When I became a believer in 1971, the only translation that was used in our church was the King James Version. In fact, I had no idea that any other translations even existed for some time after I was saved.
My first two years in the Lord, I read the Bible cover to cover five times and memorized more than 4,000 verses – all in the King James – and to this day, many of those verses, old English and all, are fresh in my mind. So I certainly appreciate the literary beauty and power of the King James, but I have not used it for many years, despite my appreciation for the KJV.
One reason is that the English language has changed dramatically over the centuries, and so some of the vocabulary of the KJV has a different meaning today than it did when it was first translated. A case in point would be the word “study,” which centuries ago also carried the meaning, “strive, do your best,” as in 2 Tim 2:15, which in the KJV reads, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
But this is not a call to “study” (although the end of the verse makes reference to the word of truth, so we all agree that study of the Word is important!); rather, as translated in the New King James, it means, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God . . . ” The problem, then, is that readers think they know the meaning of the word when in fact they don’t, having no idea that the word changed in meaning. (How many times have you heard this verse quoted as a call to “study” the Word – whereas that was not Paul’s main point here.)
There are other words in the KJV that are no longer used in English today, and I don’t just mean the “thee and thou” vocabulary. Take, for example, this verse: “And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them” (Mark 9:3). When is the last time you used the word “raiment”? And how clear is the meaning of this verse to you, especially the last phrase? Let’s try the NKJV again and see if this is more clear: “His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them” (NKJV). When you have some time, read through a passage like Job 28:1-6 in the KJV and then compare it to some modern versions. You’ll be in for a surprise!
Other reasons why I no longer use the KJV include: 1) We have additional, ancient biblical manuscripts today, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, which help us determine the most accurate reading of the ancient text. 2) We have improved understanding of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, allowing us to more carefully translate the truths of God’s Word. Shouldn’t we take advantage of this?
What then is my favorite translation? Actually, I’m quite picky and don’t have a single favorite, but I can give you a number of recommendations. Also, be assured that all the fundamentals of the faith are reinforced in all the major evangelical translations – regardless of disputes about which manuscripts to use and which textual traditions to follow – and with the many study aids available today, no one needs to be left in the dark.
For the Old Testament, the best Jewish translation is the New Jewish Version, also called the Tanakh (which is the Jewish way of referring to the Old Testament). To gain an Orthodox Jewish understanding of the Old Testament – but one that I would frequently differ with – the Stone Translation can be used. (Bear in mind that every translation is a commentary in itself, and so, Jewish translators make “Jewish” translation decisions while Christian translators make “Christian” decisions, meaning that Messianic prophecies sometimes read very differently in a Jewish translation as compared to a Christian one.)
For Christian translations, I have used the NIV for public preaching and teaching because it reads so well, but it often does so at the expense of translation exactitude, so I always check the original Hebrew and Greek carefully before making a major translation point. For those preferring a more literal translation (at the expense of really smooth English), the NASB has been a favorite for years, but I would now recommend the ESV instead, since it improves on the literary flow. (The ESV is getting a lot of well-deserved attention these days, but like all translations, it has its flaws.) To get the clearest sense of the text, the NLT (New Living Translation) is often excellent, but it should not be used as your main translation, since it is a mild paraphrase. All the more does this hold true for The Message. Used in a secondary way, it is often very powerful, but as a full-blown paraphrase, it should not be used as your primary translation.
I do not recommend using the Amplified Bible except as a secondary reference, since it completely removes the literary flow of the original text, also providing several possible meanings for each word in a verse without telling you which word is best. (Remember that, generally speaking, every word has one meaning in one context.) For an immersion into the Jewish background of the New Testament (in an intentionally overdone form), David Stern’s Jewish New Testament remains standard, but again, it makes everything heavily Jewish, including letters from Paul to Gentile congregations, and so I would use this as an excellent resource but as a second translation.
The key thing is that you get into the Word as much as possible so that Word of God gets into you. As Smith Wigglesworth exhorted, “Read it through; write it down; pray it in; work it out; pass it on. The Word of God changes a man until he becomes an Epistle of God.”