In the movie “Oliver!” we hear old Mr. Fagin sing a song that goes, “I’m reviewing…the situation…” While I don’t consider myself a “bad one” who is a “bad one all his life”, at this point I really am reviewing the situation. For a number of years I have championed easier-to-read Bible translations. I have especially prided myself in finding the translations that were able to combine literal accuracy with readability, and that finally led me, first to the NIV 1984, then the TNIV, and now to the new NIV 2011.
But over the last few days I have spent time reading Paul’s shorter letters, especially his letters to Timothy. And I saw something that disturbed me. It’s not something that would keep me from recommending the NIV clones, especially to younger people and people who are beginners in their walk with the Lord, but it’s something that bothers ME as a Bible scholar of many years, and that is, the herky-jerky short, choppy sentences that so often happen when the long, drawn out thought lines/sentences that Paul tends to write are cut up to please modern sensibilities and writing styles. I complained about this in the NLT and some other translations, and sadly I find myself now complaining about it in the NIV.
I never really noticed it in the old NIV. Perhaps I didn’t read 1 and 2 Timothy from that translation very often. But in reading from my newest, latest NIV I found it really bothersome, so today I compared it with the 1984 NIV, and found much the same choppiness was there in the older version as well, though not quite to the same extent. The Committee on Bible Translation did a little more revising in this passage for the 2011 revision.
I don’t understand it. These same sentences, with such beautiful, long, flowing thought lines in older and more literal translations, are now chopped up into short, jerky sentences in the NIV. Do the translators think today’s reader can’t follow such long, meandering thoughts? Well, maybe they’re right, but I don’t like it, and I’m not going to like it. (Don’t cut my steak up for me; I’ll cut it up and chew it myself!)
The problem could be my age. When I was a kid, there were precious few Bible translations available to the common people. All I remember early on were the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version. I’m sure there were a few of the old American Standard Version floating around, but that was about it for the first fifteen years of my life. So those are my earliest recollections of what the Bible is — the KJV or the RSV. As my family went to the Methodist Church, in third grade I was given an RSV. That was my Bible, and it was the same one that was used in the church.
Somewhere in the ’60s I started hearing talk about something called the Living Bible, though I don’t recall ever seeing one back then, or hearing it read. By the time I graduated from high school in 1971 there was something new called the New English Bible. I got one, and from then on I was hooked on new translations. Today we have a myriad of English Bible translations to choose from, and I think it’s a blessing and a curse. One bad effect I see from it is that many old, but good, translations are pretty much ignored as people go for the newest, the latest.
And so, as I have become frustrated with things like I just wrote about above, I feel like I want to fall back on an older translation for my own use. I know some of you readers might aim me towards certain more recent translations that are of a more formal type, like the ESV, or the NRSV, or the NASB. And I have considered them all very carefully. I may yet choose one of those. But right now I am reconsidering another, often ignored, slightly older translation — the New King James Version.
The NKJV is copyright 1982, so it’s not old, by any means. But by the standards of today’s Bible translations it’s ancient! Yes, a lot of the language tends to be a bit archaic. But still it’s lacking the “thees” and “thous” that were so common in Bibles only slightly older, like the 1977 NASB and the RSV. Even so, its reading level seems to be a bit above most of today’s translations. But when I read in the NKJV, I find it comfortable. It’s probably just a product of my age, because it’s more of what I’m used to, more of what I grew up with. It’s comfortable like coming home from school on a cold, blustery late autumn day to find my mom baking bread, and I come in the door and there’s a fresh, hot slice with butter melting over it just waiting for me to sink my teeth into it. Now that’s comfort, and as far as I’m concerned that’s a good thing. Of course we need to get out of our comfort zone at times, but isn’t it a good thing to be comfortable with the Bible? As a believer and a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, I think I should be comfortable with His written Word, though I know I can expect it to make me supremely uncomfortable at times.
You are probably aware of my biggest objection to the NKJV, that being its textual basis, which is the same as the old King James Version. But seriously, how often does that become a problem? I can only remember one time in the years I was using the NKJV in my teaching that anyone asked about why my Bible was different from their NIV, why mine had a few words and phrases that are not in the NIV they were using. And it didn’t turn into a problem, rather it became a teaching opportunity in regards to Bible translation. And what doctrine is affected by the extra words in the NKJV? Nothing.
So I am seriously considering using the NKJV as my main translation again. I do need to replace the one I have; I’d like to get something a bit more comfortable to carry to church than the big ol’ giant print one I’m using now, and Nelson and Holman have some very nice genuine leather and “leathersoft” covers available right now.
Anyway, I’ll probably give you more updates on my experiences with the NKJV as I use it over the coming weeks and months (and maybe years.)