There were a number of Bible translations that didn’t make my list of recommended versions, for a number of different reasons. Most of these are “inclusive language” or “gender-neutral” versions. There are a couple reasons why I would downgrade a translation for that. First, those who are making gender-neutral translations are usually intent on changing the Bible to make it more in-line with contemporary sensibilities. They are trying to “update” the Bible to make it more politically correct. Their view of the scriptures therefore cannot be very high if they are so cavalier about changing the Word of God.
There are certain places in the Bible in which the original manuscripts were written in a “gender-neutral” manner, but English grammar rules have until recently prohibited a more neutral reading. People of an unknown gender were always referred to as “he” until proven otherwise. In those passages where the originals were gender-neutral, I have no objection to their being translated as gender-neutral; in fact, I think that would be right and proper.
But some of these new Bible translators have as their own agenda the removal of masculine language whenever they feel it offends modern sensibilities, whether it was that way in the originals or not. And that clearly means changing the scriptures to fit their own agenda – a definite no-no! Updating the language is necessary. Changing the meaning is dangerous.
An interesting aside to this “gender-neutral” controversy is the fact that when a publisher comes out with an inclusive language Bible, they immediately alienate large numbers of believers from their customer base, unless they try to hide the fact that their new Bible is gender neutral, in which case they will be able to sell to those people only until they become aware that the new Bible is not what they think it is. It’s something serious for a publisher to consider. In fact certain publishers have felt a bit of a backlash against their regular Bibles that are not gender-neutral, because they also publish gender-neutral translations. This tends to give the buyer a feeling that they’re only in it to make money and don’t really care about whether or not they are giving their customers the real Word of God. They are now dealing with the perception of a breach of trust.
The New Living Translation is a gender-neutral translation that has been around for a number of years now. In fact, it’s been around long enough that Tyndale has actually brought out a revised version of it, often referred to as the NLT2. The original NLT was more of a paraphrase; the NLT2 is less a paraphrase and more of an accurate, word-for-word translation, but it’s still more of a paraphrase than I would like, and more of a paraphrase than I think serious Bible students should be willing to accept, especially as a one-and-only Bible. The NLT is available in the Life Application Study Bible, in fact it is the main translation for that study Bible, and that should make it a more acceptable version for many people. But the Life Application SB is also available in other translations as well, like the NIV and NASB, so why buy the NLT version? Then again, maybe that study Bible isn’t worth too much anyway. There are better translations and better Study Bibles. I’d just stay away from them both.
The New Revised Standard Version is another gender-neutral translation that has been around for quite a while, since the early 1990s. This is the main translation for many so-called mainline denominations. It’s unique, in that it’s quite an accurate, word-for-word translation; though, in my opinion it is a rather muddy version because in a number of places the translators made what most evangelical believers would consider to be incorrect choices in translating, and yet it is extremely gender-neutral. The problem is that the NRSV is sponsored by the extremely liberal National Council of Churches (NCC), which insisted that their liberal theological guidelines be followed strictly, and also that the language be as inclusive as possible whether or not it was accurate. A careful reading of the introduction to the translation shows this very clearly. Their liberal agenda is all-important to them, and the accuracy of the scriptures is only of secondary importance. So because of this, I do not use this version myself, and I cannot in good conscience recommend it to anybody.
Another one that didn’t quite make it is the Good News Translation (GNT), previously known as Today’s English Version, the Good News Bible, and Good News for Modern Man. (Did I forget any?) Yeah, you remember it, don’t you? It’s that gray paperback with the stick-figure drawings inside that was all the rage among the newly re-born young believers back in the late-60s and early-70s. It was the first easy-to-read Bible that was marketed to young people, and many of us just loved it! Well, it’s still around. In fact, I think you can still get that gray paperback, if you really want it.
A few months ago I took just such an old, gray Good News paperback and was reading in it, and I was surprised how similar it was to the older, word-for-word translations that were still so common back then. And we thought it was so new and different!
Well, since they made that old version, they have updated it, probably a couple times as they changed the name, too. It is now as rabidly gender-neutral as any of them, and as “easy-to-read” as any of them as well. The problem with the “easy-to-read” part is that there is a strong tendency on the part of many of these translators to “dumb-it-down”, trying to make it so any person can pick it up and read it and understand it, but in the process missing nuances and injecting their own interpretation into the text. (If God wanted us to easily understand the Bible, He would have given it directly to everybody in their own native language and left out the difficult concepts. Thank God He didn’t!)
This is the Bible my church gave to my daughter when she was in third grade. I’m really quite happy that she lost it, and I have given her a better translation. The old Good News for Modern Man version was much better.
There are a couple other translations with which I am simply not familiar enough to rate or recommend. They are the Contemporary English Version (CEV) and the New Century Version (NCV). Neither one is on many people’s radar screens as of yet. I believe the NCV made it onto the ten best sellers list a couple months ago, then promptly dropped off again. I know the NCV is published by Thomas Nelson, but I can’t honestly say if it’s gender-neutral or not. I did a little reading in it a few days ago, and was impressed a little; it seemed to be a scholarly translation, along the lines of the NIV or the HCSB. I know less about the CEV, except that I do know it’s gender-neutral, and when I read it, it seemed to be so easy to read that it was over-simplified, and I quickly found I was completely missing nuances that I know are there in the originals.
Now. Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Normally I wouldn’t even mention it, but unfortunately it’s such a big seller I feel I must address this non-Bible. The Message is to contemporary Bible translation as the Living Bible was to Bibles back in the 60s. Both were amazing paraphrases (amazing because they still market themselves as Bibles!) and they both are the product of single translators rather than a committee. As I said, this “Bible” is a paraphrase. It is far different than an actual Bible. It is not the Word of God. It kinda sorta tells you what a real Bible says…in different words! If you want one, think it over a few times, don’t jump right into it. And whatever you do, don’t use it as your one-and-only Bible! Just use it as a supplement to help you understand what a real Bible says, and even then, remember that it’s just one man’s interpretation you’re dealing with.
Finally, there is a Bible I must also mention, because it’s frequently the number-one best-selling English Bible on the market, and that’s the venerable old King James Version. The KJV was an excellent, even outstanding, translation…for its time! But this is no longer its time. Ye Olde English is simply not the way we talk today, and even more importantly, most people don’t even understand it. Plus, the manuscripts upon which the KJV is based are now proven to be of lesser quality than the more recently discovered manuscripts which most newer translations are now based upon. Now I know that there are many brothers and sisters out there who seriously use and love the King James Bible. And if you are one of them, please, continue to use it and enjoy it. But for most new believers and even Bible scholars today, it simply doesn’t work any more. If anybody wants to have a KJV, that’s fine, just keep a few newer translations on hand for comparison’s sake. You might be surprised at how a newer translation will turn on the light in your mind, and you’ll find yourself actually understanding what you read!