There is a “vast bulk of agreement” between the many different English versions of the Bible, according to an expert translator who worked on the controversial 2011 edition of the New International Version.
Douglas J. Moo, professor of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College in Illinois, and chair of the Committee on Bible Translation, spoke with Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas on an episode of “The Table” podcast posted on YouTube on Monday.
During their conversation on the controversies surrounding modern and older English translations of the Bible, Moo noted that while they have plenty of “good texts” from ancient times, “those manuscripts that we have don’t always agree.”
“When we translate the NIV, we have to make our own judgment about what the best text is. Now, we usually are working from a kind of existing, generally accepted Hebrew OT, Greek NT, and we work from those, but we feel free to make different decisions if we think that we need to,” explained Moo.
“And as you say, then we will sometimes put one option in the text and use a footnote to indicate, ‘Here’s another really popular option.’”
Moo went on to note that while there are controversies and debates over differences in translation between versions like the NIV and the King James Version, ultimately these editions agree far more than they disagree.
“I like to tell people that when you look at, let’s say, the NIV and compare it to the King James, what’s remarkable, granted that history, is how similar they are. It’s an indication of the providence of God in preserving the text for us,” Moo said.
“So sometimes we seize on the differences. And yeah, they are there. But there’s such a minority compared to the vast bulk of agreement that you have between the King James and NIV and ESV or an NLT.”
Bock then spoke about how he tells people that it's “generally regarded that you can look at all those differences and say that no core doctrine of the Christian faith is impacted by those differences.”
“What is impacted is how many verses might discuss a particular point and that kind of thing, which I think is an important kind of step-back point to make,” Bock said.
Moo agreed, adding, “You’re not going to make any change to what you believe as a Christian or how you practice as Christian based on the English in the English Bible you’re using.”
Moo also discussed how he desires to see the word “literal” banished from “our translation discussions” because it falsely assumes that “a translation works by plugging one English word into one Greek word.”
“This is simply not the way languages work. People who know other languages well know that. They know that if you want to learn French well and communicate accurately in French, you can’t do that because you’re just going to be making nonsense,” he said.
“I like to use the example of the expression ‘ordering apple pie a la mode.’ Well, let’s do a literal rendering there. ‘I want apple pie according to the fashion.’ No, that’s not an accurate translation of the phrase. It means apple pie with ice cream on it. That’s what it means; that’s what a translation should do, not simply replace the words.”
Bock responded that it is important to understanding meaning and context when translating words, and noted that the Bible itself pursues a similar method.
“We actually see the Bible do this with itself. This is a point that I like to make — if you watch how the Old Testament gets cited when it’s recited, it isn’t always the same wording that you had originally,” Bock explained.
“Sometimes something is being done to bring out either an implicit sense or something like that that develops it in one way or another. And so the Scripture doesn’t even handle itself that way all the time.”
In late 2010, the Committee on Bible Translation released the newest edition of the NIV, the previous edition having been released in 1984.
Commonly known as the NIV 2011, the version garnered controversy in some circles for its translation decisions, including its increased use of gender-inclusive language.
Denny Burk of the Commission on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood wrote in 2012 that while the 2011 version was an improvement over more gender-inclusive versions, “the NIV 2011 unnecessarily removes male-oriented terminology—especially the use of generic masculine forms of expression.”
“The NIV 2011’s aversion to generic masculine forms of expression is unnecessary and can have the deleterious effect of obscuring aspects of the biblical authors’ meaning. In my view, this feature alone weighs heavily against the NIV 2011,” wrote Burk at the time.
“Different situations call for different kinds of translations, but an essentially literal translation is still the best for the regular preaching, studying, and reading of the scriptures. Thus, I recommend the NASB as the most accurate version, and the ESV as the best combination of both accuracy and readability.”