What Bible will we read this year?

bibleIn 1968 my grandparents gave me my first Bible. It was a Revised Standard Version. In 1974, I began high school and we were all given a copy of the New English Translation. At university I discovered that everyone had copies of the New International Version so, of course, I bought one too. A decade or so back, most of my tribe jumped on board with the English Standard Version, and I began reading and preaching from this translation. And now there’s a new version of the New International Version to replace the one I loved for so long that’s now fallen apart. This is probably the version that I read the most. More recently, people have proclaimed the merits of the Christian Standard Bible, so I’ve been reading one of those too.

Firstly, let me say what a privilege it is to have so many quality choices in understandable modern English. Prior to 1881 there were only three choices for English readers—the KJV, the KJV, or the KJV. You could have it anyway you wanted, so long as it was the King James Version.

As I begin today as the pastor at Salt Community Church in Bonny Hills, my plan is to preach from the NIV. This will be a change for our church as we have been mainly focused on the ESV until now.

So why have I opted to read and preach from the ‘new’ NIV?

  1. You can’t buy the ‘old’ NIV anymore
  2. There are important translation improvements from the ‘old’ NIV
  3. The NIV is easy to read out loud
  4. The NIV pitches at a good reading level for the majority of readers
  5. The gender language is well-balanced
  6. The NIV is a ‘mainstream’ translation that can be purchased easily in a multitude of print options.

So why not the ESV?

Perhaps it’s just personal preference, but I don’t find the ESV a comfortable version for public reading. The sentence structure will often follow the original Greek or Hebrew—and that is a very good thing—but it can make it harder to read out loud. I believe it is pitched at a higher reading level than the NIV.

But, I’m not dissing the ESV. I’ve been using an ESV for personal Bible study and preparation now for many years, because it is a more ‘literal’ translation. It is more consistent than the NIV in translating Greek and Hebrew words and phrases with the same English words and phrases. The ESV pays greater attention to conveying original sentence structures and word order. This is excellent for study purposes and leaves the reader to do more of the work of observation and interpretation.

If you are engaged in serious Bible study or preparing studies, lessons, or talks for others, then it is very helpful to have more than one translation at your disposal.

And what about the CSB?

You haven’t heard of it? It’s the Christian Standard Bible—an update of the Holman Christian Standard Bible—and it’s only been around for a couple of years. To be honest, I love the CSB. I even bought 70 copies for Salt, before changing my mind! The CSB is a genuinely fresh translation that helps me to notice things in the text that I haven’t seen before. I appreciate the layout, where Old Testament quotations are printed in bold type. Many claim it to be the translation that gets the best balance between literally translating the text and communicating the ideas easily. So why haven’t I opted for the CSB as my ‘go to’ reading/preaching version? Probably because it’s not as mainstream or accessible as the NIV yet (compare the shelf space at your local Christian bookshop) and many already have a copy of the NIV they can read and bring to church. But, if you’re looking for a new version to freshen up your reading of Scripture, then I’d certainly advise getting an CSB.

Lots of choice. What a blessing from God. Let’s clear the dust off and start reading!

5 thoughts on “What Bible will we read this year?”

  1. Nice summary. What is your view on The Message by Eugene Peterson? Not for public bible reading, but for private.

    1. I do read The Message from time to time. Being a paraphrase it’s not the text to study, but at times Peterson has some good insights and helpful turns of phrase that add insight for understanding the text. Helpful to have a literal translation or original languages to assess The Message.

  2. Dave, we agree the NIV is the better overall translation for everyday use, closer to modern usage than the ESV, which can be a bit “clunky” at times. Thanks for setting out the pros and cons of each.

  3. Dave, like you I’ve found that at some points (wish I’d noted a few down for discussions like this) the sentence structure in the ESV is so unnatural that I think it must border on busting the rules of grammar! This means it’s a pain to read aloud in church, even when the reader has done the work in getting familiar with the passage; the unnatural syntax just catches you out.
    God willing, soon I may be starting in a church where for many of the peeps English is a second language. So the church is already using the Readers NIV (NIrV). I’m wondering what challenges that may spit up when it comes to preaching and ministry!
    Bat on, Mike.

  4. I know people say reading the esv is harder than the niv, but my experience as a listener is that evangelical public reading is not really that good. I think there’s no difference in quality of reading between the two – but when using esv people know they’re not doing too well. Perhaps that can motivate better prep, or perhaps put people off even trying in the first place.

    I’d like to get to know the CSB. You’ve motivated me to actually do something! (Though I don’t at all like the translation Messiah for Christ. Bugbear territory approaches…)

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