What Is Your Favourite Bible Translation? (Results)

Derek Ouellette —  February 1, 2011

Shock. I was quite shocked. According to January’s poll, most visitors to Covenant of Love prefer the NKJV (32%), by nearly twice as many as the runner up ESV (17%), followed by the NIV (15%) and the NRSV (11%). The NLT surprisingly bottom’s out at 2.38% along with the Message (1.59%).

“Other” favourite translations which people voted for include YLT, CEV, RSV, TNIV, HCSB, Jerusalem Bible and the NET Bible. I was not surprised by the 6% KJV.

I was a little surprised by the poll results for three reasons. First, my understanding of the Greek text behind the NKJV (same as the KJV) led me to assume that most people were not relying on or preferring this translation.

Second, according to various studies I’ve seen over the years, the NIV has been the most read bible in the English speaking world. But I assumed that since the readers of Covenant of Love are generally an intelligent lot they would go with popular evangelical endorsements and choose the ESV as a rival to the NIV (see here).

Third, working in a Christian bookstore we typically stock according to supply and demand. In my store the NIV takes up one whole shelving unit from top to bottom. The NLT and ESV each take three shelves on the same unit next to the NIV. The KJV takes up only two shelves and the NKJV and the NASB share one shelf. We only ever carry a few copies of the Message and the NRSV at any given time.

Getting A Little Technical For The Curious

When I think of bible translations I usually generally think in terms of two categories: “TR” and “NA27ed”.

Received Text

“TR” is a Greek manuscript called the “Textus Receptus” or the “Received Text”. Basically – to summarize a very complex history – prior to the Renaissance the only bible “translation” available was a Latin text known as the “Latin Vulgate”.

Similar to the “Space Race” in the 1950′s there was what we could call the “Greek Text Race” during the opening years of the 1500′s. The goal was to be the first to create and print a Greek New Testament on Guttenberg’s newly invented printing press. Greek manuscripts were difficult to come by in the Western World and so a dude named Erasmus managed to get his hands on about eight or so pieces of Greek manuscripts, all of which were incomplete and none of which date further back then the ninth or tenth century, and created the first printed Greek text in the Western World with the help of the Latin Vulgate to fill in the gaps.

This text went through several revisions and corrections and was named “the Received Text” or the “Textus Receptus”. It became the Greek text used by the King James translators which was authorized by the King of England, James I. It is called the “authorized” bible because historically speaking it was the first English translation legally printed in England because the King of England “authorized” it. Thus the term “authorized” has historical origins, not divine.

Nestle-Aland Text

“NA27ed” is another Greek manuscript known as the Nestle-Aland 27th Edition and is the result of a science called “Textual Criticism” – a science not yet invented in the Renaissance. The history here is no less complex.

When modern archaeology began in the 1800′s and was soon developed into a science of literally “digging up the past”, Greek manuscripts began to surface by the hundreds and eventually, the thousands. Most of these manuscripts were found buried in jars in dry, warm climates in the Middle East and have been dated to very early times – some of which as early as 150 AD (I have a replica of a portion of the Gospel of John dated to this era).

Variants between these texts – which agreed quite often – and the Textus Receptus soon became apparent and created a problem. Which text can we trust to be more accurate? Thus was born a new science called “Textual Criticism”. The goal of these scholars was to take a painstakingly close look at every Greek manuscript in extent and study them carefully by comparing each and every one in order to – as much as possible – recover what was originally written by the New Testament writers (the Old Testament has it’s own story which I am less familiar with). These scholars “critically” examined the many Greek “text” to recover what was originally written. Thus the term “Textual Criticism”.

The result is the “Nestle-Aland” New Testament (named after the dudes who led in this project), which obviously has gone through at least 27 editions, thus the “Nestle-Aland 27th Edition” or “NA27ed”.

Why I Prefer The NA27ed

Someone on facebook recently asked me why I believe the TR was the worse Greek manuscript available. This was my response:

The Textus Receptus was a good manuscript in it’s day (via Erasmus and Beza to KJV and eventually NKJV), but it is a greatly expanded text. This is a truism within textual criticism. No modern translation or translation committee would use the TR. What is often perceived as “absent” or “taken away” when modern translations are compared to the KJV or NKJV is actually “restoration”, and more accurately represents what was originally written (a la the Nestle-Aland 27th edition).

The TR is based on eight portions of Greek manuscripts which date no earlier than the tenth century and contain portions from the Latin Vulgate where the Greek was unavailable. In contrast, the NA27ed is based on the comparative study of over 8300 Greek manuscripts, some of which date back to only a generation after the Apostles.

The NKJV has made many good translation choices, but it cannot be said to be a more accurate translation in my opinion because its translation is based on the TR. A translation can only be as accurate as the Greek text behind it.

Nonetheless I enjoy using the NKJV because I am more familiar with it since it was the first translation I owned, and because I like some of its translation choices. Sometimes I even preach out of it. But I never use it alone. If it’s true that we should never use any translation alone, it is exceptionally true when reaching for the KJV or NKJV.

Oh, and in case you’re curious, I voted NRSV. Now is your opportunity to tell me why you voted the way you did?

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.