A New Pulpit Bible1
The first time I visited Life Point and met with the pulpit committee, someone asked me what Bible translation I would use if I were called to be Life Point’s senior pastor. I answered that at least initially I would continue to use the current pulpit version—the New King James. I assumed the church had chosen this version carefully, believing it was best for Life Point’s context; therefore, it would be presumptuous to make a change with no understanding of the church. However, I also clearly stated that at some point, I may want to make a change.
As a result, I have been preaching from the NKJV for the past 6 years. I have been mostly pleased with the translation. It’s faithful to the original languages, and it’s fairly readable. My only significant complaint is that the NKJV is based off the Textus Receptus (The same Greek text used for the KJV). The TR was based off a mere handful of ancient Greek manuscripts, and it has remained unchanged since 1678. Since that time, archaeologists and Bible scholars have discovered thousands of additional ancient manuscripts that have refined our understanding of the original New Testament text. These discoveries do not affect the overall message of the New Testament or any major doctrines, but they do occasionally affect the finer nuances of the text, and they slightly affect the meaning of some of them.
When you preach expositionally as we do, it’s hard to ignore these nuances, and I have become increasingly frustrated by the need to spend precious time on Sundays talking about textual variants. Therefore, last fall I taught a Sunday evening series, “How We Got Our Bible” in part to prepare us for a change. We walked through the incredible story of how God inspired the Scriptures and has faithfully and accurately preserved them during the Millennia since. We should have great confidence that our English Bibles are faithful to the original autographs and are truly God’s Word.
The final lesson was entitled, “Choosing a Translation.” We saw that the two greatest priorities for Bible translators are accuracy and readability. We also saw that it’s not always easy to balance these concerns while translating across a 2,000-year gap of language and culture. Since translations weight these concerns differently, they can all be placed on a spectrum with those that weigh precision more highly on one end and those that weigh readability on the other. Therefore, some translations are more literal, while others are more readable. Both issues are important; therefore, rather than bickering about which translation is the best translation, we should ask which translation best suits each context. For example, we shouldn’t expect a Ph.D. student who is doing detailed exegetical work to use the same translation as someone reading the Bible for the first time or a child learning to read. The Ph.D. student needs a more precise, literal translation; whereas, a new believer or a child will benefit from a more readable translation, what is called functional equivalency.
However, as the individual matures, he or she will increasingly benefit from a more literal translation. This is because the further a translation moves toward functional equivalence, the more the translators’ theological and exegetical assumptions will necessarily influence the translation. Therefore, we are always safer with a more literal translation that is closer to the actual words and phrases that God inspired (Matt 5:17–18).
What does this mean for a pulpit translation? Our method of expositional preaching means that we often work phrase by phrase through paragraphs of Scripture. We want to expose and develop the finer details of the text; therefore, a literal translation will best serve our context. As I studied our options, I quickly narrowed them to the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the English Standard Version (ESV). My preference has always been the NASB because it is the more literal translation of the two. It is at times a bit awkward because of its literalness, but I have used it for a long time, and I have benefitted from it greatly. However, I was willing to use the ESV if it would clearly better serve Life Point. Therefore, we conducted a survey earlier this year to gauge what translations our people use and what Bibles they bring to church. The results were inconclusive. There was no single version that dominated the feedback.
Therefore, Pastor Tim and I will transition to preaching and teaching from the NASB, because we believe it best serves our context. However, as we have done in the past, we will not require Scripture readers and other teachers to use the same translation. This is because, we are not claiming that the NASB is the best translation; rather, we simply believe it is the best translation for our context. Therefore, other teachers will be free to use the KJV, NKJV, ESV, CSB, or NIV depending on what they are most comfortable using and on what will best serve their context.
One potential challenge of not declaring a ministry-wide translation is Bible memorization. We will work toward standardizing a memorization version depending on the options available in our children’s curriculum. Beyond that we will not pressure people to buy a NASB or any other Bible. Use what works best for you. If you missed the series last fall, and you have questions about this subject, the handouts are available below. If you still have questions after reading the notes, I would love to chat about this important issue.