Why I Don’t Fight the Translation Wars

I called Calvary Costa Mesa in 1985 and told them that I would like to affiliate the church I pastored with Calvary Chapel.  They said, “Great, we’ll put you on the list.”  I’ve been a Calvary pastor ever since.  I know, times have changed.

I had used the New American Standard Bible since January of 1972.

By the way, NASB means ‘Now and Always, Slightly Better.’  Wink

It was required for exegesis, memory work, and homiletics at the Bible College I attended. I had grown quite familiar with its rhythms and patterns and accustomed to its cadence and pace.  But I thought, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  I knew that CC used the KJV.  I knew that I would not use the KJV, but I seriously thought about switching to the New King James Version.  But before I did…

I have discovered that the question to ask isn’t: “What is the best translation?”  That question can start fistfights in the lobby after service!  I didn’t ask myself whether the NKJV was a better translation than the NASB – or vice-versa.  I asked the question: “Which is the best Greek text underlying the various translations?”  The KJV is based upon the Greek manuscripts comprising the Textus Receptus, while the NASB is based upon the eclectic text – a compilation of Greek texts discovered subsequent to the translation of the KJV from the Textus Receptus.  After some study I came to the conclusion that the Textus Receptus is not superior to the eclectic text nor is the eclectic text superior to the Textus Receptus.  And somewhere in the middle of this I decided to retain my use of the NASB.

While reading the literature of the translation wars that accuse the NASB of downplaying the deity of Christ or the KJV of butchering the Greek at this place or scolding the NIV for obscuring the text at that other place, I wearied of it all.  It seemed to me that the accusations were overall petty and I could not, with intellectual integrity, follow to the conclusion of a completely flawed translation.  There are places in all of them that could stand some revision, but to throw them out wholesale as the devil’s work seemed foolish and agenda driven.  (“Well, what about ‘The Message’?”  That’s a paraphrase and not a translation and so it is outside the scope of this article.)

I think I am post-modern when it comes to translations – preference wins out.  I don’t think that one is better than the other.  That’s why I don’t fight the translation wars.  If, after hearing me preach from the Slightly Better version, someone comes and tells me that they use the NIV, NKJV, HCSB, EB, BEE, ESV, etc., I say, “Praise the Lord.”  If they tell me that they will continue to use their “New World Translation”, we’ll have a fistfight in the lobby!

5 replies
  1. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    Well said Tim!
    I’ve read and used a lot of different translations & versions. Currently I’ve been using the ESV along with the GW (God’s Word translation), but have used the NKJV & NIV (’84) for years.
    To me it’s really not an issue, I’ll use whatever people are used to. It’s not an issue since I need to explain it in my own words anyway, which is what good exposition requires.

  2. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Hi, Trip – I once had a pastor who told me he liked to use the KJV because it took a lot of time to explain it and helped fill up sermon time! But you’re right – all translations call for exposition – and that’s where we come in!

  3. Jon Langley
    Jon Langley says:

    I like the NASB as well. My most expensive Bible, and the one I use for personal study and devotions, is a NKJV because I was trying to use what most used in CC when I bought it. But for a couple of years now I’ve been preaching from the ESV.

    NASB may indeed be “Slightly Better”.

    The ESV is the “Eclectically Superior Version” 😉

  4. Jim Vander Spek
    Jim Vander Spek says:

    I find that the NASB and ESV work fine as study bibles but are both much too clunky for other purposes. I find the NIV taking so many liberties that I no longer find it to be reliable. However, it does provide useful input on difficult passages. For devotional and memorizing purposes, the NKJV is generally without peer among modern versions. However, before taking time to memorize any passage, I compare versions and other authorities. Often the English version I settle on is unlike any of the published versions.

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