Q. What Bible translation do you use or what do you recommend? Does it matter? There are so many I can't figure out which is closest to the original texts.
Your questions are terrific. Rephrasing your question another way, which Bible translation is closest to what God inspired in the Old Testament Hebrew Bible, or in the New Testament Greek Bible texts?
This question forms the basis of numerous books in Christian bookstores. But, in order to keep this simple and short (and admit to our own limitations), let's condense the facts into just a few pages.
Two Great Collections:
There are for the most part two great collections, or libraries, of ancient texts which comprise the foundations of the English Bibles that we buy at retail stores.
The first collection evolved from writings which found their way into the eastern churches. These were called Byzantine texts. Byzantium, in modern day Turkey, became a major center for Christianity early on. This is where the Eastern Orthodox Church flourished.
The second collection of texts evolved from early Christian writings centered in Alexandria, Egypt, called the Alexandrian texts. Alexandria was a center of Gnosticism, (like Ashland, Oregon is a center of New Age beliefs).
KJV - NKJV
1. Byzantine texts were the basis of our KJV&NKJV versions. The Byzantine texts, (AKA Stephanus, 1550 A.D. Greek Text), eventually became the basis for the Majority Text and the Textus Receptus (TR) manuscripts. These were the texts used in making the King James and New King James versions. There were almost 5,200 physical copies of texts which formed the Majority Text. That's why it's called the "majority" text, or MT.
NASB, NIV, ESV
2. Alexandrian texts formed the foundation of the NASB, ESV, HCSB, NIV, NLT and other modern translations: The Egyptian texts (AKA Nestle-Aland/United Bible Soc. Text or NU), later became part of the texts used for almost all modern Bible versions. There weren't many physical copies of texts which made up this group of manuscripts, just a handful. The Alexandrian collection is older than the Byzantine collection. For some - older means "better."
What is the difference between these two collections or libraries, and is it really that important? Should I own and use a King James, or an NASB or NIV?
The answer may prove unexciting. We should own and use both texts.
A major difference between the two great collections is that one is shorter and leaves out a significant amount of information. Some of that information is centered on the person and identity of Jesus Christ, his purposeful death on the cross, and His deity, and this bothers a few scholars.
The Alexandrian collection is shorter than the Byzantine. In fact, if you add up all the verses left out, it is about 10 pages shorter. Early church scribes knew about, but ignored the Alexandrian collection with its shortened versions. They favored the Byzantine texts. The Byzantine texts were used so often that more copies were needed. Thus, copies were made more frequently and are dated later.
Yet, since the 1800s Bible scholars began ignoring the Byzantine collection and began using the Alexandrian collection as the basis for making their modern translations. That neglect is one of the reasons why the King James Version remained in old English (except for the New King James Version, of course).
We are told not to fuss over the differences between the Byzantine and Alexandrian texts. We are told these differences are meaningless. Are they? It's a matter of opinion, I suppose. However, we feel that matters of Christ's identity, His substitutionary death, and redemptive powers, for example, are crucial. If these verses were added later they don't conflict with our shorter texts. Yet, if they were ommitted early on, "messing around" with sacred texts wouldn't be a good idea.
Egyptian Texts Favored by Scholars
The Anglican Duo: Westcott&Hort:
For over a hundred years, scholars have favored the Egyptian texts and relied upon the fashionable and skeptical scholarship of two, liberal Anglican scholars who preferred the Alexandrian collection. In the late 1800s, Mr. Westcott and Mr. Hort theorized that shorter texts and older texts were more accurate. They ignored the possibility that the Byzantine texts were favored and used more often. They made lots of arbitrary rules like that. In fact, we now suspect that they sought "fame" by using previously unpopular Egyptian texts rather than the standard Byzantine collections. At the time, this was a "novel" idea.
Later, Wescott and Hort put together their own Greek text for translators to work from. However, they were known to be irreverent in their attitudes about cherished Christian doctrines such as Christ's substitutionary death, and Biblical inerrancy. They made numerous "haughty" comments about traditional Christian beliefs. Furthermore, Westcott dabbled in "Spiritism," according to his son.
As Dr. Missler points out in this regard, "would you want these two men to teach Sunday School to your children? No? So, why would we trust their supposed 'scholarship,' either?"
Unfortunately, as scholars gravitated toward liberal theology they continued to teach from an evolved form of Westcott's and Hort's Greek manuscripts and rules. No one wants to be ridiculed or called "simplistic," especially professors. So, teachers in seminaries passed on Westcott's and Hort's rules for evaluating ancient texts without challenging their assumptions. These rules contributed to the "Higher Critical Method." Liberal scholars continued using these rules and methods, focusing mainly on the Greek texts which evolved from Westcott's and Hort's work, later called the "Critical Text."
Therefore, we call these scholars "snip and paste" scholars because they accepted the "shortened" or "mutilated" texts of the Alexandrian collection without challenging the theological or Christological foundations upon which they were based. (See 1 below).
Our concern is that Westcott's and Hort's personal beliefs may have affected the rendering of their interpretations. Personal bias is a problem for most people, but when personal beliefs may confuse the identity of Jesus, we recommend that a serious Christian take the precaution of reading and studying bibles that represent both the Byzantine and Alexandrian collections.
However, please note that we are not "King James Only" folk. We do hold that the Byzantine Manuscripts have gotten a "bum rap" and have been unjustly ignored for the past 200 years - that's all.
A New Look at Old Things:
Within this last decade, some scholars have begun to question the assumptions that older texts and shorter texts are superior to or better than the Byzantine texts.
First, the Alexandrian texts had developed in a part of the world that was heavily influenced by Gnosticism (which has become popular again.)
As we have previously stated, Alexandria was a center for Gnosticism, In fact, an early church father, Irenaeus, complained that some people from this area were mutilating and shortening the Scriptures. Hmmm… Therefore, texts from this area should be treated with more skepticism and caution, don't you think?
It is interesting that the rebirth of Gnosticism in our modern world happens to correspond with the dominance of the Alexandrian texts in modern translations and liberal Theology! Do you think that there is a connection? Hmmm…could be…
Furthermore, in 150 A.D. Irenaeus quoted from Bible verses that modern, liberal scholars said had been added to the New Testament in 400 A.D. (That would be tricky - for Irenaeus to quote from verses added 250 years after he died)! Hmmm…again…
Early Dated Fragment
In 1996 some New Testament fragments dated with modern methods were shown to have been written as early as 60 A.D. Incredibly, these fragments most closely followed the wording from the Byzantine collection and not the Alexandrian. This new dating is probably the earliest of any New Testament text. It is called the Magdalen Papyrus.
Here is an oddity as well. The texts which work best with Bible code research are those which are closest to the TR and MT (manuscripts used in KJV and NKJV). Code researchers use the Old Testament Masoretic text, specifically the koren Hebrew text published in Jerusalem in 1962. There are others, but this one works best. In the New Testament the Aramaic, Jacobite Peshitto works best for N.T. Bible codes research. Both the koren and Peshitto texts are most similar to the Textus Receptus and Majority Text behind the KJV and the NKJV.
It doesn't matter to us if people believe in or don't believe in Bible codes. The fact that these particular texts work best in intricate, computer research programs is compelling. The odds are in the trillions that some of these Bible codes are there by chance - there are, for example, over 1,600 hidden codes from Isaiah 53 alone. I believe the possibility that Bible codes may one day be used to authenticate which texts are closest to being inspired by God, is fascinating speculation.
For the above reasons and more, we suggest that Christians own at least one copy of the King James or New King James versions in their libraries. These versions are based upon the Byzantine Collection.
We also recommend that Christians own and use a modern translation based upon the Alexandrian Collection, like the New American Standard (NASB). A quality study Bible such as the NASB Ryrie Study Bible is quite good. Other translations such as the NIV (Zondervan), are good, but are so close to the NASB that the differences are not worth the addional expense in my opinion. Furthermore, they tend to be a little more inconsistent.
The English Standard Version (ESV, Crossway Books), makes some use of various collections and is a good alternative to the NASB. They developed an excellent cross-reference system. But, we still recommend you have a copy of the King James or NKJV, too.
What do we use? - many translations! Our church uses the NASB, so we have several copies for church use. We also use the MacArthur Study Bible NKJV for its wonderful notes. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), is filled with accurate renderings which should prove popular to serious bible students in years to come. You have many wonderful choices.
Tip - Use what your pastor Recommends
On a practical note, we find that many people who take the Bible seriously become frustrated when they go to church or a Bible study, because they cannot follow the reading of God's word. Their pastor or Bible teacher may be using a different translation.
Many students simply listen to what is read and do not read their own Bibles. This is especially true of people who have a difficult time reading to begin with. Many people cannot read as well as their teachers may think.
It is important for you to follow in your Bible what the teacher is reading. Why? Because you will learn to read better, and you will absorb the teaching more completely. For this reason, we recommend that you use the same translation that your pastor uses. But, be aware that when you study the Bible there are some real differences in translations.
Join or Start a Bible Study
Our strongest suggestion is that you get serious about studying your Bible! Join a small, home Bible-Study group in your area. If there are none then start one yourself. Don't hesitate to contact us if you need help in doing this.
Works Cited&Recommended Reading:
Missler, Chuck. 2005. How we got our Bible.How to Study the Bible. Coeur d'Alene, ID: Koinonia House
Dewey, David. 2004. A User's Guide to Bible Translations. Downer's Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press
Jones, Floyd Nolen. 2004. Which Version is the Bible? Woodlands, TX: Kings Word Press
Ryken, Leland. 2002. The Word of God in English. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway
Thomas, Robert. 2000. How To Choose a Bible Version. Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications
Valorie Emilio completed her BA in History at CSULB and holds an MA in History from UCLA having specialized in early church history. She is a contributing Editor to the Remnant Report.
Ken Emilio is a contributing Editor for Remnant Report. His work in technical writing is extensive. He is a graduate of California State University Long Beach and holds an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University. His business career spans 30 years as the CEO of several companies specializing in chemical engineering and environmental consulting.