Today’s Bible reading includes one of the most memorized verses in the Bible. It’s a verse that so many people have loved and quoted. And it’s a verse that was only recently translated into English the way it was intended. WHAT????
Now, before I go any further, hear me out: I believe that God’s people can hear God’s voice in any translation of the Bible they can read or hear. I also believe that Believers should use translations that most closely uses words the way we do in common, everyday life. Language changes. Word usage changes. When God spoke and men wrote the Bible, they recorded it in the common, everyday language. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic. The New Testament was originally written in Koine (pronounced KOY-nay) Greek. In other words, God wanted ordinary people to be albe to hear Him in their common, everyday language. For this reason, I discourage using translations from several hundred years ago and recommend using translations from the past 50 years. The more recent, generally speaking, the better.
Most of us memorized the verse from the King James Version. The KJV was translated in 1611 so that the people of the day could understand it in their common, everyday language. The KJV translators recognized that as language changes, translations would need to be updated. As modern translators came to the famous verse, they mainly kept the wording the same, and updated “whosoever” to “whoever”, “believeth” to “believe”, and “everlasting” to “eternal”.
I have heard preachers say that the verse says, “God loved the world SO MUCH….” The implication — and many preachers have spelled it out in so many words — is that the world was worth so much, that God sent Jesus. But that isn’t what Jesus said!
I feel that the Christian Standard Bible brings out the best meaning with its translation. And it’s the first translation to translate it, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (CSB) The Greek word translated in the CSB as in this way could also be translated thus/thusly or therefore. But in this way sounds better to our 21st Century ears than thus or thusly.
Jesus didn’t say that “God loved the world SO MUCH that He sent His Son.” Instead, Jesus said, “God loved the world by sending His Son.” It seems such a small difference, right? Paul said it this way, “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (CSB)
No, Jesus doesn’t say that the world was worth SO MUCH that His Father sent His Son. Rather, He says that our sin was SO GREAT because it was against a GREAT GOD that it took Jesus’ death to appease the Father’s wrath. The difference between those two statements is staggering. One statement places the higher value on the world. The other statement places the higher value on God.
Too often, we’ve misplaced the emphasis of the Gospel on mankind. But mankind isn’t the central focus of the Gospel. God is! And unless we see God is the center of the Gospel, we won’t see the enormity of the bad news for lost people in light of their sin against a Holy God.
And thus, we’ll miss the corresponding enormity of the Good News that the Gospel brings.
Do you have a modern Bible? Can you understand it as easily as you do a newspaper, magazine, or book? In other words, was it translated in your lifetime? If not, there are lots of resources on the Internet that will let you read the Bible in lots of different translations. Normally, I recommend the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) and the English Standard Version (ESV). Check out Bible.com for a free downloadable Bible app (iOS, Android, etc.) that includes lots of English translations.
A recent Facebook discussion centered on the question of which Bible translation we should use. Specifically, the question was, “Which is better, KJV or NKJV?”
Some of the respondents commented that their pastor or some other leader had recommended (or insisted) that he should use the KJV.
Here’s my response with a few clarifications.
The way I approach this topic is to consider that when God spoke to the people in the Bible – both Old Testament and New Testament – He spoke in the language of common, ordinary people of the day: Hebrew, Aramaic, and KOINE Greek. I highlighted Koine because Attic (“Classical”) Greek had been replaced by this new “common” Greek. Latin was spoken by the more educated people, mainly in Rome. But the common, ordinary people of the area of modern-day Israel spoke Koine Greek.
Given that fact, wouldn’t it be in our best interest to use the best manuscripts available to produce, read, and study God’s Word today?
And given that fact, wouldn’t it be in our best interest to read and study God’s Word as translated into the common vernacular used today?
So where does that leave us?
If you can’t read the original languages (which, contrary to KJV-Only proponents is not late 16th/early 17th Century English), then American adults are BEST served with a translation along the lines of the CSB which does a really good job of balancing formal equivalence (“literal”, word-for-word) and functional equivalence (thought-for-thought) in translation. American teens may be best served by the NLT, which uses a more functional equivalence translation philosophy.
Assuming you can’t read the original languages and you’re studying the Bible, perhaps it’s better to use something along the lines of the ESV alongside the CSB.
Having said that, let me state unequivocally that I believe that any believer can hear God’s voice in any language he/she can speak.
A very long time ago, I read something that still resonates to me about which translation is the best: The best translation is the one that you’ll read, study and apply to your life. (Unfortunately, I don’t remember who said it)
For an “academic” answer to your question, I’m an inerrantist. I take it at face value as I read it, trying to take into account the author’s original message to the original audience in the original historical context in the genre it was written. And – not wanting to get into a translation debate – this requires that you use a modern language translation if you don’t know the original languages.
History (much of the OT, the Gospels and Acts) describes what happened.
Didactic (teaching like we find in the NT epistles) prescribes how things are supposed to happen.
Poetry (Psalms) uses imagery and figures of speach.
Apocalyptic (parts of Daniel and Revelation) uses very picturesque language and more figures of speech.
We can easily run into problems when we read an apocalyptic or history passage through a didactic lens. Taking into account the context (historical, culture, and genre) — as best as possible – will give us a proper theological framework to understand the passage in question.
Having said all of this, you don’t have to be an academicians, have a bunch of advanced degrees, and be fluent in the original languages to get the message God wants you to hear.
Adding to what [another commenter] said above, read [the Bible] as a love letter from a holy, merciful, just, gracious God Who relentlessly pursues His people in covenant.
A friend posted a video on Facebook yesterday showing John Piper’s recommendations regarding using a contemporary English translation of the Bible. As the video played, captions appeared (with many misspellings), attempting to rebut Piper’s comments in real-time. I am not providing a link to the video simply because it isn’t worth glorifying by linking to it.
Below is my response to my friend and to her Facebook friends. It is a long post. On this website, I will welcome comments for a few days, but I will only post comments if they are respectful of everyone involved in the debate.
Regarding the person/persons who added the captions… their knowledge of the CENTRAL issue at hand is no more accurate than the spelling in their captions! (There are other peripheral issues regarding the KJV, but I am withholding my remarks because they aren’t the CENTRAL issue at hand and I don’t want anyone to get distracted from the CENTRAL issue).
Yes, the Biblical writers DID IN FACT use the common language of the day (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) to record what God said — in the common language at the time.
(Note: An additional note to my original Facebook response:
Example: Moses didn’t record the Exodus in Egyptian Hieroglyphics (even though, growing up in Pharoah’s house, he would have been very capable of doing so]. Instead, he recorded the Exodus of God’s people in the language that they would understand.)
The reason William Tyndale was burned at the stake (in 1536), and one of the many reasons Martin Luther was in so much hot water: attempting to get the Word of God *back* into the hands of normal, everyday people so they could understand it in the common language of the day.
The very fact that the KJV was even translated in the first place (1611) was to GET THE WORD OF GOD INTO THE COMMON LANGUAGE OF THE DAY!
The KJV was not the first English translation. As far as I can tell, many of the previous (partial eg, Psalms, the Gospels) English translations were translated from the Latin Vulgate (which itself was translated from the original languages in order to GET THE WORD OF GOD INTO THE COMMON LANGUAGE OF THE DAY.
The KJV was a revision to Tyndale’s works (published from 1494–1536) and Bishops Bible (1568 which was revised in 1572; the 1602 edition of the Bishop’s Bible was prescribed as the base text for the King James Version.
The translators of the KJV recognized the limitations of their work and acknowledged that as language changes, English translations would need to be updated accordingly.
The bottom line: The KJV-Only proponents are not consistent in their argument for the legitimacy of KJV-Only.
As I have told people in churches where I have served, if you normally speak (fluently) only in 17th Century Elizabethan English, by all means, use the KJV! Otherwise, use a good modern-day translation in your first language, which for most of us is mid-to-late 20th to early 21st Century English.
The CENTRAL issue at hand is “How does God speak? How did He originally intend to speak?” When God breathed out His Word (2Tim 3:16), He did so in the language of the hearers in their contemporary dialect. And if they had God’s Word in their contemporary language, so should we.
We need to have the most understandable translation of the Bible in our native language so we can
1) understand it,
2) study it,
3) meditate on it, and
4) apply it to your daily life. (2Tim 3:17)
So, what’s your take on this issue? Do you believe the King James translation (translated in 1611) is the only legitimate for Christians today? If so, please state your case.
Yes, this is a very provocative title, and an interesting and informative read by Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition. (If you know me, you know that I reject both of these views on the grounds of Biblical Theology.)