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).
(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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