My position is, I believe, the biblical one: each Christian stands as an individual priest before the Lord. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus"; and 1 Peter 2:9: "You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, His own special people..." As such, we each stand accountable before the Lord for the decisions we make. Since the Bible is the source and only authority of our faith, then it seems to me a Christian would want to choose a translation that he or she considers to be reliable.
In a nutshell, here are the issues we have discussed:
1. There are two streams of New Testament texts from which English Bibles dating back to the mid-1500s have been translated. There are considerable differences between the two, one of which is currently represented by the Critical, or Eclectic, Text, and the other by the Majority Text. Supporters of the Critical Text argue that the primary Greek texts they rely on are “older” and “better.” Older, yes, but as we have seen, older doesn’t automatically mean better. The Majority Text, sometimes referred to as the Democratic Text, has a far greater number of individual manuscripts that have been referenced (currently exceeding 8,000 full and partial manuscripts) to compile the MJ.
2. God has promised to preserve His Word, so the goal is to determine which texts have remained true to the original manuscripts (none of which, as far as anyone knows, still exist).
3. There are different methods of translating from the New Testament texts. Literal translation involves an essentially word-for-word method of translating (as we discussed in an earlier article, exact word-for-word translation isn’t possible because of the differences in languages). The second method—dynamic equivalence—begins with the assumption that God intended to preserve His thoughts and not His words. It is left up to the translators to determine what God meant and to put it into language that can be understood by modern audiences. That position, however, ignores the many indications in scripture where God insisted upon His exact words.
4. Finally, there is the issue of understandability. I think this is key, once an individual has decided which textual stream he or she believes to be the stream God has used to preserve scripture—the New Testament in particular because no one is questioning the validity of the Masoretic Hebrew text that underlies essentially every translation of the Old Testament. I long ago cast my lot with the Majority Text because it follows the biblical principles of (1) causing any matter to be attested to by witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; 2 Corinthians 13:1), and the more witnesses the better; and (2) the method used by the Holy Spirit of “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13). As I have pointed out, the New Testament was originally written in common, everyday Koine Greek. That way everyone who read or heard the scriptures read understood what was written. That makes perfect sense to me. The problem with the English Bibles known as the Reformation Bibles (Tyndale, Coverdale, Geneva, King James, etc.) are written in the English in use between 400-500 years ago. As such, much of what is written is unintelligible to modern English readers.
I feel very comfortable with the 1769 version of the King James Version (the version available today, not the 1611) because I grew up with it and I still read it almost daily; but I realize we are living in a time when not only are many people not biblically literate, many people are just barely literate. (Two out of every five graduates of U.S. high schools are functionally illiterate, meaning they are unable to read technical papers, income tax filing instructions, automobile owner manuals, etc., with comprehension. What a sad commentary on the quality of education in our nation today.) While I am not completely comfortable with the New King James (for reasons mentioned in an earlier article), I use it when preaching and teaching, as well as in writing these articles. I want to use something people understand. Even when I use the King James, I have always made it a practice to replace archaic words—e.g., thee, thou, thine, forseest, prevent—with their modern equivalents. (No one is going to convince me that “thou” is inspired and “you” isn’t.)
I should also add that when I am preparing a Bible lesson or sermon, I use a variety of resources, including the Greek and Hebrew languages (I have studied both languages; but while I can still translate from the Greek, I am hardly an expert, so I rely on some excellent dictionaries and similar resources), a Strong’s Concordance, various commentaries, and a chain reference system (The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, a compendium of over 500,000 individual references) that allows me to examine various passages that deal with the same central topic. It is my responsibility as a minister of the gospel to do my homework before I dare to step into the pulpit. Then like Ezra and the teaching priests, who “read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8), and with the Holy Spirit's guidance, I do my best to help people understand the passage.
I have occasionally (probably just out of Kentucky orneriness) put people to a test when they have insisted on one version over another. I ask them to recite the 66 books of the Bible in order. Then I’ll ask them how many psalms there are in the book of Psalms (150), as well as the very last word in the Bible (“Amen”). Incidentally, I can’t take credit for those questions. Years ago I had a nursing home ministry in the Chicago area, and an elderly lady who was a regular at our services asked me those questions. I answered all of them correctly (Phew!), and she told me I was the first minister who had ever held a service there who had been able to do so. That tells me those ministers weren’t very familiar with their Bibles, so shame on them. But the same often holds true for many of those Christians who insist on a single English translation.
Here is my advice. Choose wisely. Examine the evidence, but most importantly, ask the Holy Spirit to lead you as you make your decision. Oh, and once you settle on it, then by all means read it, study it, and learn it. If there is a failing among Christians today (by no means all, but certainly too many), it isn’t that they have the “wrong” version of the Bible, but that they aren’t very well acquainted with the one they do have.