This editorial originally appeared in the October 20, 1978, issue of the magazine, upon publication of the New International Version of the Bible (NIV).

Many Christians seem confused by the availability of so many different translations of the Bible. Older Christians did not face so many choices. They had to learn the language of the King James, and if they could do it, why can't others? God has indeed marvelously blessed the King James translation over the centuries. But language changes; it does not remain static; and new translations are needed.

Christianity Today recommends that no version should be the "standard," neither the King James nor any other translation. You can memorize Scripture from a variety of translations. It's more important to understand a verse than to know how it is worded in a certain version. Preachers, aware of the variety of translations used by their audiences, can use them together in sermons to expound Scripture. A Bible study group may wish everyone to have a common translation, but why not rotate which translation you use? You can get more out of the Bible when you read different translations of the same passage. (You can also get the same benefit by studying Scripture in a foreign language.)

We must never forget that the principal purpose of words is communication. Jesus Christ who is the incarnate Word of God looked and acted like a man of his time. In the same way, the written Word of God was inspired in the everyday languages of the people who first received it.

Since the Greek of the New Testament differed from the older Greek of the classical Athenian writers, scholars long thought it a special "Holy Ghost" dialect. With the discoveries of ancient documents, we now realize that New Testament Greek differs from the classical because it was the common, somewhat simplified, dialect spread by the conquering Alexander the Great.

We welcome the appearance and increased use of translations that more clearly communicate the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek to readers today. And there is evidence that understanding of God's Word is significantly enhanced by modern versions.

For example, the principal of a major Christian school in Maryland carefully tested more than 300 students in grades four through eight in schools in three states. He compared the King James (modified by paragraphing, repunctuations, and modernization of the most blatant archaisms), the New American Standard, and the New International. In every school, at every grade level, and on each of the four kinds of tests, the New International proved to communicate the best, the King James least so, and the New American Standard half-way between. And that despite the regular usage of the King James in home and school by most of the students. Those without such a background could be expected to fare worse.

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For example, researchers at Georgia State University compared the readability of the Good News Bible, the Revised Standard, and the King James. The Good News came out notably better than either of the more traditional versions. Indeed, researchers found the RSV and KJV in key respects to resemble the instructions for Federal Income Tax forms.

We understand the written Word of God best when we read and hear it in our own language—in the vernacular of the day. The gap between what we read in the Bible and what we face in secular culture is wide enough without confronting the reader with an unfamiliar vocabulary and archaic grammar.

The presence of many good alternatives to the King James will keep any one of them from becoming dominant. That should ensure that Bible translating will continue. We want to clearly communicate to contemporary men what God revealed to the ancient readers of Hebrew and Greek millennia ago. We need to hear, to understand, and to obey his Word every bit as much now as people did then.

This editorial originally appeared in the October 20, 1978, issue of the magazine, upon publication of the New International Version of the Bible (NIV).

Related Elsewhere

Also appearing on our site today:

TNIV Critics Blast Scripture 'Distortions' | But evangelical backers of the new translation say gender changes are 'accurate.'
Why the TNIV Draws Ire | No translation is perfect, and each must be read with a careful exegetical eye. A Christianity Today editorial

The International Bible Society site offers the full text of the NIV online and many other resources. It also offers a chart for comparing translations and many other translations.

More information comparing and describing Bible translations is available here and here.

Previous Christianity Today articles on Bible translation include:

A Translation Fit For a King | In the beginning, the King James Version was an attempt to thwart liberty. In the end, it promoted liberty. (Oct. 22, 2001)
The Reluctant Romans | At Douai in Flanders, Catholic scholars translated the Bible into English as an alternative to the Bible of "the heretics." (Oct. 22, 2001)
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We Really Do Need Another Bible Translation | As good as many modern versions are, they often do not allow us to hear what the Holy Spirit actually said. (Oct. 19, 2001)
Old Wisdom for New Times | The International Bible Society is doing "spiritual archaeology" and retro-publishing to reach seekers. (April 23, 2001)
And the Word Came with Pictures | Visual Bible International (VBI), is producing a movie version of the Bible book for book, word for word. (March 1, 2001)
New Bible translations help to preserve world's disappearing languages | The total number of languages in which the Bible is available in part or in its entirety now stands at 2,233. (Feb. 28, 2000)
What Bible Version Did Jesus Read? | What does the knowledge that Jesus used different versions of Scripture mean for us today? (April 26, 1999)
On the Shoulders of King James | Barclay M. Newman has kept before him a question posed by the translators of the 1611 King James Version: "What can be more [important] than to deliver God's book unto God's people in a tongue which they understand?" (Oct. 27, 1997)
Confessions of a Bible Translator | As a stylist on a new translation of the Bible, Daniel worries over the effectiveness of the language into which the text is translated. (Oct. 27, 1997)