In the time of Martin Luther, the Bible could be found chained to the Pulpit inaccessible both because of it’s language and it’s location. It has been pointed out that this was also figuratively true — that the Church held sole control over the Scripture and its interpretation and it was Luther who unchained it. He translated it into the language of the people, and he also taught them to live by it and from it. This was a very dangerous thing as far as Satan was concerned. He has fought long and hard to keep the Bible out of the hands of the people. The story of the English Bible reads red in a trail of martyrs blood. The Chinese Communists tried to eradicate every single Bible in the country, only to find an unstoppable Chinese underground church. In America we completely take all of this for granted of course. Satan’s strategy has been to keep us from reading it, or if we must read it, to use a variety of methods to superimpose an external meaning upon it.
This strategy of keeping the Word of God out of the hands of the people I believe can be seen in the area of Bible translations too. For some reason large sections of the American church have clung to the King James Version. Now the only problem I have with the King James is that it is not in my language. Other than that, it’s a great Bible. Had I been born in 1600 or so, I think it would have been an ideal Bible to use… This is more than an issue with “thee” and “thou”, it’s about fundamental changes in word meanings that we would have to “translate” into our language to get proper understanding. So I’ll skip the KJV– funny thing was that until about 30 years ago, it was almost the only conservative translation available.
Enter the NIV. The NIV was written at a 6th grade level and I believe orginally intended to be for that audience. Someone it went mainstream, and it went very mainstream. It became the nearly universal Bible among evangelicals and moderates. Over time, however, people began to become increasingly dissatisfied with the NIV for several reasons. First, evangelicals were not satisfied that the Bible was really close enough to the Greek. It left some room for the translators to interpret. A “thought for thought” or “dynamic equivalence” translation inherently has the translators making decisions about what a text means even when it may have been ambiguous in the original. Second, the NIV was “dumbed down” to a simple reading level, and folks like J.I. Packer felt that this was not appropriate for God’s Word. The more complicated language should be retained to be truly accurate. Thirdly, and probalby most importantly, Zondervan, who owns the NIV, was embracing egalitarianism in a big way by using gender “neutral” language, which of course is not really the way English is used.
The primary other option, if you wanted literal was the NASB. Now Charles Stanley used the NASB, and that guy can teach the Bible, so it definitely had its supporters. But the NASB was the opposite of user friendly. No paragraphs and English that read like Greek made it not a first choice for readers or memorizers. You always found yourself memorizing something unnatural in English vernacular. In 1995 they did an update and improved some of that, and then later they did a couple of Bibles with paragraphs, and that was helpful too, but it was a bit late to start.
So when the NIV went south, people started thinking, it’s time for a new translation. We want it to be NASB literal and reliable without the NASB problems. It needs to be memorizable and readable, not just good for study. Enter the ESV. An Evangelical “who’s who” came together and did a translation that was conservative in language, readable, and similar to the history of English Bible. This probably makes it the best Bible available today.
There are other options of course. The HCSB was created for similar reasons. This is probably the most readable of all of the fairly literal translations, but you will find some surprises — not the phrasings you are used to or grew up with… and what is with calling it the “Holman” anyway? Who want’s a Bible translation with some guy’s name on it?
The NKJV is also very literal… The late great Adrian Rogers was in on this one. Difference is that the NKJV uses the same manuscripts as the KJV instead of the ones used by all of the modern translations. Some people think these “majority text” readings are best, but most people who have looked into the matter find that the so called “critical text” is probably better. I like the NKJV though.. again too bad they don’t print it with paragraphs.
The other issue is that each translation has a different level of publisher support. The NIV has the Zondervan Juggernaut behind it. Every possible imaginable Bible or Bible product is available in the NIV. The HCSB has the backing of the Southern Baptist Convention and so it also has many options available. The other translations seem backwater by comparison. The ESV has very few formats, and slowly adds them each year as they have money. The NKJV and NASB seem to be managed by very conservative groups who do not really see the value in all of Bible options.
The ESV, NASB and HCSB are about the only Bibles I would use. The other ones are too loose or too liberal usually. If I want a commentary, I’ll buy one. I’d like God’s Words direct, especially since all of those people died for me to have it.