By Reese Currie, Compass Distributors
We would hope that every person on this planet would have an opportunity to read the Bible without anything coming between them and God's holy Word. Unfortunately, a lot of Bible versions today constitute a rehash of men's ideas because they are doctrinally modified to support the views or beliefs of certain organizations. So, often there can still be an invisible layer of man's religious pomposity coming between you and God's own words, depending upon what Bible version you use.
In 395 AD, the Bible translator Jerome was accused by a heretic of misrepresenting his thoughts through bad translation. In his response (known as Letter LVII: To Pammachius on the Best Method of Translating), Jerome stated, "As, however the letter itself shews that no changes have been made in the sense, that nothing has been added, and that no doctrine has been foisted into it, 'obviously their object is understanding to understand nothing;' and while they desire to arraign another's want of skill, they betray their own."
These are the only criteria I have used for evaluating a verse of Scripture in this document: that no changes have been made in the sense, that nothing has been added, and that no doctrine has been foisted into it.
I have made no evaluation on the underlying text used, be it the Consensus Text, the Majority Text, or the Received Text. Further, I have committed no prejudice against dynamic equivalency translation compared to formal equivalency translation. To my mind, these are matters of human opinion and I honestly cannot foist my views upon someone else or take them into account in this evaluation.
If you are interested in my views on these topics, I direct you to these articles:
I have selected for comparison verses that are usually attacked on the grounds of the personal theologies of the translators. To keep the test quick for you to use on your own, I have limited it to ten passages of Scripture.
John 1:1-4, Zechariah 12:10, John 14:26 and Genesis 1:2 are verses most frequently mistranslated in an attempt to obscure the Trinity doctrine. John 1:1-4 identifies the Son (the Word) as being God and being present from the beginning with the Father. Zechariah 12:10 identifies God Himself as being pierced; this verse is related to the Son in John 19:37. Zechariah 12:10 further describes God’s gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. John 14:26 refers to the Holy Spirit as a Person and Genesis 1:2 refers to the Holy Spirit hovering above the waters during the creation.
I also want to know that all facets of repentance are covered. First, that repentance was the message that Jesus preached (Mark 1:15), second, that this is the message Jesus commanded the disciples to preach (Luke 24:45-47), and finally, that repentance is granted by God and is a necessary precursor to belief (Matthew 21:32, 2 Timothy 2:25).
Next, I am concerned that the Bible version does not impose the theological viewpoint that baptism is necessary for salvation. In Acts 2:38, the Bible says, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (KJV). This is a difficult passage to reconcile with the many verses that say repentance alone is necessary to receive the forgiveness of sins. The reconciliation is found in the interpretation of the word “for.” If “for” is interpreted as “to obtain,” we have an immediate inconsistency with the verses claiming only repentance is necessary to obtain forgiveness. But if “for” is interpreted as “because of,” there is no conundrum here at all. The King James Version quoted above, while written by supporters of baptismal regeneration from the Church of England, nevertheless places a comma after the word “repent,” preserving the possibility of the correct interpretation. In many modern versions, we are not so lucky. I have included Acts 2:38 and Mark 1:4 in this comparison to see if baptismal regeneration is imposed by the translation.
Please note that I have read some of these versions in their entirety, and in those cases, I will put an asterisk after their name.
American Standard Version
The American Standard Version, once considered “the rock of Biblical honesty,” was a rather good version. It uses the consensus text of its day, the Westcott-Hort Greek Text, which today would be considered inferior by most scholars. However, it was a very good translation of that text, and can serve as an excellent basis for comparing the accuracy of modern versions, which are largely based on a similar text. One difficulty with the ASV is that, while published in 1901, it retained old Elizabethan English. While not nearly as difficult to read as the King James Version, it still uses a vocabulary quite alien to people today.
The Amplified Bible differs from most versions in that it goes more deeply into the meaning of words right in the text. Obviously that means the translation is not strictly literal, but neither is it dynamic. The result to me is sometimes an oversimplification in the amplification of terms. For instance, the amplification of "repentance" in Mark 1:15 only includes turning away from sin, not turning to God.
2 Timothy 2:25 in the Amplified Bible does not make it plain that repentance leads to the acknowledgement of the truth. Matthew 21:32 does not convey regret in the changing of one's mind. Acts 2:38 suggests repentance and baptism as being necessary in tandem. Mark 1:4 would have passed except, like Mark 1:15, the amplification of "repentance" does not include turning to God.
In Zechariah 12:10, it refers to "the Spirit of grace or unmerited favor and supplication." While this is not inaccurate, it is odd that "grace" needs to be explained as "unmerited favor" and supplication is not explained as being "prayer". Also it isn't plain that "grace or unmerited favor" is a reference to the same word; for clarity I would have done it as "grace (unmerited favor)" which is the usual way the Amplified Bible works. I haven't docked a point for Zechariah 12:10 but it does show an inconsistency in technique I find troubling.
The Analytical-Literal Translation is a translation of only the New Testament. It is extremely accurate to the Greek. It can be fairly difficult reading at times because it adheres so closely to the source language, but it certainly brings out concepts from the Greek that no other translation does. Reading the Analytical-Literal Translation is an experience that I highly recommend. It utilizes creative ways of expressing the Greek tenses in our language. It also has an “analytical” feature that shows, right in the text, possible variant translations. It is really the ultimate version for getting down to what the word really says (and means) without interpretive gloss of any kind.
As its textual base it uses the Byzantine Majority Text (more recently known as the Byzantine Textform, to dispel the myth that its textual choices are based simply on counting manuscripts). The Byzantine Majority Text is the logical successor to the Textus Receptus (or Received Text) that the KJV/NKJV are based on.
Bible in Basic English
“Basic English” is a subset of English with an 850-word vocabulary. I do not think the vocabulary is necessarily the problem here. Certainly, John 1:4 goes far beyond the Greek text, and the words “on Me” would seem to be included in Basic English but not in Zechariah 12:10. Some theological slant is apparent in the text through the utter passivity assigned to the message to repent. When Jesus told people to repent, He was giving them a responsibility to do something, not asking them to be passive while it was done for them as the BBE implies in Mark 1:15, which also adds a number of words not present in the text being translated. In Luke 24:45-47, it again removes responsibility for repentance. 2 Timothy 2:25 loses the thought of repentance leading to acknowledgment of the truth. Mark 1:15 adds too much interpretative gloss to be considered representative of the original Greek.
Contemporary English Version
The CEV would seem to be an even more heretical follow-up to the insipid “Today’s English Version” or “Good News Bible.” It was easy to find one for comparison at the used bookstore; it seems like a lot of them get traded in when people realize what a cesspool of heresy it really is. The TEV/GNB that the CEV succeeds is about 30% accurate, having the same problems in principle as the CEV but in a lower abundance.
Zechariah 12:10 hides the Trinity by not translating “on Me.” John 14:26 is worded to allow an impersonal view of the Holy Spirit. Not one of the repentance verses gives the full meaning of repentance. Mark 1:4 and Acts 2:38 both support baptismal regeneration. Only Genesis 1:2 and John 1:1-4 were actually translated properly, and John 1:1-4 only marginally so. This is a total perversion of God’s word.
The Douay-Rhiems is a very accurate but dated Catholic version. Its accuracy far surpasses most (if not all) of the other versions that would replace it in the Catholic church, for example the New Revised Standard Version (reviewed below), the Jerusalem Bible and New Jerusalem Bible, the “Catholic Edition” of the CEV, or the New American Bible (also reviewed below).
My only problem with the Douay-Rheims is that, as a translation of a translation (the Latin Vulgate), it copies a translation inaccuracy of the Vulgate itself in that it sometimes portrays the doctrine of repentance as the doctrine of "penance."
Repentance is the highly valuable changing of mind that leads one to true knowledge of Christ (2 Timothy 2:25). “Penance” on the other hand is a doctrine of grieving oneself in restitution for sin that is not implied by the original Greek word “metanoeio”. The term "penance" is an accurate translation of the Vulgate, but the Vulgate is at this point not an accurate translation of the Greek.
It is true that repentance is accompanied by a genuine (and sometimes terrible) regret for sin, but this regret itself is not repentance. Note in 1 Corinthians 7:9 that this sorrow is spoken of as leading to repentance, “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing” (KJV).
So, in Luke 24:45-47 and Acts 2:38, I have docked the Douay-Rheims for using the word “penance” instead of “repentance.” Otherwise, I have no problems to report with this translation. Of course it uses Old English, but is actually fairly readable.
English Standard Version
The English Standard Version is a quite literal version that is somewhat more readable than the NASB. It has a very strange rendering of Zechariah 12:10. The word for "prayer" is translated "pleas for mercy" for some reason, which obscures that the Spirit in this verse is the Spirit of prayer, the Holy Spirit. As well, "on Me" is translated as "on Me, on him" which weakens the identification with Jesus as God. Most Bible versions choose either "on Me" (accurate) or "on him" (inaccurate). This is the only version I've ever seen that uses both, turning the two words unnecessarily into four. Acts 2:38 presents repentance and baptism as being necessary in tandem. Matthew 21:32 does not convey regret in the changing of one's mind. All in all, I don't consider the ESV literal enough to be a good literal version, or readable enough to offer any improvement over more accurate versions already on the market.
Although thirteen years older than the King James Version, the Geneva Bible seems easier to read. Unfortunately, I had to give it a lower mark than I had expected because of its translations of Mark 1:4, Acts 2:38 and John 1:1-4.
In Mark 1:4, rather than the word "repentance", the Geneva uses the phrase "the amendment of life" which is not the same thing. This wording implies that you have to clean up your life on your own before you can believe, when in fact you simply have to "repent", that is, to "change your mind." At that point God's sanctifying hands can help you to change your ways. In Acts 2:38, again, "repent" is replaced with "amend your lives."
My only other problem with the Geneva Bible is that, in John 1:1-4, in reference to the Word of God, it uses the impersonal pronoun "it" rather than the personal pronoun "Him".
Holman Christian Standard Bible *
The Holman Christian Standard Bible is a rather unique Bible version in that it is translated using a heretofore unheard of technique called "optimal equivalence." This is more literal than dynamic equivalency and yet more readable than formal equivalency (or literal translation). The result is a text that is as pleasant to read as any dynamic equivalency version, but is somewhat more reliable. Though they score the same, I would say that this translation is better than NIV and the optimal choice for anyone who finds more literal translations too hard to read.
My reservations in recommending this are two. Zechariah 12:10 uses the indefinite article in "a spirit of..." rather than the definite article "the" (although "the spirit" is in a footnote). We don't like that but we don't dock points for it; there is more discussion on this point in my review of the NIV (below). We dock one point for Matthew 21:32, which fails to convey regret in the changing of one's mind.
King James Version
The King James Version receives a 100% grade on this test. This is not to say that there are no areas in which the King James does not have the best possible translation or to claim there are no benefits in language updating. However, it is by any account an excellent Bible version and has none of the serious, deliberate doctrinal deviations that we are looking for in this test.
I have some reservations toward people picking up the King James Version as a main Bible in this day and age, because the language differences since 1611 could easily frustrate a person in Bible study or cause them to get the wrong ideas. Many words in English have actually reversed meaning since 1611. Nevertheless, I think everyone should have one for comparison. If you know Elizabethan English, it is actually a pleasant, captivating read. I’ve read the King James New Testament a number of times, and there is a pleasing reverence in the language. The New Testament is translated mainly from the Textus Receptus (in English, the Received Text), which is a fairly good though somewhat dated representative of the Byzantine text.
It should be noted that the Literal Version is included also in Jay P. Green’s Interlinear Bible, which is even more highly recommended. Green’s Interlinear includes Strong numbers in the original-language portion, which is a great aid to laymen, for it is easy for non-Greek speakers to check the definitions of words in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. It is translated from the Textus Receptus.
To be honest, I'm kind of surprised to be able to give The Message a 30% mark. Eugene Peterson does get the Trinity right most of the time (hence the 30% mark) but otherwise, his translation is far, far wide of the mark. Its readings support baptismal regeneration and, ironically, the real message of the Bible--repent--is completely obscured in The Message. This is an absolutely terrible translation.
New American Bible
Not to be confused with the New American Standard Bible, the New American Bible is a Catholic version done by mainly Catholic (and a few Protestant) scholars in cooperation with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The version I reviewed is available for reading on the Vatican web site and is the most recent version.
My criticisms of it are these: The Holy Spirit is omitted from Genesis 1:2, being replaced with a "wind." Zechariah 12:10 uses the indefinite article for "a spirit of grace and petition," which we don't like but have not been docking points for (see the notes on the NIV for a full explanation). However, in this case we did dock points for Zechariah 12:10 in that it is translated "they shall look on him whom they have thrust through" instead of "they shall look on Me whom they have thrust through", a translation that obscures the trinitarian teaching of this verse. Matthew 21:32 skips the notion of "feeling sorry" in changing one's mind; the word translated is a lesser form of "repent" that means to have remorse or regret.
Acts 2:38 naturally supports a baptismal regeneration view, being a Catholic translation, and we docked points for that. Interestingly, Mark 1:4 does not support baptismal regeneration, but I suppose that would be considered the difference between John's baptism and Christian baptism in the Catholic view. On a positive note the New Testament teaches accurately on repentance as necessary to come to faith, which is an improvement on the Douay-Rheims which, following the Vulgate, frequently recasts this as "penance."
As a side note, I understand that traditional Catholics are disturbed by the notes which are said to contain liberal and higher-critical views, and question the authorship of some books. I went to the Bible Society and read a small number of the notes and they did seem to have a modernistic slant that might disturb the faith of some. What's worse, having looked at all the NAB's they had, it seemed impossible to get one without the notes.
New American Standard Bible *
I have a great appreciation for the NASB’s accuracy and its plain, easy to understand English. Also worthy of appreciation is the fact that the Lockman Foundation produces this Bible not as a commercial venture; it is a non-profit organization. The only thing about NASB that I have to mention is that it uses the Consensus Text, so people really need to decide for themselves which underlying text is better in order to choose between NASB and NKJV. One or the other is the best translation in the world today. Personally, I prefer a more Byzantine text (such as the text underlying the NKJV) but I also prefer the English style of the NASB.
New International Version *
The New International Version, the best-selling version in the world today, is a dynamic equivalency version that is more formal than most other dynamic equivalency versions and hence somewhat more accurate, though still less accurate than most formal equivalency versions.
Zechariah 12:10 uses the indefinite article (a) rather than the definite article (the) in describing the Spirit of prayer and supplication. While I really don't like that, I haven't docked a point for it because the Hebrew doesn't force assuming the definite article, although it should be theologically obvious. Still, I must note that in my opinion the use of the indefinite article weakens the strong trinitarian doctrinal teaching in this verse.
The only serious flaw I found in the test was in Acts 2:38, where repentance and baptism are tied together as being necessary in tandem for the forgiveness of sins.
The NIV is not as bad as many versions, but is not as good as the cream of the crop; nor is its readability so much better than the more accurate versions that it should be considered. It is in the middle of the road in terms of translation theory (dynamic and formal), and it should not be surprising that it is middle of the road in quality as well.
New King James Version *
I recommend the New King James Version above the King James Version because the language updating is necessary. Some of the words in the King James Version have even reversed meaning since its translation in 1611. In addition, we have learned things about the Hebrew and Greek languages in the time between 1611 and the present. This additional knowledge necessarily enhances the translation. Finally, where the NKJV and KJV differ, most frequently the NKJV is proven to be the more accurate version when compared against the original languages. Both the KJV and NKJV are translated from the Textus Receptus in the New Testament.
The NKJV is available in the form of some very good (and some not-so-good) study Bibles. For best results, I would recommend avoiding study Bibles, especially for new Christians, as this is a means of re-introducing the problem of man’s interpretations, to the detriment of even good translations.
New Living Translation *
While not nearly as bad as the CEV and its ilk, the New Living Translation is still far wide of the mark required for a Bible version to be considered an accurate account of the word of God. The best thing I can say for the NLT is that, unlike the NIV, the problem appears to be an inability to accurately translate, rather than a deliberate modification of verses to suit a given theological viewpoint.
Like NIV, Zechariah 12:10 does not use the definite article with regard to the "spirit of prayer and supplication", but, although I hate that practice, I have not docked any points for that because the Hebrew text does not force the use of the definite article, although it should be theologically obvious. In John 14:26, the New Living Translation completely misses the thought that the Father will send the Holy Spirit “in My name,” in the name of Jesus. At 2 Timothy 2:25, the NLT misses the representing the full meaning of “repent” in the passage. In Acts 2:38, baptism is represented as part of a causal relationship in the receiving of the Holy Spirit, a concept disproved later in Acts, in which Peter meets Gentiles who had received the Holy Spirit without being baptized, and subsequently baptizes them. Mark 1:15 contains too much interpretive gloss to be considered accurate. Although I agree with the interpretation, it goes beyond the text to supply it. This one is translated from the United Bible Societies text, which differs from Nestle-Aland in very few places.
New Revised Standard Version
The New Revised Standard Version goes to prove that, just because a version is formal equivalency, does not automatically mean it is accurate.
The New Revised Standard Version has a problem in John 1:1-4, not in that it attempts to deny the trinity on this point, but in that it attempts to leave the door open for evolution through a twist in the translation and many inserted words not in the Greek text. In Zechariah 12:10, “on Me” has been replaced in the text by “the one,” although the correct translation is footnoted. In Genesis 1:2, the entire concept of the Holy Spirit is removed without justification in the Hebrew text. In Matthew 21:32, it completely skips the notion of repenting in terms of feeling sorry; the actual Greek text here is a lesser form of the word “repent” that means “felt sorry.” In Acts 2:38, NRSV supports baptismal regeneration by changing the word “for” to “so that.”
In Mark 1:4, the National Council of Churches shows its dislike of Baptists by translating “John the Baptist” as “John the baptizer,” which is pretty funny, since “baptizer” is not a word in the English language. It makes you wonder if Presbyterians and Methodists have “pianizers and organizers” playing in their worship services. We won’t dock them for using non-English words, but technically, if they really wanted to change it, they should have rendered it “immerser,” which is what the Greek word really means, though quite an alien concept to their theology.
The NRSV has been carefully crafted to be open to just about any doctrinal position, orthodox or not, matching the position of the churches that produced it.
New World Translation *
Unless you are a cult researcher, you have no use for the New World Translation. I have read most if not all of the New World Translation in my former life as an unwitting unbeliever. Practically none of the essential truths of the Bible could ever be discovered from the New World Translation.
Supposedly translated from the Westcott-Hort Greek Text, in reality none of the four “translators” actually knew Biblical Greek (this was proven in court some years ago). The NWT is actually a doctrinally modified paraphrase, probably of the American Standard Version.
Only Acts 2:38 was translated accurately, and that is only because the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in baptismal regeneration. In Genesis 1:2, “Spirit” is translated “active force.” Neither word present in the text or implied by the meaning. Zechariah 12:10 substitutes “the one whom they pierced” instead of “on Me whom they pierced” to obscure the Trinity. Matthew 21:32 does not indicate a repentant change of mind, only regret. Mark 1:4 inserts an interpretation, not the word of God. Mark 1:15 presents the command to repent as a way of being, not as an action to take. Luke 24:45- 47 replaces “in His name” with “on the basis of his name,” obscuring the sense. John 1:1- 4 has a grammatically impossible rendering of “a god.” John 14:26 depersonalizes the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:48 dispenses with the concept of destiny which is present in the real text. 2 Timothy 2:25 is changed from an acknowledgment of the truth, and introduces a concept of “infavorable disposition” rather than “in opposition.” This is not to mention that the word “Jehovah” is inserted 237 times throughout the New Testament, though not one Greek NT manuscript contains the word.
If you have a copy of the NWT, please do not take this version to a used bookstore to get rid of it. Let its damage stop with you and take a stand against false doctrine by throwing it out yourself.
Today's English Version
The TEV is an only slightly less heretical paraphrase than the Contemporary English Version, which more perfects the heresies espoused by the American and Canadian Bible Societies.
Zechariah 12:10 hides the Trinity by translating "on Me" as "at the one." Like the CEV, John 14:26 is worded to allow an impersonal view of the Holy Spirit. The full meaning of repentance is concealed in Mark 1:15, Matthew 21:32, and 2 Timothy 2:25, depicting repentance as only "turning from sins" and not "turning to God." Mark 1:4 and Acts 2:38 support baptismal regeneration. Only Genesis 1:2, John 1:1-4, and Luke 24:47-49 were actually translated properly. A person reading this trash is not reading the Bible, but is wasting his or her time.
World English Bible
The World English Bible is quite easy to read and yet highly accurate to the original text. It is mainly formal equivalency but uses dynamic equivalency very sparingly and normally with a positive effect. The New Testament text in this case is the Byzantine Majority Text, which in my opinion at least is the best possible text upon which to base a translation of Scripture. A project of Rainbow Missions Inc., the text is copyright-free. Based on the Byzantine Majority Text, the WEB represents the best in both text and translation technique.
I believe I have covered most of the main Bible versions in use today, along with all of the versions available with our Bible Search Utility software. Although I had already carefully evaluated all the versions we use in the BSU for accuracy, I was happy to see that all of them scored 100% in this rather stringent test.
These results show that the very best dynamic equivalency versions constitute at minimum a 10% loss in accuracy, while the average dynamic equivalency version seems to lose about 70-80%, like the TEV and CEV. You must understand the severity of this loss of accuracy. In the CEV, for example, only 1 in 5 verses would be truly accurate to the Word of God.
Therefore, I cannot in good conscience recommend any version that fell below 100% on this test. I will then make this recommendation. If you are really having a hard time understanding a formal equivalency Bible version, I strongly suggest you should try other formal equivalency versions before resorting to dynamic equivalency versions. For example, most people I know find the NKJV very understandable. I know some other people could not understand the NKJV, and switched to the NASB, which they find very understandable. The NASB handles English grammar differently than the NKJV, which attempts to retain a flow like the KJV. The switch from NKJV to NASB constitutes no real loss of accuracy compared to the switch from NKJV to one of the dynamic versions.
Since this article was originally written, the Holman Christian Standard Bible has been released and represents an easy to read alternative to both literal translations and dynamic equivalency in its optimal equivalency technique. While it ties with NIV with a 90% score, we feel it's a bit better than NIV and much better than the more dynamic versions.
I recognize it is very expensive to buy Bibles just to try them, but it is possible to sample most versions online for free using the Bible Gateway.
If you cannot find any formal equivalency translation understandable, please purchase one anyway for comparison with any dynamic equivalency version you decide to use, and make no life-changing decisions unless the formal version firmly supports the dynamic version's interpretation.
Comparing Bible Versions is Copyright © 1999, 2007, 2013 by Compass Distributors