With the proliferation of so many Bible translations on the market today, many Christians are unsure how to navigate through all the acronyms to finally settle on a Bible for personal use. Likewise, there are pastors and church leaders who can flip through a recent Bible translation and make a decision based on the approach taken to a few passages, but they may be unaware of the underlying philosophy of translation which drives the choices of the team of translators.

Andreas Köstenberger, research professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Seminary, has recently edited a book called Which Bible Translation Should I Use?: A Comparison of 4 Major Recent Versions (B&H Academic, 2012), which looks at four major translations through the eyes of spokespeople who recommend them: Wayne Grudem (ESV), Doug Moo (NIV), Ray Clendenen (HCSB) and Philip Comfort (NLT). I’ve asked Dr. Köstenberger a few questions about this recent volume.

Trevin Wax: Why is this book needed?

Andreas Köstenberger: “Which Bible translation should I use?” is one of the most frequently questions we get asked. And, it’s true, choosing a Bible translation is a very important decision, because we need to be able to have confidence in the Bible we read and study and memorize.

In my experience, people often choose a Bible because, say, John Piper likes it, or because of tradition or emotional factors. In this book, we’ve tried to put choosing a Bible translation on a more objective footing.

In consultation with the representatives of the four major recent versions included in our volume, we chose over a dozen significant passages across both Testaments and have each of these scholars explain their particular choice of translation. In this way, we hope that we have provided our readers with a valuable tool for comparing these 4 translations.

Trevin Wax: Why did you choose these four versions?

Andreas Köstenberger: The book started out as a symposium at Liberty University, with Wayne Grudem, Douglas Moo, and Ray Clendenen representing the ESV, the NIV, and the HCSB respectively. After the symposium, we solicited an additional response from Philip Comfort representing the NLT. The ESV, NIV 2011, HCSB, and NLT are the four most recent major English Bible translations that have appeared on the market, which is why they were chosen for comparison in our volume.

Even though some other significant versions such as the NKJV or the NASB were not explicitly included, we believe readers of our volume will still be given tools to evaluate these and other translations, because we focus not only on the rendering of individual passages but seek to unearth the underlying translation philosophy for the four major versions chosen for inclusion.

Our hope is that our volume will shed light on why a given translation chose a particular rendering. It’s not just a matter of that individual passage but the larger approach to translation that is used, which differs from version to version.

Take the reference to the qualification for a church leader to be a one-woman-type of man in 1 Timothy 3:2, for example. Some translations choose a word-for-word rendering (“husband of one wife,” NASB), while others opt for a more idiomatic translation (e.g. “faithful to his wife,” NIV). When you understand how a given translation philosophy influenced a particular rendering, it helps you evaluate a particular translation decision better. Eventually, you may even get to a point when, knowing the translation philosophy underlying the major English version, you can almost predict how a given version will translate a particular verse.

Trevin Wax: It’s interesting to see how the editors chose specific passages for each scholar to interact with, passages that are representative of the different translation philosophies. How did you go about choosing these passages? 

Andreas Köstenberger: Rather than dictate to the contributors the different passages, we allowed each to select four passages that they believed would illustrate the benefits of their translation philosophy. There were some passages we had in mind that we hoped would be covered, and they were selected by the contributors themselves.

I think the passages provide a good sampling. They are diverse enough to cover both testaments and several literary genres. There were various issues involved to help the readers see a bigger picture of how the translations applied their theory of translation in particular situations.

Trevin Wax: Do you see any trends in translation philosophy? What kind of translations do you think most Christians in the English-speaking world will gravitate to in the future?

Andreas Köstenberger: I don’t want to give away the conclusion we reach in our book, because I want your readers to buy the book and benefit from the detailed analysis, but let me just say that we have the luxury of having several outstanding Bible translations in the English language. There is, of course, no perfect substitute for studying the Bible in the original languages, but many of the English versions that are available on the market today serve us extremely well.

Personally, I like to use several translations in conjunction with one another, which helps me to see the facets of a given passage in fuller perspective. Using multiple translations also is useful in that people in our churches do in fact use different translations, and so we can anticipate any questions they might have based on the translation they use.

Trevin Wax: What did you learn as you worked on this volume?

Andreas Köstenberger: I enjoyed working with each of the four contributors to this volume, as well as with my co-editor, David Croteau. I believe that each of these four scholars represented their version extremely well and did an outstanding job responding to our questions and showcasing the virtues of their particular translation.

It is my hope that the volume will perform a real service for many who earnestly seek to find the translation that best serves their needs, and that whatever translation they choose, they will read, and study, and memorize the Word and teach it to their children and others.