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).
When it comes to studying the Bible, not only are there many choices of translations, but also many choices of study Bibles. Here is an overview of some that I have found helpful.
There are several general study Bibles that are connected directly to a certain translation of the Bible. If a person cannot afford an entire set of commentaries, or wishes to have commentary on the whole Bible in one volume, these study Bibles are the best option. The NASB Study Bible (also available with the same notes as the NIV Study Bible), the HCSB Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible and the Jeremiah Study Bible (NKJV) are examples of this. Each of these study Bibles have extensive introductions to the books of the Bible, maps, and notes at the bottom of the page to explain the text in the particular translation used. The ESV Study Bible is the most scholarly and exhaustive of these study Bibles. The HCSB Study Bible is in a more popular style, and makes the best use of color, making it the easiest to read. The Jeremiah Study Bible has notes by popular Bible teacher, Dr. David Jeremiah.
Some study Bibles focus on a special purpose. The Archaeological Study Bible (NIV) includes notes and articles that explain the cultural and historical background of the Bible. The Life Essentials Study Bible (HCSB) and Life Application Bible (available in NLT, NIV, NKJV, NASB) focus on applying the truths of scripture to our lifestyle. The Life Essentials Study Bible makes use of QR code. Readers can scan the code with their mobile phone and watch a video of a Bible teacher explaining the passage in greater depth. The Discover God Study Bible (NLT) focuses on devotional and doctrinal truth. This is an excellent study Bible for a new believer. The Apologetics Study Bible (HCSB) includes notes and articles that defend the Christian faith against non-Christian religions and skeptics.
All of these study Bibles are excellent resources in shedding light on God’s word. I refer to many of them on a regular basis, depending on how I am studying a particular passage. But none of these aids can substitute for simply reading the text first yourself. I would recommend you read and read again the text and make your own notes on what you observe before you turn to these or any other study aids. After your own study, check your observations with those of the experts. That way, you will allow the Holy Spirit to speak directly to you through scripture, and to speak to you through those who have studied it before you.
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