The Bible in contemporary English

The Lord's Prayer in the Message, a modern-day Bible version
The Lord's Prayer in the Message, a modern-day Bible version

If you are looking for a good translation of the Bible, here is some thing that you should consider.
Do you want a Bible that helps you understand what you are reading?
Do you want a Bible that helps you understand God’s word correctly?

Recently, I went to a church in Auckland and was impressed that they had copies of the Bible in the pews, for everyone. But I was sad to find that the Bible was a paraphrase that was not accurate.

Fox News has an article today entitled Best-Selling Bible for Conservative Evangelicals to Undergo Revision

“We want to reach English speakers across the globe with a Bible that is accurate, accessible and that speaks to its readers in a language they can understand,” said Keith Danby, global president and CEO of Biblica, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Christian ministry that holds the NIV copyright.

This sounds so noble. And the intentions may be good. But there is a serious danger here that most Christians seem to be blissfully unaware of.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating a King-James-only approach. I like the Bible I use to be in contemporary English. I would rather not use ‘thee’s, ‘thou’s, ‘thine’s, and ‘wherefore’s. So what is the fuss about?

I believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. Do you believe in it? Does your church? Virtually all conservative churches believe it. One definition of verbal plenary inspiration goes like this:

“God the Holy Spirit so supernaturally directed the human writers of Scripture that, without waiving their intelligence, their individuality, their personal feelings, their literary style, or any other human factor of expression, His Complete and Coherent Message to mankind was recorded with perfect accuracy in the original languages of Scripture: the very words bearing the Authority of Divine Authorship.”

It becomes crucial to all those who believe this, to ensure that they hold a Bible that is as close to the original as is possible. The modern-ness of the language is not as important as the integrity of the text.  The text must attempt to mirror the original grammar and sense. This is a tall order.
Great attempts were made by men of God over the ages to translate and bring the text to us in its purity. Many have lost their lives to accomplish what they did.

So the criterion when looking for a Bible should be faithfulness to the original first and only then should you look for modern language. Please read my post about the English Standard Version translation where the advantages of literal translations over paraphrases has been discussed.

Satan is so crafty that he is placing a piece of fine literature in the hands of church goers who will imagine that they hold the word of God, and in so doing he is taking people further away from the life-giving words of his Arch Enemy.


  1. I’m very much in agreement with you Nahomi. I, too, use the ESV, but for a lot of my devotional reading I’m still very fond of the old RSV of my Lutheran childhood. I like the way it reads, for reasons I can’t put a finger on. I’ve heard the NASV is very accurate, but it is very clunky to read, and not so concise or modern as the ESV.

    The farther you get from the correct original words, the farther you get from the inspired word of God. I’m very trouble by the trend to confuse a paraphrase with a translation. Some folks do ALL their reading from these paraphrases, and what they think of as Scripture is unrecognizable. I once knew someone who’s “Bible” was the Living Bible, and had even memorized some verses from it. Once I heard him quote one and I had no idea what he was talking about – or even what verse it was “supposed” to be.

    • Laurie, I like the RSV too and have done a bit of memorisation from it. It was the version that my Brethren school, Clarence High School, in Bangalore, prescribed.

      One issue I’ve heard about that version is that some places where the word ‘expiation’ is used should actually read as ‘propitiation.’ For those who are so used to a version like that the easiest workaround is to put notes against the problem bits.

      I think, like with you, it will always be RSV and ESV. I have helped my children memorise many passages from the NKJV. So maybe that is a version that will also stay in our lives.

      But for a person starting out fresh, I would highly recommend the ESV.

      • Good point about the NIV, Nahomi. I have never liked some of the paraphrase in the NIV (e.g. its treatment of “flesh” vs “spirit” in Romans 8).

        I had switched from RSV to NASB back in 1983. Most of my memorization was done from RSV. I have been using ESV for the last 2 years, and am gratified that it is quite close to RSV, so I am now memorizing from ESV (RSV wass the reference version for ESV, and it deviates from RSV only when there are reasons that were validated through several levels of peer-review, such as “expiation” vs. “propitiation”, etc.) I have read critical reviews that NASB and ESV are both extremely literal modern translations, and on some occasions NASB is more accurate than ESV. However, I think all said and done, ESV is the most literal if one had to choose only a single translation.

  2. One thing I really miss in ESV that I benefited a lot from in the NASB. The “*” symbol, which represented the “historic present” in the Greek. Greek writers used the historic present to make the description more dramatic…e.g. in John 13:4, the NASB reads: “… *rose from supper, *laid aside His garments, and taking a towel…”. Literally it in the Greek it reads that Jesus “rises from supper, lays aside His garments…” but it is translated in past tense due to English grammar.

    You cannot identify such nuances in the ESV..this is one thing I wish they had done.

    • One think I miss in ESV is the capitalisation of He, Him, etc when it refers to God. But then this is not in the original text, and it may be inconsistent to want it. But I miss it all the same. 🙂
      Thanks for your comments Peter.

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