As a Christian, what Bible version should I be using? If a version is doctrinally unsound should we refrain from using this in a public way? Is there anything wrong with the NIV?
In Deuteronomy 4:2 we read, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” In Proverbs 30:5, 6 we read, “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” In Matthew 15:7, 8 we read, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” In Galatians 1:8, 9 we read, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” Finally, in Revelation 22:18, 19 we read, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
Now if you haven’t yet got the idea that God is serious about keeping his message pure, then go back and read these verses again. It would at least be inconsistent for us to preach that we ought not to add to nor take away from the word of God, and then choose a Bible translation that does just that. The deciding factor in choosing a Bible translation should not be whether it is easy to read. A translation should be understandable. A translation should be legible. However the final deciding factor in choosing a specific Bible translation should be whether or not the translators have accurately reflected the word of God in their translation.
There are many translations available to choose from today in the English language. You can view fifteen different translations of the Bible on the American Bible Society’s web page. Some of those translations are: Contemporary English Version, New International Version, New American Standard, Amplified Bible, New Living Translation, King James Version, English Standard Version, New King James Version, 21st Century King James Version, American Standard Version, Worldwide English, Young’s Literal Translation, Darby Translation, and the Wycliff New Testament. In addition to these there is the Revised Standard Version, the Easy to Read Version, the New English Bible, and Today’s New International Version. No doubt there are many more that I am not listing here.
Now, I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with reading different versions of the Bible. There is nothing wrong with owning any particular version of the Bible. It is not a sin to compare different versions of the Bible in your own personal Bible study. In fact, I do this quite frequently and if it were a sin, then I expect that I would be guilty of some whoppers. It is, however, sinful for a translator to place a translation before you which does not accurately reflect the word of God, or which contains deliberate efforts to insert human doctrine. It is also sinful for a person to purposefully acknowledge a translation as an accurate representation of God’s word when it is not, whether that person is a preacher, teacher, scripture reader, or personal evangelist. Let me make this point clear. If one represents a translation of God’s word as the word of God when it does not accurately reflect God’s word, then that person is (depending on what the translation does) endorsing an effort to add to or take away from the word of God and that is sinful. The Bible clearly states this to be sinful.
So what are some ways that I can tell whether a translation is representative of the word of God or not? First of all, read the translators preface that you will find in the front of each translation. If they display within the preface an acknowledgment that the Bible is the infallible and inspired word of God that is a good start. Be aware, however, that just because they say this in the preface doesn’t necessarily mean that they have respected this in their practice.
Second, learn what philosophy of translation the translators have used. There are two basic translation philosophies in circulation today. There is the philosophy that a translation should be as literal as possible except where the original languages are clearly idiomatic. This is known as the Modified Literal Translation Philosophy (some also call it the Essentially Literal Method). On the other hand you have the philosophy that seeks to translate not the words, but the thought of the text. In other words the translators take an extra step in translation. They translate literally, figure out what they think it means, then put what they think it means into the text. This is called the Dynamic Equivalent Translation Philosophy (it can also be known as the Functional Equivalence Method). You really want to find a translation that is based upon the modified literal method. There is nothing wrong with consulting a dynamic equivalent translation, but just be aware that these translations contain human opinions about what the original text means.
Third, does the translation use italicized words for the words that have been added to clarify the meaning of the text? You will notice in the KJV and ASV that italicized words appear every once in a while. These are words that the translators have added, but they have identified them for you so that you will understand that they are not part of the original Greek text. It is an effort on their part to be faithful to the original. Some versions do not italicize the words that they add to the text. This blurs the line as to what words are God�s words and what has been inserted by man.
Fourth, compare the translation with other translations. You will probably be surprised at how many mistakes you can find in the various translations by doing this. (No translation is perfect and there are going to be some problems with any of them.) You may also compare your translation to a literal translation of the Bible such as the American Standard Version of 1901 or Young’s Literal Translation. The ASV has been criticized by just about everyone because it is such a literal translation of the scripture. Personally, I find that reassuring. This means that I can take a modern translation, compare it to the ASV and find out what the differences are in the modern translation from an acknowledged accurate representation of the original.
Now, I am not going to tell you to use one version or another for your personal Bible study. I believe that each Christian has the personal responsibility to decide that individually. However, when it comes to public teaching, preaching, reading, or personal evangelism, we should use a translation that is going to accurately reflect God’s word. And now I am going to express my personal judgment in this matter. From my personal studies I believe that the King James Version, The American Standard Version, and the New King James Version are attempts on the part of the translators to accurately represent God’s word. From the selection of translations that we have, these would be the best translations to use in public settings. I want to make it clear that it is not my job to state what translations should be used in the worship assembly. I have a responsibility to accurately represent God’s word in my sermons and I try to do this by using one of these three translations. However, it is the responsibility of the eldership to determine which translations ought to be used in public assemblies. Selecting a translation is an optional matter and the eldership has final authority in these matters. Many elderships require members to read from one of a set of approved translations and I believe that this is a scriptural practice.
Now regarding translations that are doctrinally unsound, and there are several of these, they should not be used in a public way lest we misrepresent the word of God. I noticed that the questioner asked specifically about the New International Version. The NIV is not a good translation of the Bible. In the preface they specifically state that they are going beyond a literal word for word translation. Their translation philosophy is one of dynamic equivalence. They do not italicize words that have been added to the text for the sake of clarity thereby failing to acknowledge that their insertions are not the words of God. The translators have also attempted to put their own human doctrines into the text. Within the NIV New Testament alone the Greek word which is best translated “flesh” is translated some twenty-four (24) times by the phrase “sinful nature.” This is an obvious effort on the part of the translators to insert the unbiblical doctrine of original sin into the Bible. (This doctrine states that man inherited his sin from Adam and that he is born totally depraved and sinful. Hence, man’s nature is sinful and the word “flesh” should be translated “sinful nature,” at least according to these translators.) There are some places where the NIV does a good job at translating, no doubt. However, for one to say that the NIV is an accurate representation of God’s word is not true. We should avoid using the NIV publicly.
God’s warnings regarding respecting the purity of His word are serious and we should respect those warnings. If you need some assistance with selecting a translation, there are several books available which review all of the translations. The most thorough book that I have read in this regard is “Challenging Dangers of Modern Versions” written by Robert R. Taylor, Jr (Bellview Preacher Training School, Pensacola, 1985). This book is fairly detailed at looking at the different versions and the various issues that arise as a result of modern attempts to insert human doctrines into the translations. He also provides a critical review of many of the modern versions.