Which is the most FAITHFUL translation of the Bible to the original texts? – 3

Which translations do I actually use?

From principle we are moving here to personal application and preference, and thus more subjective grounds.

I am still using the Cornilescu version in my cursory reading of the Bible in Romanian, although I am aware of its many weaknesses and I am convinced we need a new translation. Personally, I would prefer a modern ecumenical translation – one that Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants would gladly use in church and in private reading, much like the TOB in French, but the rift between the three major Christian traditions in Romania is too big at this particular point in time, and growing, which makes such hope unrealistic in this generation. I have also used a little the New Romanian Translation (NTR) of the UBS, but, in spite of its obvious strengths, and some weaknesses, too, I doubt it will succeed in convincing the very conservative Romanian Evangelical constituency.

I rarely read the Bible in French and, since I do not own yet a TOB, I read the Segond version. My knowledge of German is quite basic, so I use German translations (most of the time that of Luther, since I do not own the German ecumenical version yet) exclusively for comparing Biblical terms.

I have to confess I have never used a lot nor did I ever really like the KJV. For me, like the Romanian synodal Orthodox translation, it ‘smells’ too much of mildew. Something that is old is not necessarily good for me. That is, probably, among other things, why I have never been really attracted to becoming an Orthodox, in spite of my respect and appreciation for Orthodox spirituality and Orthodox academic theology.

For some time in my first years of Bible study in English I have used the NASV, which I liked in terms of precision. NIV is, however, the one I have used the most in later years, alternatively with the RVS, which has more of an ecclesial feel to it. I also liked a lot the controversial TNIV, in spite of the fact that it felt a bit like a temporary version and I am eager to see the already disputed NIV 2011. Since the Southern Baptist hate it, there are many chances that I will like it. I figured out already that, when in doubt, you are safe if you find out what the SBC does and do the opposite.

The new ESV, which I have just received recently, seems to be a good candidate to being used by the largest number of Bible readers, including myself.

For my devotional readings and, sometimes, even for devotional presentations I do in my job, I use with great pleasure and spiritual benefit Eugene Peterson’s translation called The Message. By contrast, although I have used it sometimes, I have never particularly liked The Living Bible, in spite of the fact that, as I have said already, I consider paraphrasing a legitimate method of Bible translation for easier reading purposes. I have disliked even more the Romanian translation of the Living New Testament. It was called, in a very uninspired and triumphalist way, Noul Testament pe intelesul tuturor [The NT Explained to Everyone’s Understanding], about which I joked calling it The NT to No One’s Understanding. The fact that it was printed on really cheap paper did not help very much either.

Finally, I have to say that lately I rarely carry a printed Bible with me, since I have a number of versions on my iPhone or in my computer (I use mostly the free eSword software) that I can easily search electronically, which saves me a lot of time (and weight in my luggage). Yet, when I study, I still prefer a printed version.

This is the final text in this series.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

14 thoughts on “Which is the most FAITHFUL translation of the Bible to the original texts? – 3”

  1. I do agree with what you have said in the previous article that a translation is an interpretation, more or less, and that language syntax and gramer in general, differ, English doesn’t have the declantions for instance nor does have les diateses. So evidently compromise have to be made there. Tensses differ from one language to another. I remember when certains pastors in Oradea where talking with so much emphais about present continuous, taranslating I am afraid on of the aorist from Greek, when in Romania present continuous doens’t exist. Sad one should know his own grammer before making these kind of statements.

    I do like though to read translations that are good in the sens of trying to keep the message of the original and translate it in a good language. In French I like La Bible de Jérusalem in français soutenu; the language of the Sorbonne; which uses le subjontive et le passé simple, not the simple past in English, and La TOB, français élevé, but I do find useful to read other translations and for instance the best translaltion I found of 1Tim was in the translation Semeur. I do believe that a nations stands and falls with the language as well. I know there is at least one exception la Suisse but a nation such as France that has the most significant contribution to literature should continue, as they do, to keep a high level of the language.



  2. Sounds pathetic because Lutheranism, being part of the magisterial Reformation, should know better than their insecure brothers (no sisters; it’s not in the Bible 🙂 in the (Ana)baptist traditions.


  3. Why using the word “pathetic” Danut. Do you consider “worship style” as an important but not dogmatic, as ‘non sequitur’ ?

    Adiaphora is the pivotal point, in this topic (IMO). Because for lutherans, worship style is not dogmatic or part of the Rule of Faith, there is enough freedom for every local congregation to decide.

    The PROBLEM (and IMHO, THIS is what is pathetic with some lutherans), is that they think that if they adopt the marketing ideas of the ChurchGrowth movement (US) and the seeker-friendly architecture of the Baptists/non-denominationals (“looks a lot like a movie theater” to use Cristian’s words) … then more people will come to Jesus.

    Which according to Lutheran and Biblical theology is completely false … since the Bible does not teach “conversion-experiences” (a-la Billy Graham) and “makng a decision for Jesus” (a-la Sinners Prayer). We believe that it is not in the power of the sinner to chose God … but just to respond to His calling. No alter calls needed … the power of the Holy Spirit thru the preaching of Word and rightful administration of the Sacraments accomplishes God’s will. We sinners are just passive recipients of God’s grace. Monorgism, not synergism (in justification).


  4. regarding “worship style”
    (post modern ‘praise & worship’ band style, or what some in the conservative protestant world call ‘worshi-tainment’ vs. traditional liturgical styles – western or eastern)
    Lutherans are quick to point out that this issue falls under the category of “adiaphora” (“things indifferent” to orthodox Christianity).

    Since for Lutherans, the Scriptures are “the only necessary norm for faith and morals”, worship style does not fall under a dogmatic or written-in-stone category (as it does in the Eastern churches). But, showing respect for the wisdom of the Church Fathers and historical Christianity, most Lutherans keep the traditional liturgy. It is out of love of unity and doing what is “right and proper” that Lutherans are encouraged not to adopt the ‘contemporary worship style’.

    This issue is the biggest battle in the middle of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), where half want to look (church building and architecture) and sound (songs and instrumentation) like the local Baptist church, and the other 1/2 see the wisdom and richness of the liturgical historical style.


  5. Danut, I’m honestly sorry for my tone. I made myself misunderstood.

    I just wanted to take the concepts of “language updating” to it’s logical conclusion. Logical in my own view.

    I was honestly shocked when I entered that church in Pheonix, a few years back, to see that it looks a lot like a movie theater. Lights, chairs, big screen, big stage full of musical instruments, etc.

    Truth is, I see the whole discussion as having a deep connection with the doctrinal aspects. What we see, hear, sense and smell in the church is properly adapted to who we are and, more importantly, what we should be. That’s why I think that what happens in a church should transcend the time and the cultural context.


  6. It’s not necessarily a taste for outdated language, but more of a state of facts. A single church needs a lots of books for the whole year of services and celebrations. Each day of the year has specific songs and texts. Paschal period has its specificity too, that is for a few months.

    Updating all books for all churches every 20-30 years would be a considerable expense. That is just not doable.

    On the other hand what is really out-dated language? I once read some liturgical text from the XVI-XVII centuries. They were _beautiful_. And very much understandable.

    The holy liturgy, the most important service, is up to date and standardized. People know it by heart, although it’s like 2-3 hours long.

    The other services, they are usually held only in monasteries, only the Vesper and morning service is performed in laic churches. And there are dozens and dozens of songs and texts in them. More 90% are understandable if you pay attention and care.

    I’d say that our attention span is more of a problem than the language.

    All songs and text are beautiful and worth listening to. Even if it’s for hours. Our dedication is what’s missing. Not a shorter, up to date version of the services.


  7. You sound like a prophet of doom. No problem with that I do too.
    Nevertheless, dare I to say, it sounds a bit cheap when no exercised on someone’s own tradition. Don’t you agree?
    I assure you I am not interested in a competition of ‘whose religion is better’ or, God forbid, ‘whose religion is worse’.
    Let’s keep it irenic. This way we can all benefit and learn from the conversation.


  8. Danut,

    I think that it all boils down to wether the Church should fit the times or the times should raise to the eternity of the life of Church.

    Music is one aspect, language is another one. But there are many other aspects. Maybe icons should be adapted too. A lights show, like they do in a protestant church I’ve once visited (where they dimed the light in deeper prayer moments), pictures on a video wall, to get people into the mood.

    I think it’s all downhill from here.


  9. My friend, welcome here.
    As you say, a matter of taste. You like KJV and I never really liked it. I am sure we can still be friends, in spite if this 🙂

    I fully agree with you on your second paragraph. The Bible can be an evangelistic tool (why not?) but that is not its primary purpose. It is, within the larger context of Tradition) the written (as opposed to ‘oral’) record of the ‘life of the Spirit’ with the people of God along centuries.

    On the ‘mildew’ issue, see my comment below. By using this metaphor I mean, the use of words nobody understands, the use of foreign syntax (straight wrong linguistically) and other such things.
    I may also talk about the relevance of using, in the lay context of the 21st century of a long and repetitive liturgy framed in monastic early medieval time, but don;t start me on that.

    Like you, I dislike the ‘rock concert’ style church services (in fact, I cannot stand then anymore), and I like Byzantine music. However, I also like variety, and I think Orthodox could benefit from it, with a bit less fear of newness. In fact there is great new Orthodox liturgical music, from Tchaikovsky to Patr. Illya II, but very few dare to use it in church. This is, I think, a point where ultra-conservatism is detrimental. I appreciate, however, that there are Orthodox churches using the Western rite, dating before the Great Schism (yours is one of these, I think) and this is huge progress. I plan to write a bit about this, as it is a very little known fact in Romania.

    God bless, my friend. You already know, you do not need to defend Orthodoxy to me. I will do it myself with my own folk already.


  10. I must confess I do not understand, nor really appreciate, the Orthodox taste for outdated language. I find also of doubtful taste the reproduction into Romanian of Greek, or, even worse, Slavonic, sintx. This, for me, makes no sense. I understand that this is a matter of taste and, after all, it is none of my business, as I am not Orthodox. But, I admit it could be worse, like using old Slavonic in Russia or old Armenian in Armenia, that sometimes even priests have difficulties understanding. I am aware I am showing my Protestant tastes with these comments, but I have never intended to hide them and I hope I am making them in all due respect for a great ecclesial tradition that taught me so much.


  11. Danut,

    I appreciate the fact that you were careful to express that your choices for the best Bible translations are a matter of personal preferences. One person’s mildew is another’s Garden of Eden. Yes, for the one not familiar with the Bible or with the Christian traditions, “Thine” is harder to understand than “Yours”. However, I prefer “Thine is the glory” to “Yours is the glory.”

    The effort to make the Bible easy to understand has many merits, but it also contains in itself the Protestant narrative of the one who believes in Christ after discovering Him in the Bible. In reality 99.99% of the people who come to Him, do it as a result of growing in a Christian culture and encountering Christians in the Church or outside. As I see it, the Scripture is not an evangelist in itself (people are!), so the great effort to make it very easy to understand is misplaced. I still concede that it is a good idea to replace words or expressions that are completely lost in the language.

    On the other hand, the “mildew” you refer to may have a very positive role, in placing the Scripture at a level higher than the common day-to-day experience. It is for the same reason that in the church I prefer the Byzantine music to the modern rock-and-roll of the contemporary worship. For me the value of the worship is to raise me to a higher and mysterious world, rather than help me relate to the common world. The Church experience must be “different”, not “the same”. The same goes for the language used in a Bible translation.

    By the way, KJV remains my favorite translation.


  12. I sometimes get to read texts during the services of my church and I must say I have seen a lot of styles. From up to date language to mid XIXth text that were newly transcribed from their cyrillic version. That’s when I had to ‘translate’ on the fly, on first reading. 🙂

    However, the style of the language was never really a problem for me. True, parts of the psalms, for instance, richly used in the Orthodox church, are almost incomprensible. There are expressions and phrases that I don’t know what they mean. But that happens also with ‘clear’ verses. That’s why I think that Church Fathers’ hermeneutical literature is of more help than an exact translation.

    In my personal reading, whenever I stumble on a verse I don’t understand, I prefer to open one of the Parent’s books I have in my library. The style of the language is something one gets used with while growing into the life of the Church.


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