comparing the five leading versions

ESV Blog has just posted a chart comparing the five leading versions. Here it is:

Note that none of the versions listed as being “word-for-word” are, in fact, word-for-word translations. A truly word-for-word translation would be an interlinear translation. Each of the versions listed in the chart changes word order from the original biblical texts, as well as making other changes to try to make the translation more usable by English readers. I think what the ESV folks actually mean when they say “word-for-word” is:

  1. There is greater concordance of words within the KJV, NKJV, and ESV than within the NIV or NLT.
  2. There is a higher degree of formal equivalence within the KJV, NKJV, and ESV than within the NIV or NLT.
  3. There is an attempt to translate each word of the original biblical text with some word or words in English.

There is no word-for-word English Bible version published today. Such a translation would essentially not be readable by English speakers, even though it would have English words. For instance, here is a true word-for-word translation of John 3:16:

Thus for he loved the God the world that the son the only/unique he gave so that every the one believing in him not may perish but have life eternal.

As you can see, that actual word-for-word translation does not match, word-for-word, any of the five versions featured in the ESV Blog chart:

For God so loved the world,  that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (NLT)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (NKJV)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV)

What differences, if any, do you sense among the five versions in the chart for the translation of John 3:16?

31 thoughts on “comparing the five leading versions

  1. Wayne Leman says:

    As much as I disagree with Crossway’s description of the ESV, I would caution us all to avoid the sarcasm. It just feeds the perception that people at BBB hate the ESV and gives those who love it even more desire to defend the translation they love. And it reinforces the belief of some of its advocates that there is something wrong with those who prefer other versions.

    It is better, I suggest, to compare specific translations of versions as much as possible. The ESV can be compared with other versions as well as any other version can be.

  2. Kevin Sam says:

    I don’t know if newer or older is better. If older, then I’ll go with the 1611 KJV. If newer, then the newest revision seems the best way of measure.

  3. Wayne Leman says:

    Kevin wrote:

    I don’t know if newer or older is better.

    Since older versions sometimes include words no longer understood by current readers, I would think that a translation using current words would be better for current audiences, all other things being equal, such as accuracy.

  4. Dru says:

    I’m more puzzled by the selection. What makes these ‘the five leading translations’, with a definite article? Is it ‘annual sales’, or ‘most used by people like us’ or what? I would not place the NKJV in such a table. I do not think I’ve ever encountered any church or person who uses it as their normal bible at all.

    On the passage chosen, there isn’t all that much difference, except for the question how one translates ‘monogene’, and how much importance one attaches to this. The AV translates it in a way that links it forward to the credal disputes of the Chalcedonian era. The NKJV retains this because it’s modernising the AV, though not enough to remove the ‘eth’. Is this justified? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? The others retain the ‘mono’ but do not retain the credal link.

  5. exegete77 says:

    Just a correction: Dru wrote: “The NKJV retains this because it’s modernising the AV, though not enough to remove the ‘eth’.”

    Actually, that is a typo by Wayne in the OP. The NKJV does not have the “-eth”

    NKJV: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

  6. Wayne Leman says:

    Paul wrote:

    Interesting that the TNIV was left off the list. Also interesting how one goes about defining the leading translations.

    “Leading translations” was defined based on CBA sales, as the chart footnotes. It’s too bad, since the TNIV deserves to be on a chart comparing versions (so does the HCSB), but the ESV folks chose to chart the five best-selling versions, rather than recently published versions.

    If Crossway charted the ten best-selling versions, by dollar sales, the chart would be in this order, starting with best-selling first:

    1. NIV
    2. NKJV
    3. KJV
    4. NLT
    5. ESV
    6. HCSB
    7. NASBU
    8. TNIV
    9. The Message
    10. ICB

    These are the versions which conservative Bible readers are most interested in these days. But the ESV folks have the right to arrange the chart according to any parameter they wish, and they did so according to date of publication, which puts ESV at the top of the chart. However date of publication seems to me a fairly insignificant parameter to use for a good comparison of Bible versions. But Crossway didn’t ask me for advice with the chart! 🙂

  7. Wayne Leman says:

    Rich (exegete77) wrote:

    Actually, that is a typo by Wayne in the OP. The NKJV does not have the “-eth”

    Oops! Thanks for catching that, Rich. I copied the wrong window (KJV) in my Bible reader program. Presbyopia at work once again!

    I have corrected my error. And I’m continuing to work on the error of my ways! 🙂

  8. CharlesPDog says:

    “It just feeds the perception that people at BBB hate the ESV.”

    Do you mean by the site authors?………………then I would agree that “you all” don’t necessarily, BUT…….

    or total number of negative posts?

    or total number of words in negative posts?

    or the total number of Topics for posted for discussion with by a non site author with an obvious negative agenda (like say by Mark Strauss for instance)?

    I don’t even particularly like the translation (for this type of Bible I prefer the RSV since I grew up with it, or the KJV for its language).

    But I dunno, I can see how an outsider might think it kinda looks a little more negative than positive. Sarastic, I guess, but I’m trying to dance around what might be taken as a harsher direct response. Sorry

  9. Wayne Leman says:

    Charles, it is true that several of us BBB authors and some commenters do not like aspects of the ESV and its history and misleading ideological promotion. But we (authors, anyway) always try to name specific things we do not like about it, such as its archaic inverted negatives, etc. There are things we name about other versions that we do not like either. But not liking specific things about something is not the same as hating something, which we have been accused of. The logic simply doesn’t follow. The ESV is a fairly accurate (more accurate exegetically than it is communicatively accurate) translation. It is only a slight literary revision of the RSV which has been highly respected among mainstream (NCC) churches and increasingly among younger conservatives. Conservatives my age reviled the RSV, considering it a liberal version something close to a “communist” Bible (I’m serious! Many people today are not old enough to remember those days which which remind me of the anti-TNIV campaign.)

    The ESV is not a translation to be hated. Apparently many people are benefitting by it. And we thank God for that.

    The main problem with the ESV is that it has odd English. We try to state that as objectively as possible, with many examples on the blog and on my ESV webpage. But some who comment here still succumb to the logical fallacy that pointing out problems with a Bible version means that the one who does so hates that version. It doesn’t mean that, as most fully understand, we there is critique of the NET Bible, the NLT, or other versions. But there is sometimes a different logic applied when there are critiques of the ESV. It feels similar to the objections some people had when revisions of the NIV were being considered. The response is something like “Don’t touch my NIV!”

    I think sometimes we become so attached to a particular Bible version that we view any criticism of it as something close to being criticism of the Bible itself, or maybe of God himself.

    Many of us need to learn better how to give and receive constructive critique. We benefit from it as persons. And Bible versions benefit from it, as well. Several versions have benefitted greatly from public input. It was even invited, especially by the NET Bible team.

    BTW, I didn’t hear any sarcasm in your comment.

  10. WanderingFriar says:

    Actually, the HCSB has the correct translation of John 3:16.

    “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son…”

    Blessings.
    WF

  11. Wayne Leman says:

    Thanks, WF. I’m glad that the HCSB team had the courage to translate John 3:16 more accurately with “in this way,” breaking with English Bible tradition which is not so accurate.

  12. CharlesPDog says:

    Well, Wayne you are always ultimately fair, so it tempts me to ask three rather naive questions. (A rather dubious honor)

    1.) Why would someone like Mark Strauss expend so much time and energy looking for flaws, an inherently negative task?. (It seems to me that he is driven beyond mere scholarship)

    2.) Does he think that the ESV is more flawed than the RSV and ultimately the KJV, and if not, which I assume is the case, then why just pick on that version?

    3.) Why quote so much massive information here in 13 major topic that is readily available elsewhere? I’m sure there are scholars with just as much skill and knowledge that could be passed on here and no one that I know has been quoted to such an extent?

    FWIW I do remember the huge controversy at the time re the RSV. I got one as my confirmation Bible, that big kind of purple one. I also remember, I must have been around 12, that it made me feel like kind of a rebel, and I also felt enpowered (before people were actually empowered), that I could read the Bible for myself.) Of course it was more accessible than the KJV, but for a “modern” pre-teen I was just kidding myself. I still couldn’t figure out most of it on my own.

  13. exegete77 says:

    And almost a decade earlier than the HCSB, GW had correctly translated: “God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.”

  14. richie says:

    ESV footnote on John 3:16 reads, “Or For this is how God loved the world”.

    Also, although the ESV Blog chart is certainly simplistic in the titles of all of its categories, the title “word for word” is a traditional short form that is more or less equivalennt to “functionally equivalent” or “literal” or “essentially literal”, etc. None of those terms will really do without an explanation of what is meant by them; but how do you make a chart without simplifying? All three categories should probably be footnoted with at least a brief explanation of what is meant.

  15. Wayne Leman says:

    Charles asked:

    1.) Why would someone like Mark Strauss expend so much time and energy looking for flaws, an inherently negative task?. (It seems to me that he is driven beyond mere scholarship)

    I don’t know. I guess we’d have to ask Mark. As for how much energy he expended, I don’t know that either. I know he’s very busy as a seminary professor and pastor. I suspect that he didn’t spend a lot of energy on his ESV paper. As for writing such a paper, it is a standard kind of paper presented at the ETS meetings. Previously anti-TNIV people have presented similar papers at ETS or elsewhere with purported translation errors in the TNIV. If there were no need to revise and improve translations, there would be no need for papers critiquing Bible versions. I am a Bible translation consultant. Before this job I spent 30 years assisting a translation project. I know how very much revision is needed. It is a gift to give to a translation project to critique the translation and point out areas where it can be improved.

    2.) Does he think that the ESV is more flawed than the RSV and ultimately the KJV, and if not, which I assume is the case, then why just pick on that version?

    We’d have to ask Mark on this one, also. Mark’s paper was on the ESV so it would not have been appropriate to mix in a critique of other versions. As I mentioned above, the kind of paper Mark presented is standard for ETS conferences. It is an important gift to give to a translation team to point out places where the translation can be improved.

    3.) Why quote so much massive information here in 13 major topic that is readily available elsewhere? I’m sure there are scholars with just as much skill and knowledge that could be passed on here and no one that I know has been quoted to such an extent?

    I’m sorry but I don’t know what you are asking in this question. Please explain further. What 13 major topics are you referring to? What other scholars are you referring to?

    If you are referring to Mark’s paper, it was a gift to those who use English Bibles that Mark gave permission for his paper to be posted on BBB. Mark has a good sense of proper English and most of his points were appropriate. His grasp of good English is above average for Bible scholars, especially for exegetical scholars who often seem not to do so well at English as they do with the biblical languages.

    If you are referring to BBB quoting papers from other scholars, we have done that before, also, and gladly will do so in the future. I have invited more than than one of the ESV team members to respond on BBB to Mark’s paper.

    The purpose of BBB is to help promote an awareness of where and how Bible versions can be improved. People who do not consider this an important topic or are not interested in it would do well not to visit BBB. This blog is for those who desire to see Bible translations improved. It is not a place to flog Bible translators (see our commenting guidelines) for the great energy they expend to try to produce accurate, good quality translations. We have found that as people are exposed to thoughts on how translations can be improved, they themselves grow in their own knowledge of what different parts of the Bible mean. And I hope and pray that this results in some life changes. I can’t think of any more important job in the world than to help individuals become the people God wants them to be. What a privilege it is to have access to so many translations of God’s Word which helps us know that message from God. But no translation is without flaws. Some translations fall significantly short of their claims made for them. If we all work together, build relationships with translations teams, and pray for good understanding, we can help there be Better Bibles.

  16. CharlesPDog says:

    “If you are referring to Mark’s paper, it was a gift to those who use English Bibles that Mark gave permission for his paper to be posted on BBB.”

    I was, I guess I just haven’t seen such an extensive coverage of any other topic, for example

    “Previously anti-TNIV people have presented similar papers at ETS” Have they received the coverage here that the anti-ESV people/person did?

    “It is not a place to flog Bible translators (see our commenting guidelines) for the great energy they expend to try to produce accurate, good quality translations.” That kinda was my point

  17. Wayne Leman says:

    Charles asked:

    “Previously anti-TNIV people have presented similar papers at ETS” Have they received the coverage here that the anti-ESV people/person did?

    BBB was begun after the errors in the TNIV were publicized, so they were not current news by this time this blog came online. But I do link to the lists of purported errors on my TNIV links website, which is linked from BBB.

    If someone gave a scholarly paper on the TNIV or any other Bible version, we would be happy to feature it here, with their permission, of course. We have featured most English Bible versions here at one time or another. One of my most enjoyable series of posts was interviewing at least one member of each English Bible translation team. You can find each of these posts in the BBB archives.

    I would guess that others versions have received more attention than the ESV has on BBB. I hesitate to post too much about the ESV because of the push-back we have received from those who like the ESV so much. Also, I am sincere in not wanting our posts to confirm the perception that some have, that the bloggers here “hate the ESV.” We don’t. No Bible version should be hated. It would not be a godly thing for us bloggers to hate any version and post about our hatred.

    “It is not a place to flog Bible translators (see our commenting guidelines) for the great energy they expend to try to produce accurate, good quality translations.” That kinda was my point

    Good. Does it seem to you that we at BBB and you are basically in agreement on this point? Or does it seem that we are flogging translators if we critique their translations?

  18. Bryon says:

    It’s interesting this word-for-word push. Many times there isn’t a comparable English word for what’s in the original languages. In my use of the New Living Translation and this is revealed more so in “The Message” Bible and even the new “The Voice”, they’ll render a statement or maybe insert some meaning of what the original Gk/Heb word meant. Sometimes some give the impression that’s interpreting scripture and I don’t think that qualifies as interpreting scripture but more trying to bring the original language over.

    I found an old excerpt from Bruce Metzger translation group.

    …a purely word-for-word approach would be almost unreadable…Here, for example, is Mt. 6.99-10 in a word-for-word rendering:

    Father of us who in the heavens, be holy the name of you;
    Come the kingdom of you;
    Become the will of you as in heaven and upon earth.

    The English Standard Version’s base wording is the Revised Standard Version. The RSV is part of Metzger’s work and Metzger’s technique seems to be misunderstood by some today.

  19. Bryon says:

    Glenn,
    Apologies but I’m not sure what you’re trying to communicate to me so I’m going to guess and respond from there.

    In my view paraphrasing from other languages is still translating. Anytime you go from one language to another it’s still translating. An example I might toss out is working with Japanese. They have words that have no English equivalent. You can force in the nearest English equivalent but you never capture the true sense of the original.

  20. Wayne Leman says:

    Bryon, I think Glenn is saying that The Message is a (much) freer translation than most other English Bible versions. (Did I get your intended meaning right, Glenn?) Glenn is using the word “paraphrase” in the way in which many people refer to Bible translations which are “freer”, not very literal or tightly corresponding to the forms of the biblical languages. Before this usage language specialists used (and still use) the term “paraphrase” to refer to a restatement of some utterance within the same language. In this sense the Living Bible is a linguistic paraphrase since it is a rephrasing of the ASV (American Standard Version, not a translation from the original biblical languages.

    Both uses of the word are commonly used today and deserve to be in English dictionaries.

  21. Peter Kirk says:

    One more point which has not been made above about why BBB authors and commenters focus on ESV: There is an active blog promoting ESV, controlled I think by its publishers. But that blog does not generally allow posts or comments which might compromise that promotional activity. So when people see the need to respond to posts on that blog, to correct matters of fact or interpretation, they tend to do so here. That was presumably the motivation behind this post, and behind a number of previous posts which have been less than positive about ESV.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s