Saturday, February 17, 2018
The Pastor and Bible Translations
Except in certain very conservative Christian circles, the KJV is no longer the exclusive Bible of the English-speaking church. Despite sales numbers, it is probably no longer even the primary Bible of the English-speaking church. That means that in most congregations, there are perhaps as many as half a dozen different English translations being read by the people in the pews. In the PCA, my own denomination, here is the likely scenario: some few of the oldest members are still using the KJV. The adults are probably using either the ESV or the NIV. Some are using the NIV2011. Some of the younger members may be using the New Living Translation (NLT) or the Contemporary English Version (CEV). Perhaps some of the children are using the New Century Version (NCV) which is aimed at younger readers. Given this variety, what is a pastor to do?
It doesn’t really matter which version the pastor uses, though some congregants will follow his lead on Bible choice. But the pastor should find out which translations are being used in his congregation; and he should familiarize himself with them. By this, I do not mean that he should look up a few of his favorite passages in them to see what the translation does. Nor do I mean that he should do an exhaustive comparison of the translation with the original Hebrew and Greek. Pastors, by and large, have neither the time nor the expertise to do that.
In what follows, I presume that the pastor is reading the Bible annually. I suggest that he find out which versions the people in his congregation are using. Then, over a period of several years, use each one of those versions as his reading Bible for the year. By the end of the year, he will be intimately familiar with it. For example, if the pastor is using the ESV, but the majority of his congregation is using the NIV1984, probably his first year he should spend reading the NIV1984. He then moves through, in subsequent years, the other versions that are being used. Who knows? In this process he may even find a translation he prefers to the one he had been using.
Another thing that the pastor should do is have a variety of translations to read and consider in his sermon preparation. This would not even involve any expense, as there are several online sites that offer a variety of English versions free.
I have, over the years, read through a good number of the English translations available, including some of the more obscure ones. I have learned something from each one, and I have benefitted from each one.
I would make one other suggestion. Take the time to read Mark Ward’s little book Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. Even if you have never read the KJV, it is a wise and useful survey of the issues related to Bible versions.