Bible Versionitis?

So do we have the inspired Word of God, or don’t we? Can we trust one version more than another? Are we in danger of losing the purity of
God’s Word altogether?

Involvement in the National Bible Bee continues to challenge my thinking in many areas.  Not surprisingly is the question of  which version of the Bible should we use for memorization and serious Bible study?  I currently use the New International Version as a study Bible, which I have used since I was a teenager.  I also read from the New Living Translation, the Kings James Version, and sometimes from the Amplified, or New American Standard.  On my iPod I have Holman’s Christian Standard, and my netbook has an free application using the World English Bible which I look at occasionally.   For deeper studies, we have looked at the Greek texts of Westcott-Hort as well as the Textus Receptus, and even the Septuagint (LXX), thanks to several excellent online study resources that make these great works available to us for free.  We have at our fingertips so many ways to read God’s Word, and I believe that all of these are truly the Word of God.  However, one cannot spend much time studying these Scriptures without puzzling over some of the differences in the texts, and pondering over the true intended meanings.  Some very excellent discussions have been spurred by these topics among my Bible Bee friends.

Memorizing large amounts of Scripture brings another challenge.  In the past I have memorized entire chapters of various New Testament books from the NIV Bible.  Our family has happily memorized hundreds of verses together in the last 3 years, all using the 1984 New International Version of the Bible. Thus, the release of the “new” 2011 NIV Bible has thrown a wrench into the mix!  Many passages in the newly revised version are significantly different from the earlier versions, and some of the changes are very controversial in nature.  There is good news/ bad news for Bible Bee competitors formerly using the NIV.  The National Bible Bee has elected to continue offering the 1984 NIV as one of five Bible version choices for the 2012 competition, instead of changing to the 2011 NIV.  At the same time though, they are not able to provide some of the study materials for the NIV (1984) due restrictions from the publisher.

On account of these changes, our family has come to the difficult decision to use a different version of the Bible for memorization this year.  The decision is difficult for two reasons:  first, for the Bible Bee, some passages previously memorized may have to be re-learned with slight wording changes.  Re-learning in a new version is tricky in a competition that requires exact word-for-word recitation.  However, the more difficult aspect may be determining which version to choose.  The National Bible Bee offers four other choices:  King James Version, New King James, New American Standard, and English Standard Version.  These are all very good, very acceptable versions, covering a broad range of preferences, so I don’t feel that our choices are being limited for the sake of competition.  Still, there are significant differences, and our choice this year is likely to have future implications as well.  (Sigh)

Once again it seems necessary to delve into the history of our English Bibles to make an informed decision.  Some maintain that the King James Version is the most accurate, while others argue to the contrary.  The modern versions seem to be straying off course toward gender neutrality and political correctness.  Will the true Word of God please stand up???  (More sighing)

Admittedly, a few years ago I did not even know what the Textus Receptus or Westcott and Hort were!  I simply accepted that the Bible is the Word of God, regardless of version.  Now I have learned a little more and have discovered that the translations of the Bible that we use today have been surrounded with difficulty and controversy all along the way!  In these two millennium, they have been translated back and forth multiple times between languages, copied and copied again.  They have been pieced together from other re-translations and copies of copies, and edited and revised.  They have been written, and destroyed and written again.  As our language has changed, translations have had to be modernized so that the average person can read and understand, and every modernization has been accompanied by controversy.  Many of them have been accepted into mainstream Christianity, many have been rejected, forgotten, or even lost.  So do we have the inspired Word of God, or don’t we?  Can we trust one version more than another?  Are we in danger of losing the purity of God’s Word altogether?

Those are thought provoking questions. In my research to try to make some sense of these questions, I found an excellent pair of articles written on this subject.   I confess that most works I have read regarding the differences especially between KJV and other versions are blatantly and painfully biased one way or another.  I believe that the author of these pages makes a fair examination, and presents his findings honestly.  I will refer to the second article first, because it comes to the heart of the matter:  Can we trust the Bible as the Word of God?

Knowing the history, the controversy, the error of humans – can we really trust that ANY version of the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant Word?  Read About the King James Version – A Conversation for some good insight into this question, and On the King James Bible Versus Other Translations Controversy for additional information regarding the history of the King James Bible specifically.  After reading through these  articles, my own thoughts are more settled.   What I find is that there ARE differences in the translations, and differences in the original texts, and some of them are seemingly significant.

Are those differences enough to create new doctrine? I don’t think so.  I think that would only happen if we isolate them.  What I mean is that I believe every truth in the Bible is supported by the entire Word of God.  If the difference in just one verse would change my theology – my belief in who God is and what He has done – then maybe I am misunderstanding or misinterpreting that verse.  I need to look at what the rest of God’s Word says, and rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal His Word.

We may well be misunderstanding God’s written Word. In fact, we most certainly are, at least to some degree, because we are finite humans!  How many times have we read a familiar passage, and suddenly have a new understanding of it?  How is that possible?  Did we just get smarter?  Perhaps.  Our human experience changes us and allows us to gain new understandings.  More importantly though, the Holy Spirit is the interpreter.  He is the One who will teach us all things.  He is the One we can depend on – we must depend on – to reveal His Word to us.  I think sometimes He reveals just parts of it to us, as we are ready and able to accept it.

My conclusion is this: while we must be careful to handle the Word of God accurately, we can trust God to protect His Word, and to make it living and active in our lives.  I have not entirely decided which version we will use this year, but I am satisfied that whichever we choose, we will indeed be studying God’s Word.

A few of my favorite verses on the Word of God, in 5 different versions
(thanks to BibleGateway.com, where you can see all 5 at once if you like!)

Hebrews 4:12
NIV KJV NASB ESV NKJV
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged
sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it
judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (NIV1984)
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged
sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the
joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
(KJV)
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged
sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints
and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (NASB)
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,
piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and
discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (ESV)
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged
sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and
marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
(NKJV)
2 Timothy 3:16-17
NIV KJV NASB ESV NKJV
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking,
correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be
thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV1984)
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for
doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That
the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
(KJV)
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof,
for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be
adequate, equipped for every good work. (NASB)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for
reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God
may be complete, equipped for every good work. (ESV)
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for
doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that
the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
(NKJV)
2 Peter 1:20-21
NIV KJV NASB ESV NKJV
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by
the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will
of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
(NIV)
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private
interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but
holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (KJV)
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of
one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will,
but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (NASB)
knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from
someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of
man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
(ESV)
knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private
interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God
spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (NKJV)
This entry was posted in Bible Bee. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Bible Versionitis?

  1. Helen says:

    I just want to say that making a decision on a Bible translation has been such a source of frustration for us in our Home School. We ended up deciding to go with the version that their Sunday School uses. Not the perfect answer as their personal bibles are a different translation. Ugh!

Leave a Reply to Helen Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *