Choosing the right tool

In this post, I want your honest opinion of the questions that I pose further down. You have to go through the imagination process first, though. Once I ask the analogy question, I’ll make my point.

OK? Ready…set…go!

Imagine yourself as a technician or trade worker in a long-standing, well-respected industry. (Any industry is fine; it’s your imagination.) You may be brand new to this work, a well-seasoned master, or somewhere in between.

Obviously, in order to do your job well, you must have the right tools. Now imagine that a long time ago, someone invented a tool for your particular line of work. This type of tool has been used by hundreds or thousands of others before you, and you were taught to use it as well.

However, over time, you noticed that there are some defects in the tool, some things that could have made it a lot better originally and now. You also notice that, while the tool probably worked really well on the older models of equipment, it doesn’t fit the newer models as well without some work (sort of like trying to use standard and metric together).

Now imagine that over the years, there have been improvements made to that tool. Newer versions work much better on newer equipment and have had some of the original defects corrected. (Some defects still remain, though, because people got so used to them that correcting them would have actually made them feel “wrong”.)

Here’s my question: Do you keep using the favorite well-worn model, even though it’s not nearly as efficient any more and actually has a few problems, and keep training your apprentices with it? Or do you switch to one of the newer models that you’re not quite as familiar with, knowing that it’s much better and can do a better job than the “comfortable” one?

Once you’ve answered for yourself, you can finish reading after the picture.

old tools
Photo by Michael Hartford

OK, this can be applied to any number of issues (customs, traditions, methods, etc.), but here is my point today. The number one tool for the Christian life is the Bible. God has told us over and over that the Bible is his hands-on tool to grow his people (see, for example, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:3).

That being the case, why do people continue to insist on using the King James Version of the Bible? Yes, it has been in use for a long time (400 years). Yes, many people have used it successfully for salvation and godliness. Yes, it is an acceptable English translation.

But it’s not the best translation (some “defects” in the translation), and it certainly doesn’t work as well in the 21st century as it once did (old tool, new equipment).

If you would upgrade your tools to the best available for a trade or industry… If you would insist that your apprentices and new hires were trained on the latest tools… Why would you not do the same for your spiritual life?

Why are we still requiring children and students to memorize passages from the KJV? Why do some insist on forcing them to learn dozens (possibly hundreds) of archaic words they will never use outside of a church setting?

Why are we still trying to adjust our lives with a 400-year-old tool, when there are so many other, better tools available?

In the early ’90s I switched from the King James to the New American Standard Bible when I began studying New Testament Greek. It was like working with a brand new tool. Not only did it “feel” better in my hands, it worked better in my personal study, teaching, and preaching. A few years ago I switched again, to the NET Bible, for the same reasons. As language changes and translation scholarship gets better, I’ll probably switch again in the future.

If you want to do your best work, you have to have the best tools. It’s time to retire the KJV for good.

(On a side note, if you’re interested in learning how to read New Testament Greek so you can use commentaries and Bible study materials that reference the original language, you can learn through our church’s Learning Center. Contact me for more information.)

OK, my rant’s done. It’s your turn. The comments are open.

Do you still use the KJV? Have you switched to something else? Why?

8 thoughts on “Choosing the right tool

  1. Our church switched years ago to the NKJV. We did this for several reasons:

    (1) More modern language, so it is more easily understood.
    (2) Compatible in word order with users of the KJV (not much of an issue now)
    (3) Compatible with much memory work done in the past (similar to KJV)
    (4) Marginal notes for NU and M texts, that give variances of Greek families of texts(something no other translations do that I know of).
    (5) An accurate, literal translation.

    We’ve seen no reason to move to something else, as #’s 1, 4, & 5 remain.

    • A couple of our pastors used the NKJV, probably for the same reason.

      Isn’t the NKJV still based on the TR/Byzantine family of texts, though? Can it really be considered an accurate translation if its underlying text isn’t “accurate”? Aren’t the footnotes more accurate than the text itself?

      (How many times do I have to type “accurate” until it starts to sound really weird?)

      • When in doubt, the NKJV favors the MAJ text. From the NKJV Preface: “In light of these facts, and also because the New King James Version is the fifth revision of a historic document translated from specific Greek texts, the editors decided to retain the traditional text in the body of the New Testament and to indicate major Critical and Majority Text variant readings in the footnotes.”

        Your statement assumes the supremacy of the Alexandrian text (for which there are arguments for or against, and thus Farstad’s NKJV project – read the NKJV preface: http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/cms_content?page=186191&sp=57319). I believe that it is possible (and likely) that neither family of texts is “perfect,” and therefore one needs to look at the entire Greek text supply. I do think the MAJ has added text (1 Tim 3:3, for example: “not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle,” where “not greedy for money” is Biblically accurate (found in Titus 1) but not textually accurate. It doesn’t even make sense in 1 Tim 3:3, where the opposite of “not violent” is “gentle,” not greedy. It doesn’t impact our teaching, just the flow of the passage.

        I cannot cite a case off the top of my head where I believed the MAJ text was more accurate, but I have found such. I believe that if it is possible for people to add to the text (likely out of uncertainty between multiple copies), it is equally likely that those that copied the Alexandrian family could leave off text (we see that in many copy situations – errors do occur in copying, and that’s why there are so many variants).

        I lean toward the “less is more” theory of the Greek texts, but I still do not believe in a perfect text. Thus I am compelled to look at both families, and I believe that limiting one’s focus to the NU text is an unneeded hazard (and one reason I’ve never liked the NAS/NAU).

        I have found the NKJV to be very accurate, as a whole. I’ve found nothing yet to surpass it as a usable, accurate English text. The NAU was still too clunky, and the ESV has failed to be as accurate in most of my examinations (though it has improved on it in a few cases). The NET is too generalizing (not as literal as I believe it should be), as is the NIV (conservative, but not literal). Plus, I prefer to see notes from both the NU and MAJ, a feature which you have in the NKJV and no other (to that extent). It gives you brief, general insight into the variants, which I find a great benefit to the reader.

        For what it’s worth.

        • Yeah, I had just read the Preface to the NKJV before you posted this. I haven’t used it much at all, so I didn’t realize how many notes they did include.

          While I certainly lean Alexandrian, I actually prefer the Critical Text (NA26-27 / UBS3-4) because it looks at all of the families, instead of just one side or the other. It’s one of the reasons I do like the NASB and NET. I also like the NET, because they use the notes (over 60,000) to point out the reasons behind the translation decisions.

          I understand what you’re saying about the “literal” versus the more “dynamic” translations, and I used to think that way, too. The reason I chose to move to the NET is because I think that “good, literal” Greek/Hebrew does not always make “good, literal” English.

          While I strongly believe that God inspired the very words of Scripture, I also strongly believe in getting those words into the best form of the translation language, whether that be one word per original word or a whole phrase per original word, if that best brings out the original thoughts of the original words.

          Of course, as pastors-teachers, I also think we should become as fluent in the original languages as possible, so we don’t have to rely on someone else’s translation. We can see it for ourselves. That’s pretty awesome!

          • I agree with you. I do, however, prefer to translate literally, and leave the explaining to exposition. I don’t like confusing translation with explanation.

            The NKJ notes reflect both the Critical Text (NU) and the Majority Text (M). I use the Critical Text via Bibleworks.

          • I can go along with that. My only fear is that it “elevates” exposition to the point that people could just rely on that rather than doing the study themselves, if a “literal” translation makes it difficult.

            Since many people will not invest their money in solid study works or their time to learn the languages, all we have left for the majority of our congregations are exposition sessions (whether teaching services or Bible study times) and helpful translations.

            Of course, I would prefer more study times and more people learning the languages, and we’re working toward that in our church, too.

  2. I have been using the NIV for a number of years. I feel if God wanted us not to use the other versions, He would make it clearly understood! Some do have “flaws”, but since God is in control I am sure He will uses His word to help us understand and bring people into His kingdom with whatever version He sees fit!!!

    • I agree, Becky. Of course, there are some truly bad Bibles out there, but most of them are not. Even solo-translator paraphrases have their use, but the best Bibles are those that try to bring the inspired words into our (modern) language without including their theological bias.

      It’s keeping up with the modern language that requires new translations. On the other hand, I wish every Christian would take just one year of beginner’s Greek (at least), so they could better utilize the study resources available that reference the original languages. That would be a tremendous step in personal study.

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