asked laypeople on my own Facebook page, with over 2,000 friends, what translation they preferred that their pastor use (I blocked my pastor friends from seeing the post). I received 95 responses from pastors, and 48 responses from laypeople. This is an unscientific survey, since it was based on those who decided to answer, and the two Facebook groups have demographic differences, although the pastors Facebook page is dominated by conservative evangelical Christians, and most of my friends on Facebook are also conservative evangelicals. Despite that qualification, I noticed some significant results that are worth noting. Here are the results and lessons learned:
KJV: 31 %
Given the unscientific nature of this survey and relatively small size of the sample, one should not read too much into this survey, but some trends should be noted:
*There is no one translation that the majority of people prefer. We live in an era in which many English translations of the Bible are available. No one translation is even close to being used by a majority of pastors or laypeople.
*The KJV is still the most popular translation, especially among pastors. The KJV was the number one answer among both groups, and half of all pastors either named the KJV or its updated version, the NKJV.
*There is a big divide between pastors and laypeople over the NIV. The NIV ranks beside the KJV in Bible sales in the USA, and this was reflected in the survey, as laypeople (who buy most of the Bibles) listed the NIV almost as much as the KJV. In contrast, almost no pastor listed the NIV. Laypeople also mentioned a greater variety of translations.
*The majority prefer that the pastor preach from a traditional, accurate translation. The KJV, NKJV, NASB and ESV are traditional, literal translations of the Bible. The CSB and HCSB are also accurate, though more contemporary translations, and even the NIV is much more accurate than free translations like the NLT or paraphrases like The Message. Pastors and laypeople overwhelmingly named accurate translations as their preference for pulpit use.
I do not presume to tell a pastor how to preach, but it I believe that pastors would do well to use an accurate translation from the pulpit. It has been my experience that many church members will go out and buy or download to their device the translation that their pastor uses. So choose your translation prayerfully, and use it consistently. Know your audience– just as a Hispanic pastor will choose a Spanish translation, a pastor needs to know the kind of congregation he has, and what will best communicate God’s word accurately and effectively to his people.
While reading the text from his preferred Bible translation, pastors would also do well to mention a variety of translations from time to time from the pulpit. Doing so can help clarify passages that are hard to understand, and also reminds the congregation that all English translations come from an original text that was in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.
Pastors should not condemn church members who are reading another translation of the Bible. Public condemnation of people over their Bible translation is unkind, and may humiliate a brother or sister in Christ who sincerely wants to know God’s word. Many new believers and young Christians prefer a more contemporary translation because they have difficulty understanding more traditional translations. If you have a conviction that they are not using a good translation of the Bible, you can instruct them lovingly and privately, as Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos (see Acts 18:26).
In 2003, Holman Bible Publishers, which is owned by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, released a completely new translation of the Bible, called the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), which was used in all of LifeWay’s literature, including its Sunday school curriculum. The HCSB was nearly as readable as the popular New International Version (NIV), yet closer to the New American Standard Bible in accuracy. When Zondervan revised the NIV in 2011, making it more accurate in some ways but gender neutral in reference to mankind, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention publicly condemned the revision, and some pastors who were using the NIV, myself included, switched to the HCSB. Now the HCSB is no more.
In 2017, Holman released a radical revision of the HCSB, under the new name, the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). It is now the translation used in LifeWay literature instead of the HCSB. So what’s the difference? Basically, the CSB has positioned itself between the New International Version (NIV) and the English Standard Version (ESV). It is nearly as contemporary and readable and almost as gender-neutral as the NIV, but nearly as accurate and literal as the ESV.
1. The CSB is more gender neutral.
Interestingly, the CSB follows the gender neutral trend of the NIV far more than the HCSB did. Even the HCSB had begun to use “people” instead of “men” in places where the text clearly refers to people in general, like Matthew 4:19 where it refers to Jesus teaching His disciples to “fish for men.” But the CSB goes much further. In Proverbs 27:17, the CSB says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” (The HCSB has “men.”) One may argue that the context implies all people there, although men’s groups have often equated it to masculinity. A more significant change is the constant reference to the believers in the church in the New Testament letters as “brothers” in the HCSB. The CSB changes this to “brothers and sisters.” So we read in Romans 16:14, “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers and sisters who are with them.” Again, the reasoning for this is that the apostle must have had in mind all members of the congregation, both male and female (although all of the Greek names in Romans 16:14 happen to be male).
To be fair, the CSB avoids the extremes examples of gender neutral language found in the NIV. The NIV goes so far as to translate the Hebrew ab, father, as “parent” in Malachi 4:6, and in Hebrews 12:7 it says “God is treating you as children,” although the Greek word is “sons.” The CSB does not goes this far; in both of these passages, the CSB uses the masculine word, and the CSB is consistent in always referring to God with the masculine pronoun (as is the NIV).
2. The CSB is more traditional.
The HCSB broke translation tradition in several ways, including the frequent, but inconsistent use of the literal “Yahweh” instead of the traditional “LORD” in all capital letters to translate the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh. The HCSB also translated the Greek christos as “Messiah,” since many people did not understand that Christ and Messiah are Greek and Hebrew words for the same title, Anointed One. In contrast, the CSB has returned to more traditional wording. The CSB uses “LORD” in the Old Testament for Yahweh and often uses “Christ,” for christos in the New Testament, although the CSB does use “Messiah” in some places where a declaration of faith is made about Jesus, such as John 11:27: “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God…”
3. The CSB is more literal.
A good example of how the CSB is more literal than the HCSB would be Psalm 1:1, which the CSB translates literally: “How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway of sinners or sit in the company of mockers.” The HCSB paraphrased the “walk, stand, sit” poetry of Psalm 1:1 this way: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers!” (Notice again, however, that the HCSB uses “man,” while the CSB uses the gender neutral “one.”)
4. The CSB no longer capitalizes pronouns referring to God.
A fourth major revision of the CSB is that it dropped the capitalization of pronouns referring to God. The HCSB showed reverence to God by capitalizing all pronouns that referred to God, as does the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The CSB does not (nor does the KJV or ESV). The CSB translators reasoned that it is not always clear in the context if the reference is to God. Thus we see the difference in John 15:26, a passage which refers to all three persons of the Trinity. This verse is translated by the HCSB: “When the Counselor comes, the One I will send to you from the Father– the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father– He will testify about Me.” But John 15:26 is translated this way in the CSB: “When the Counselor comes, the one I will send to you from the Father– the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father– he will testify about me.”
No translation is perfect, as they are made by imperfect people, and language is constantly changing. As I said at the beginning, the CSB has positioned itself between the readable, gender-neutral NIV and the more literal ESV. In doing so, it has eliminated some of the quirky, fascinating translation characteristics of the HCSB. For this reason, I hope that the HCSB will still be available for those who want something different. Each person will need to make his (or her) own choice, and never forget that the Author is God, not man (or humanity).
(For more study on changes from the HCSB to CSB, here is a good resource: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1U7uvZHYsCtSpQdKNwrS6zZYSre-MdY7GbDQZzefWs50/pub)
(UPDATE: In 2017, the HCSB, reviewed below, underwent a radical revision and name change to CSB. Read my review of that revision here: https://bobrogers.me/2017/05/21/the-hcsb-is-now-the-csb-whats-the-difference/.)
The New International Version (NIV) of the Bible was published in 1979, the same year that I became pastor of my first church. Immediately, I liked how it was easy to read, yet more accurate than other popular, easy-to-read Bibles of the time, like The Living Bible and the Good News Bible. The NIV went through a minor revision in 1984, and I have been preaching primarily from the NIV ever since then, although I often quote other translations. However, beginning in the summer of 2012, I will change to the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). Why the change, after all these years? The answer is simple: I’m changing, because the NIV changed.
In 2011, the NIV went through a major revision, and the 1984 edition will no longer be sold in stores. The 1984 edition is not even available in digital form any longer for e-books like Kindle or Bible apps like YouVersion for your smartphone. If you buy a new NIV Bible or download the NIV, it will be the 2011 edition. The revision is more accurate in many places, correcting some translation errors of the old edition. However, the 2011 revision also chose to use gender-neutral language when referring to people, following the model of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), a translation that is owned by the liberal National Council of Churches. In some cases, the gender-neutral language is justified, as when the word “man” refers to all of humanity or when Paul addresses the “brothers” but clearly means all believers, “brothers and sisters.” But the 2011 revision of the NIV goes much farther than this, consistently using gender-neutral language even when the context does not necessarily call for it.
I spent about a year carefully studying the 2011 revision, and although I liked some of the improvements in accuracy, the extremes of gender-neutral language outweighed the other improvements. Thus, I began to prayerfully look for another translation to use in my preaching.
There were two main options I considered, because both are accurate translations, readable, and they avoid gender-neutral language unless the context clearly calls for it: the English Standard Version (ESV) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). The ESV is a great translation. It is a conservative response to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The NRSV uses gender-neutral language, while the ESV does not. The ESV is very close to the New American Standard Bible (NASB) in accuracy, and it flows better than the NASB.
However, I chose the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) over the ESV, because the HCSB uses more contemporary language than the ESV. For example, while the ESV uses “behold,” the HCSB says “look!” and while the ESV says “made manifest” the HCSB says “made evident.” The HCSB is as readable as the NIV, while it is more accurate than the NIV. The HCSB translates the name of Yahweh in the Old Testament in places where the context implies God’s name (rather than the all capital “LORD” used in other translations). It translates “Christ” as “Messiah” in the New Testament when the context is referring to Jesus’ title as Messiah. It shows respect for deity by capitalizing pronouns when referring to God. That is why I have been using the HCSB in Wednesday night prayer meeting for several years, and beginning in the summer of 2012, the HCSB will become my primary Bible when preaching on Sundays.
Am I saying that I expect my congregation to go out and buy a Holman Christian Standard Bible? No, I am not. This decision is for my own preaching, as I feel a responsibility to preach from a Bible that best communicates God’s Word with clarity and faithfulness to the original languages. Everybody is welcome to bring to our church whatever translation of the Bible you prefer. If you want to continue using your NIV Bible or other favorite translation, you are welcome to do so. It is useful to compare various Bible translations, and although I will primarily preach from the HCSB, I will continue to quote other translations of the Bible in my sermons whenever it sheds light on the meaning of God’s Word.
If you wish to sample the HCSB, you can download it for free on the Kindle at amazon.com and the Nook at BarnesandNoble.com, and the application “You Version” has the HCSB available for free on smart phones and iPads, available at http://www.youversion.com. The website http://www.mystudybible.com is a free website using the text of the HCSB, including excellent Bible study notes in the margin. The HCSB translation is used in Sunday School literature printed by LifeWay. Our church will also place HCSB pew Bibles in the worship center for the convenience of those who wish to follow the same translation as the pastor.
Here are some sample comparisons of the 1984 NIV, 2011 NIV, and the HCSB.
Genesis 4:26 (The context refers to all people.)
1984 NIV: “At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.”
2011 NIV: “At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD.”
HCSB: “At that time people began to call on the name of Yahweh.”
Esther 3:6 (The context is explaining why Haman wanted to kill all the Jewish people.)
1984 NIV: “Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai.”
2011 NIV: “Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai.”
HCSB: “And when he learned of Mordecai’s ethnic identity, Haman decided not to do away with Mordecai alone.”
Psalm 1:1 (It is debatable whether the context refers to people in general.)
1984 NIV: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.”
2011 NIV: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked.”
HCSB: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked.”
Psalm 23:4 (“valley of the shadow of death” was a Hebrew idiom for a dark valley)
1984 NIV: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
2011 NIV: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
HCSB: “Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.”
1984 NIV “… from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
2011 NIV “… from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
HCSB: “… from eternity to eternity, You are God.”
Proverbs 27:17 (It is debatable whether the context refers to people in general.)
1984 NIV: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
2011 NIV: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
HCSB: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
Malachi 4:6 (The Hebrew word here is “fathers.”)
1984 NIV: “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children…”
2011 NIV: “He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children…”
HCSB: “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children…”
Matthew 5:19 (The context refers to all people.)
1984 NIV: “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’”
2011 NIV: “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’”
HCSB: “Follow Me,’ He told them, ‘and I will make you fish for people!’”
1984 NIV: “’Yes, Lord,’ she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.’”
2011 NIV: “’Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’”
HCSB: “’Yes, Lord,’ she told Him, ‘I believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.’”
1984 NIV: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea.”
2011 NIV: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.”
HCSB: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchreae.”
Romans 16:14 (All of the names listed are male names in Greek.)
1984 NIV: “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them.”
2011 NIV: “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them.”
HCSB: “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them.”
1984 NIV: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
2011 NIV: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
HCSB: “And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit.”
Hebrews 12:7 (After Hebrews 12:5 comments that Proverbs 3:11-12 addresses us as “sons” when referring to God’s discipline.)
1984 NIV: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.”
2011 NIV: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.”
HCSB: “Endure suffering as discipline; God is dealing with you as sons.”
I John 3:16 (The context is referring to all Christians.)
1984 NIV: “… And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
2011 NIV: “… And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
HCSB: “We should also lay down our lives for our brothers.”
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In March 2011, the copyright owners of the most popular modern translation of the Bible in English, the New International Version (NIV), published the first revision of the NIV since 1984.
As a pastor who did not like the over-reaching political correctness of the Today’s New International Version (TNIV, copyright 2002), I was concerned when I heard that the NIV itself was going to be revised. But after studying the digital early release version in numerous passages, I have been pleased that it is more accurate, but disappointed that while the use of gender-neutral language does not go as far as the TNIV, it still goes too far.
The new NIV retains 95% of the words of the 1984 edition, but where there are changes, it communicates the original meaning better to modern readers and more accurately than before.
Let me address several issues: gender-neutral language, omission of words, and accuracy of translation.
First, the most controversial issue of the TNIV (the earlier failed attempt to revise the NIV) was its gender-neutral language. The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in June 2011 saying they “cannot commend” the 2011 NIV. Why is that? The 2011 NIV does not go as far as the TNIV. In Hebrews 12, where scripture speaks of God disciplining us like a father, the TNIV changed “father” to “parent.” This implied that God was a gender-neutral “parent” rather than our “heavenly Father.” I’m glad to report that the new NIV has “father,” just as the 1984 edition had. However, the new NIV, like the TNIV, does use gender-neutral “brothers and sisters” when the context clearly means all believers. Since modern English speakers use both genders, “brothers and sisters,” when addressing all believers, not just the masculine “brothers,” it makes sense that the Bible they are reading do the same. However, this may not be acceptable to all readers, particularly in passages like Psalm 1, where the masculine pronoun is often associated with a reference to manhood. In the 1984 NIV, Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked… He is like a tree planted by streams of water…” but the 2011 NIV renders it, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked…That person is like a tree planted by steams of water…”
The 2011 NIV changes “fathers” to “parents” in Malachi 4:6, although the Hebrew word is ab, fathers. Also, Ezekiel 22:30, the famous “stand in the gap” passage used by Promise Keepers to challenge men, has been changed from “man” to “someone.” A favorite verse of the men’s group, Promise Keepers, was Proverbs 27:17, because it said that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. However, the 2011 NIV changes “man” to “person.” These kind of changes can be found hundreds of times throughout the Old and New Testaments in the 2011 NIV.
However, the 2011 NIV continues to say “sons” in Romans 8:14 and “sonship” in Romans 8:15 in a discussion of spiritual adoption which refers to the male heir. Thus it does not use gender-neutral language in places where it would impact theology, but it does use gender-neutral language in some places that have traditionally been interpreted as references to manhood. The revised NIV also continues to maintain clear sexual distinctions between the genders in passages like Genesis 1:27, which reads, “So God created mankind in his own image…male and female he created them.”
Omission of words
The second translation issue is the omission of words. One of the biggest criticisms of the 1984 NIV was that sometimes words in the Greek text simply were not translated. The most notorious example was the Gospel of Mark, which makes frequent use of the Greek word euthus, “immediately.” For some reason, there were many verses in the 1984 NIV that simply ignored this word. But the 2011 NIV is careful to translate it as “immediately” or “as soon” etc. in every place where it is used. I have been doing a verse-by-verse study of Romans in the Greek, and comparing the old and new versions of the NIV, I found that where the old NIV omitted the word “or” at the beginning of Romans 3:29, the new NIV restored the word. And in Romans 4:1, the old NIV omitted the words “according to the flesh,” but the new NIV put the phrase back in.
Accuracy of translation
The third translation issue is the accuracy of translation. In an attempt to be easy to read, the NIV has been less precise in translating words and phrases. It’s a difficult balance for any translation, but sometimes the 1984 NIV paraphrased the text in places that caused the reader to miss the technical point that the Biblical writer was making. For example, the 1984 NIV translates Romans 3:28, “observing the law.” But the 2011 NIV translates it, “works of the law.” The Greek phrase is literally, “works of the law.”
In Romans chapter 8, Paul uses the word “flesh” as a metaphor for the sinful nature. The 1984 NIV translates it “sinful nature,” which gets the idea across, but thereby obscures the deliberate play on words in Romans 8:3 when Paul says that when we were weakened by the flesh, God sent Jesus in the flesh. The 1984 NIV has “sinful nature” in these verses, but the 2011 NIV uses the literal word “flesh.”
In Romans 8:4, the 1984 NIV says that Jesus’ sacrifice satisfied the “righteous requirements” of the law. However, the Greek word translated “requirements” is singular. The 2011 NIV changes it to the singular “requirement.” This might seem a minor distinction, but theologically the singular implies that God covers the entirety of our sin, not just some sins.
In Romans 10:4, the 1984 NIV reads, “Christ is the end of the law…” The Greek word translated “end” is telos, which means completion. Paul does not mean the law will stop, but that it will be fulfilled. Thus the 2011 NIV reads,”Christ is the culmination of the law…”
Another example is Galatians 5:22, where the 1984 NIV lists “patience” among the fruit of the Spirit. The problem is, that there are two Greek words for patience: one word means patience with circumstances, and one word means patience with people. The word used in Galatians 5:22 means patience with people, so the 2011 NIV translates it “forbearance.”
The 2011 NIV has improved the accuracy of many passages in the Old Testament, as well. Psalm 93:1 reads in the 1984 NIV, “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.” This is similar to the KJV, which was misinterpreted centuries ago to mean the universe revolved around the earth. But the Hebrew word means stability, and so the 2011 NIV translates it, “The world is established; firm and secure.” Psalm 107 gives four stories of people who have reason to thank the Lord. Thus Psalm 107:2 reads in the 2011 NIV, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story,” which is an improvement of the 1984 “Let the redeemed of the Lord say this.”
Different readers will have different opinions about the appropriateness of gender-neutral language in the revised NIV. Some will like it, and others will not. Personally, I can understand the change to “brothers and sisters” or “mankind” when the context clearly refers to all people, but when the context is not clearly gender-neutral, the translation should not be gender-neutral. It is unfortunate that this issue may cloud the discussion of this revision, which is otherwise more accurate than before. People who love the NIV and do not object to gender-neutral language should embrace this revision with even more confidence in its accuracy, and people who object to the gender-neutral language will prefer translations such as the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) or English Standard Version (ESV).