It definitely is not easy to choose which Bible translation to implement for personal use. Around 1980 I started using the KJV, and at about 1983 I changed to the NIV, while using the KJV as a backup. In 1985 I started Bible school. In my second year we started with Greek, and in that year we covered Greek I, II and III. My average for these 3 Greek modules was 96%. That is not to brag, just to state a fact. Since then I haven’t really kept it up, and so my knowledge of Greek isn’t like it was back then. (I have recently started working through Bill Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek.) During that year, one of our modules was 1 Corinthians, and the lecturer for that used the NASB. I bought myself a copy of the NASB and started studying through major New Testament parts, and by 1987 I switched over to the NASB as my main study translation. That remained the status quo until the ESV was released.
Like many in the Reformed camp, I jumped on the band wagon and switched to the ESV soon after its release in 2003, because of all the recommendations by great Bible scholars and teachers from the Reformed camp. John Piper, for instance, moved from the NASB to the ESV. Piper is a great Greek scholar and would know what to check for. Other scholars and teachers that recommend the ESV are Dr. Darrell Bock, Jerry Bridges, Francis Chan, Kevin DeYoung, Mark Driscoll, Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., Dr. Thomas Schreiner, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Daniel B. Wallace, Dr. John Walvoord, Dr. Ravi Zacharias, and many more. So, as you can see, the list is quite intimidating and formidable.
Recently, the HCSB was recommended to me by a blog writer and pastor. I decided to check it out against the ESV, NASB and NIV. I spent a whole weekend to compare and check, and my results are as follows:
|ESV||And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.|
|HCSB||He declared His covenant to you. He commanded you to follow the Ten Commandments, which He wrote on two stone tablets.|
[HCSB here makes the covenant and ten commandments out to be two different entities declared/commanded, but the point is that the ten commandments are the covenant given.]
|NASB||So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.|
|NIV2011||He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets.|
|ESV||And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.|
|HCSB||When He finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave him the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God.|
|NASB||When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.|
|NIV2011||When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.|
[Although the tablets of the testimony are the ten commandments, the words here are not "the covenant law".]
|ESV||When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.|
|HCSB||As Moses descended from Mount Sinai—with the two tablets of the testimony in his hands as he descended the mountain—he did not realize that the skin of his face shone as a result of his speaking with the LORD.|
|NASB||It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him.|
|NIV2011||When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD.|
[Although the tablets of the testimony are the ten commandments, the words here are not "the covenant law".]
|ESV||God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.|
|HCSB||He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. 14 He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.|
[By starting verse 14 with a new sentence, the HCSB misses the proper translation of the aorist active participle here, not getting the point across. The NASB and NIV have better translations here.]
|NASB||He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.|
|NIV2011||God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.|
|ESV||11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.|
I suppose with the updated text here, this is a good translation after all.]
|NASB||11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.|
|NIV2011||11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.|
|ESV||20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.|
|HCSB||20 But that is not how you learned about the Messiah, 21 assuming you heard Him and were taught by Him, because the truth is in Jesus: 22 you took off your former way of life, the old man that is corrupted by deceitful desires; 23 you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; 24 you put on the new man, the one created according to God's [likeness] in righteousness and purity of the truth.|
[At the beginning of verse 22, 23, and 24, we have three Greek infinitives (ἀποθέσθαι, ἀνανεοῦσθαι, ἐνδύσασθαι respectively) that aren't translated by the HCSB, which gives a difference in meaning. The usual translation of the infinitive can be clearly seen in the ESV (to put off, to be renewed, to put on). The meaning of these verses then would be that we were taught in Christ to put off the old self, to be renewed in our minds and to put on the new self. The HCSB changes this meaning to be that we were taught in Christ that we have taken off the old self, we have been renewed in our minds and we have put on the new self. The infinitives here do not allow for that.]
|NASB||20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.|
|NIV2011||20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.|
|ESV||No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.|
|HCSB||No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son — the One who is at the Father's side — He has revealed Him.|
|NASB||No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.|
|NIV2011||No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.|
[For some reason both the HCSB and NIV2011 chose to make use of μονογενὴς υἱός which is not supported by either the UBS4 or NA27 Greek texts. UBS4 and NA27 have μονογενὴς θεὸς, which is seen in the ESV and NASB s "only God" or "only begotten God" respectively.]
|ESV||13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.|
|HCSB||13 In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation—in Him when you believed—were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. 14 He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory.|
[The HCSB decided to start verse 14 with a new sentence: "He is the down payment..." With the "in him's" of verse 13, it is easy in the sentence structure to assume that the "He" that verse 14 starts with, points to Christ and not the Holy Spirit. Verse 14 starts with ὅ ἐστιν (who is), as a continuation of verse 13, referring right back to the Holy Spirit.]
|NASB||13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.|
|NIV2011||13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.|
2 Cor 7:9-10
|ESV||9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.|
[The ESV obscures the kind of grief experienced in this verse. Did the translators here mean a grief brought about by God, or a grief that is simply the opposite of an evil grief, hence "godly"? Somehow this translation does not seem to cover all the bases here. Both times that the ESV is translated here as "godly grief," "godly" is a mere adjective that modifies grief. The Greek in this verse in both cases is κατὰ θεόν, which simply means "according to God." While the HCSB below also use "godly grief" in verse 10, it is given a proper context in verse 9 as a grief "as God willed." The NASB here in my humble opinion, did the best job in getting out the meaning of this passage.]
|HCSB||9 Now I am rejoicing, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance. For you were grieved as God willed, so that you didn't experience any loss from us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death.|
|NASB||9 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.|
|NIV2011||9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.|
[The NIV's "sorrowful as God intended" can give the idea as God intended, like when we have to follow a law. God intends for us to live holy lives. Again, I think the NASB brings across more what was intended by Paul.]
2 Cor 5:21
|ESV||For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.|
|HCSB||He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.|
|NASB||He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.|
|NIV2011||God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.|
[Although the translations given by the ESV, HCSB and NIV2011 are technically correct in their translation of ὑπὲρ as "for our sake," "for us" and "for us" respectively, I feel that the NASB gets it closer to what was intended by Paul, with its "on our behalf." Jesus was made sin in our stead.]
The HCSB does not handle, what I would term a technical phrase in the New Testament, τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ, the Word of God, consistently through the New Testament. This phrase is translated by the HCSB using the following: God's word (Mk 7:13; Lk 5:1; Heb 13:7; Rev 1:2, 9; 6:9; 20:4), the word of God (Lk 8:21; 11:28; Ac 18:11), God's message (Ac 4:31; 8:14; 11:1; 13:5, 7, 46; 2 Cor 2:17; 4:2; Col 1:25), about God (Ac 6:2).
Of course, if I spent several more weeks on this, I could’ve presented something much more solid on which translation I should be using. Also, there are many websites and blogs that also have more in-depth studies on which English translations are the best. The problem with choosing a translation is that it is very personal. I personally prefer to have a more “literal” translation. Others may prefer a looser translation.
Translation work is not easy at all. There are many things that must be taken into consideration. As a result, with every translation, there is a measure of interpretation that goes into it. When looking at the translation triangle depicted here, the higher up the triangle, the more interpretation of the text makes it into the translation, until you hit something like the NLT, which is a paraphrase at best. Something like The Message, doesn’t even make it onto this triangle.
Jamin Hubner has written a very helpful article at Alpha&Omega Ministries, called “Translation Triangle: A Suggested Model of Use.” It is very helpful in how to use different types of translations during Bible study. I adapted his translation triangle by adding another layer to his original, the Optimal-Equivalent (OE) method of translation, introduced by the translators of the HCSB, which finds itself between the Formal-Equivalent (FE) and Dynamic-Equivalent (DE) methods. OE basically makes use of FE and DE where necessary. FE is the most literal method of translation, while a paraphrase is the least literal.
Well, having done this study on which translation I should use, I have come to the conclusion, at least for the time being, to return to the NASB, after 7 years with the ESV. I will still refer back to the ESV as a comparable FE, and then further up the chain I will use the HCSB and NIV for reference. It is at the DE level that I will stop. I personally find paraphrases simply to be too unreliable.
Naturally, you may ask, “Which translation should I use?” I can’t tell you which one you should use, since it is very personal. All I hope is that this blog post can help at least a little bit. You simply need to be wise in choosing the translation you study from.
The question is, if you truly believe that the Bible is the Word of God, how close do you really want to get to what God actually said? Choose wisely!