3 Reasons Preachers Shouldn’t Publicly Contradict a Bible Translation

Sometimes you don't have a choice

Nowadays, we are not all bringing our Scofield KJV Reference Bibles into church. When I get up to teach I am keenly aware that there are multiple versions sitting in the laps of my listeners. If you are exegetical and make points based on the wording of the text, then you need to know when that point may not come across so readily in another version.  I often find myself in a situation where I need to explain differences in translation choices and why I believe one to be better than another.  It’s not that I’m trying to set myself up as superior to someone who had dedicated their life to Bible translation – it’s that there are competing options advocated by equally competent translators and I’m faced with evaluating both.

I honestly try hard not to bash other legitimate translations. The fact of the matter is that I’ve been in churches where the KJV is main version and some where the NKJV or ESV is the main version – and sometimes the wording in another translation is superior to that of the main church version.  There have been times when I have argued for the KJV reading over that of the ESV and vice versa.

The point is that we are well past the time of tip toeing around the issue.  I think it is better to be forthright about differences in texts, translations, and lay the evidence before your hearers just like you would if you are dealing with a difficult interpretation.  Be humble and show the strengths and weaknesses of both positions. Sometimes a system will direct you one way or another regarding a particular interpretation and sometimes your theory of textual criticism will direct where you land regarding translation choices.  I still contend that the biggest danger is not in making errors with text/translations (assuming non-heretical translation choices)  but in our interpretations.

Good Points

My church has no standard translation. This is the first time I've ever been in that situation. When I teach Sunday School, people have NIV, NASB, ESV, NET, KJV, NKJV. Things are all over the map. That is neat for me, because I translate the passage I'm teaching myself anyway, so I don't particularly care which translation they use. And, it's fun to highlight the different nuances in the different translational choices (e.g. "genuine, pure milk" or "spiritual milk"; 1 Pet 2:2?), because they're reflected in the diferent versions the people in front of me have! But, there are times when it is clear to me that some decisions by some translators are better than others.

This past Sunday, for example, I had to explain to people why half of them had "sincere/genuine milk of the word" (1 Pet 2:2) and other translations completely omitted the phrase "of the word." The answer is that "of the word" is not in the Greek; the translators assumed ​it was referring to Scripture. It might not have been. To add to it, the KJV and NASB don't put that bit in italics, t indicate it's an addition to the text. So, I'm in a tough spot.

I chose to strongly criticize those translations that didn't put it in italics, because they made a terrible mistake. They led English readers to assume Peter was referring to Scripture, when he may have been referring to Christ. The Greek doesn't say "of the word." Peter left it open-ended. Some people (like me) were misled their entire lives because of that translational decision.

But, generally, we shouldn't heap scorn and ridicule on translations. Most people who do this don't translate their own passages, and likely don't retain much (if any) of their NT Greek skills. If they did either of these, they wouldn't dare sit in judgment on a translation, because they'd realize how hard it really is. As Mark Ward suggested, if there is a difference of opinion, you can always point them to another version that gives the nuance you think is best. It stops them from relying on you, the Greek Ninja, as the final authority on everything. There are a lot of good translations out there, People should compare them more often.

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

No heap and scorn, but...

....I'm 100% fine with a preacher or teacher going to Kittel or whatever and noting the particular nuance of a given word that can't be translated accurately.  For example, is 2 Cor. 2:17 referring to those who peddle, or corrupt, the Word of God?  (answer; the word means peddle, but came to indicate corruption, caveat emptor and all that, so either is justifiable)

And per Tyler's note, I get really uneasy when a sermon really relies on the wording of one translation--I've even seen teachers (not accusing you, Andy) do a fair amount of "translation shopping" to shoehorn their message into the Scripture, when of course the process should go in the reverse direction.  

As I read the article, I

As I read the article, I understand the author to really be saying: It's not that we can't express a disagreement with a translation choice of the text in front of us (or in front of our people), but it's how we go about doing that that makes all the difference. Do it carefully and with nuance and humility.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Agreed with Greg

There is a nice middle ground between passive acceptance of people whose work simply isn't up to snuff, and being an attack dog rabidly assaulting those whose work is good.  Unfortunately, I've seen a lot of both extremes in my day. 

Is it common for pastors (at least outside the KJVO movements) to be bad-mouthing translation choices?

The familiar "pisseth against the wall"

As in 1 Samuel 25 (KJV)

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1samuel25:22;1samuel25:34&v...

Has value: 

Contrast the ESV, NIV, NASB, NKJV: "his men, any male", et cetera

Point: a very crude word for men ... as many are aware of crude words for females

Adds intensity to David's anger that's missing with modern "toned down" versions

Interesting: My Bible study with my wife and sister today

The point of this is that all of these versions are valuable.

Greg Nails It; Bert Asks Key Question; & Tyler: Read My Book =)

Bert wrote:

Is it common for pastors (at least outside the KJVO movements) to be bad-mouthing translation choices?

This is a valid question, and I'm interested to hear what others think. In my experience, it isn't just the KJV-Only folks who harshly criticize other translations. It's conservative, exegetically minded preachers who deeply care about the wording of the text—like I do! In our zeal to get the truth across, we can sometimes forget that our people aren't as motivated or equipped as we are in their Bible study. When a pastor blasts away censoriously at N.T. Wright, he's up in a theological stratosphere 99% of his people (or more) will never touch, and he's doing comparatively little harm (as long as he has good theological heroes he is promoting). His people will all think, "Well, there's a book I wasn't going to read anyway because I'd never heard of it, but now I'm doubly not going to read it." But when a pastor blasts away at the CSB or the TNIV or the NIV, he's knocking down his people's trust in resources that really could help them. Two negative references or less and I think they'll conclude, "Why bother with these flawed translations?"

Tyler, fellow Washingtonian whom I hope to meet in person, I'm not as sanguine about the use of italics in Bible translations. I've got some thoughts on that in my new book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, coming out with Lexham late this year or early next. Smile

And Greg Long nailed it:

It's not that we can't express a disagreement with a translation choice of the text in front of us (or in front of our people), but it's how we go about doing that that makes all the difference. Do it carefully and with nuance and humility.

Mark L. Ward, Jr., Ph.D.
Logos Pro • Faithlife

Translations

Mark - yes, I saw your book in Lexham's catalog. Whoever does their cover art needs a big raise. Beautiful stuff, for all books in the catalog.

I'm planning to take a few minutes and talk about translations this coming Sunday School. We had a big difference of opinion this past Sunday on the "of the word" thing from 1 Peter 2:2. Some people were genuinely confused by it. I tried to help by asking people with the phrase in their translations to raise their hands, and people without to do the same. I tried to emphasize that it is an interpretive issue, and there is nothing sinister happening. Some folks were still a bit confused.

To make matters worse, some translations render the first-class conditional in 1 Pet 2:3 as an open question (e.g. "if, that is, you've actually tasted that the Lord is good) and others render it as a statement of fact (e.g. "since you have now tasted . . ."). I didn't bring this up; a confused church member did. Again, I asked folks with either option in their translations to raise their hands. I explained you coud legitimately render it either way, but that I preferred to translate it as an open question.

I didn't have enough time to explain further. I've mentioned this in Sunday School before, but I really think people need to compare different English bible versions. It really helps. Any ambiguity in Greek will be reflected in subtle differences in various Bible translations. They don't need to know Greek; they just need to compare some good translations. Hopefully, this will help some folks this coming Sunday.

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

this

TylerR wrote:

They don't need to know Greek; they just need to compare some good translations. Hopefully, this will help some folks this coming Sunday.

Very important point. I recall over thirty years ago hearing an evangelist say, "You can't see it in the English, but it's there in the Greek." If he had said it once, I might have cut him some slack. But he said it several times per message, all week long... one guy came to me afterwards and said, "Boy, I guess I really need to learn Greek." No, no, no! Just read your Bible and use the many good English helps (including multiple translations) and you will be fine!

I don't remember the guys name, I am sure no one here would know him even if I did. I thought he hindered his own ministry by repeatedly making that statement.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Agree with Tyler

Translation issues can be super tricky, particularly when in a give-and-take environment like an adult Sunday School class.  Whenever I start a new class or new series, I make a point to say what translation I will teach from, and it is fairly often that I will note if a different translation has a particular nuance or rendering that I find especially helpful.  About a year ago, I was teaching through Habakkuk and I was halfway through chapter 2, when I noticed the LXX rendering of 2:5 ("indeed, wealth betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest"), which I think is far better than the more common rendering ("indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest" ESV), so I went back and covered that.  

Personally, I just don't see the one off reference to wine in v. 5 making sense in a passage that is primarily dealing with the Babylonians' greed and covetousness for material gain.

I try to encourage others to use whatever versions they are comfortable with and definitely avoid saying anything that would demean a particular translation unless it was a dire situation, but I really don't think that would be common with any of the major translations on the market today.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Here's the Problem

When a preacher says or implies something like what Jay said:

"which I think is far better than the more common rendering"

is that some members of your audience will consider what you "think" about the text as simply your opinion and that their opinion is just as valid as yours. Some people also don't take well to opinions and speculations in the preaching they hear.

I say this because I've seen this happen as a preacher and also done it as a listener.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

@Ron

When a preacher says or implies something like what Jay said:

"which I think is far better than the more common rendering"

is that some members of your audience will consider what you "think" about the text as simply your opinion and that their opinion is just as valid as yours. Some people also don't take well to opinions and speculations in the preaching they hear.

Fair enough.  How would you handle an issue like that in a message or Sunday School class?  I do try to present evidence for both sides, I presented it as my opinon, and told people up front that I'm generally not comfortable disagreeing with the usual textual manuscript renderings but this was a very rare exception.

I'm seriously interested in presenting this kind of thing better if I can do so, so feedback would be helpful.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

@ Jay

I purposefully try to avoid phrases like "I think"  when I'm preaching. If there are alternate renderings of a text that don't change the meaning and intent of the text, I just let it go. I've changed since the day I waxed eloquent of "spider" vs. "lizard" in Proverbs 20:38 to the profit of no one and the confusion of many. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

On Bible Translations

Here is what I briefly spoke about yesterday during Sunday School, at my church, regarding different Bible translations, yesterday. I expanded it into this article.

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.


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