Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bibles and Translations

This was prepared as an Institute handout--I thought it was very useful and would be a good reference to have. I would also add the New Living Translation (NLT) to the list as a good cultural resource.

By Jesus’ day, Hebrew was no longer the native language of the Jews, though it appears that its use was not limited to scribes and scholars. Nevertheless, in the synagogues, the traditional ancient Hebrew text would be read, followed, for purposes of understanding, by a translation into the current language of the people, i.e. an Aramaic translation or “targum.” This practice may go back to Nehemiah 8:8.

Similarly, English-speaking members of the Church should know the King James Version, but also read modern translations for understanding. The KJV is the official English Bible of the LDS Church, but not necessarily the sole Bible for individual members to read and study.

We clearly prefer the King James Version of the New Testament, but we are not adamant about that. Any responsibly prepared version could be used and might be helpful to us.(Elder John K. Carmack, The NT & the LDS, p. 2)

If [the Bible] be translated incorrectly, and there is a scholar on the earth who professes to be a Christian, and he can translate it any better than King James’s translators did it, he is under obligation to do so, or the curse is upon him. If I understood Greek and Hebrew as some may profess to do, and I knew the Bible was not correctly translated, I should feel myself bound by the law of justice to the inhabitants of the earth to translate that which is incorrect and give it just as it was spoken anciently. Is that proper? Yes, I would be under obligation to do it.(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 14:226-227)

Modern apostles have used modern translations of the Bible to supplement difficult KJV passages: e.g.

Neal A. Maxwell, (Ensign, May 1991, p. 90); RSV (Revised Standard Version)

(Ensign, Dec. 1986, p. 23); NKJV (New King James Version)

Jeffrey R. Holland, (Ensign, Nov. 1994, p. 34); NEB (New English Bible)

Robert D. Hales, (Ensign, Nov. 1997, p. 26). NIV (New International Version)

Recommended Versions

New King James Version (NKJV)- For those who want a KJV with some modernized grammar and vocabulary.

New International Version (NIV) Study Bible- A very readable Bible done by conservative Evangelicals. I like it for the Old Testament notes. The NT notes may be more theologically biased.

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)- The best single translation available.


  1. You do want to exercise some discernment. According to J. Reuben Clark in a 1954 Conference address, the then-current RSV bore evidence of systematic removal of references to miracles and Christ's divinity. I'm also aware of Bible revisions that remove references to gender for members of the Godhead! If you're going to use other translations, I strongly urge learning enough about the church or group of scholars who produced it to be aware of their theological, social, and political biases so that you can factor that in when deciding whether to base your doctrinal views on that version.

    Personally, I'll stick with the KJV, with a dose of the JST thrown in for clarity. At least then I can be more confident that my Bible actually testifies to the personhood (including gender) of the Godhead and the divinity of my Savior, and that it is consistent with the Restored Gospel as given to us by modern prophets.

  2. I agree completely about the discernment. Many/most modern translations do not have the doctrines we cherish regarding the atonement--someone said that NIV stood for Nearly Inspired Version.

    The standard works are all rhetorically linked to the KJV as well, and to me, that means the KJV is indispensible. The other translations are mainly helpful as an adjunct to clarify archaic language and understand customs. I also use the LDS Spanish and Portuguese translations of the scriptures to gain additional insights.

  3. I find the footnotes in the LDS version of the KJV sufficient for clarifying vocabulary, and the CES manuals are helpful for other background material.

    I'm monolingual (hoping to learn Spanish), so going to other languages doesn't help me much. ;)

  4. The best advice I ever received was found in a single word: "sift." I have the gift of the Holy Ghost and I am grateful to be able to read and glean insights all the while sifting out that which is not inspired.

    My library contains 26 different translations. Only one has proven to be relatively worthless.
    (And it is a paraphrase not a translation.)

    I can second Donna's recommendation for the New Living Translation as there are phrases there that take my breath away. My JST is well-thumbed and my first choice is always the KJV. But I do appreciate the occasional insights in other translations.

  5. I agree, as a missionary, we had our inside jokes about different translations (i.e. we called the NIV the "Not Inspired Version") But there were times we would have someone read from their own Bible out loud, say: James 1:5 or Amos 3:7. And while a lot of the time it was just put into more standard english, some times it was even more clear and useful in understanding the true mewaning than it was in our own KJV versions.

    Like Karen said, you can be benefited from more than just one source. As great as KJV is, many are reluctant to aknowledge that some of the newer translations of the Bible are based on manuscripts that are older and more accurate than those the KJV scholars had access to. And I would rather read the New Living Translation of the Old Testament for understanding any day of the week. Have you read the Old Testament in KJV?! It's painful some times.

    Joseph Smith (and Paul) encouraged us to seek after all things that are virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy. There is so much that is good and true in the world that our standardized cannon cannot contain it ALL. So, in reading other translations, and other footnotes, (which in the NIV are much more extensive than in our own and provide excellent insight)and when reading ANYTHING, I reccomend you follow the advice of the Lord as given to Joseph Smith in Section 91 concerning the Apocrypha...

    "There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly;
    ...Therefore, whoso readith it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth;
    And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom;"