Thursday, August 02, 2007

Do Bible Versions Reveal Levels of Conservatism?

I received an email from a missionary that asked me a question about the International Mission Board no longer approving the New International Version for publications. It seems that field personnel in at least one particular region were told . . .

'If quoting a verse from the Book, the NIV is no longer an approved version. To simplify things at the pr office, they would like verses used in this format: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NASB). This is only if you are quoting a whole verse. If you are paraphrasing part of a verse, you don’t have to put the version. (This is true for all company publications—not just C’net).

These are the approved versions:

ESV – English Standard Version

HCSB – Holman Christian Standard Bible

KJV – King James Version

NASB – New American Standard Bible

NKJV – New King James Version

I immediately called the International Mission Board in Richmond, Virginia to find out if this were true. The staff and administration of the IMB were very responsive to my questions and answered them thoroughly. I encourage any Southern Baptists with questions or concerns to call the respective agency's administrative personnel. I believe you will find them responsive, as did I.

I was told that the particular email in question conveyed a much stronger statement against the New International Version than the IMB administrative staff intended. The issue is simply one of being able to check to make sure that any verse that is used in IMB publications is quoted accurately. There is a style manual that the IMB uses to ensure proper grammar, and this manual has historically contained five 'approved' versions of the Bible. Rather than adding a 'sixth,' the IMB replaced the New International Version with the Holman Christian Standard. It was not meant to be a statement 'against' the NIV. The IMB has no desire to issue 'approval' or 'disapproval' statements regarding the NIV. It is simply a matter of internal style.

However, the senior administrator who spoke with me on the phone did tell me something interesting. He said that there have been a few Southern Baptists who have complained about to the IMB administration about the use of the NIV in official publications. I didn't press him to explain the complaints or even elaborate whether or not the removal of the NIV from the style manual is a desire to avoid any future criticism, but it did give me pause to reflect.

I was given the NIV on my eighteenth birthday and memorized the entire book of Romans from the NIV. When I preached through Galatians at Emmanuel I used the NIV. Many Southern Baptist churches use pew Bibles that are NIV. The NIV has been a highly used version of the Bible by many Southern Baptists in the last half century.

Many Southern Baptists may not be aware of the King James Version Only Baptists who dot the religious landscape. Though I still preach from the King James Version, I really get chills up my spine anytime I'm around people who suggest there is an inerrant and 'inspired' English translation of the God breathed, inerrant and infallible word of God. It is obvious that the IMB administration is not KJV Only -- but I think it would be well for all of us who are Southern Baptists to be on guard against any attempt to measure one's spirituality, conservatism or dedication to Christ by what version of the Bible we use.

In His Grace,



Robin said...

I thought that the move from NIV to HCSB in printed materials was based on licensing issues with Zondervan (which controls the rights to the NIV and from what I hear has not been willing to play nicely of late). This is the first I've heard of any pejorative feelings toward the NIV (perceived or otherwise) as a translation.

Anonymous said...

Robin is correct.

Although it might appear that there is some tie between the conservative issues and bible versions it actually isn't the case. And I'm sure that there have been plenty of complaints from KJV-only Baptists in the past that would make this a believable issue if it were the case, but I'm confident that it's not. In this situation though it has to do with licensing from Zondervan.

I was recently asked to write a prayer starter on my UPG for a Lifeway publication, and wanted to use the ESV. The list of approved versions (from my regional office) only included the HCSB, NKJV and KJV. I wrote asking why we were not allowed to use the ESV or NIV since they are both so commonly used throughout the SBC, and was told that I was allowed to use the ESV (that it just wasn't listed), but that due to publishing rights from Zondervan we were not allowed to use the NIV in publications that were going to be published from the IMB.

I didn't think much of it, because whenever I worked for Family Christian Stores back in the 90s there was a similar issue where FCS almost lost their rights to sell the NIV, but ended up coming to an agreement (Bible sales are huge for Christian bookstores, and losing out on the second most popular version would really hurt the company). There was another time whenever we were scolded by a Zondervan representative for having NIV New Testaments in our giveaway box, because whereas people are allowed to give a NIV Bible to a friend, FCS was not due to their licensing agreement.

I think this issue doesn't have to do with theology or controversy at's just one of those disgusting things that go on within the world of Christian commercialism.

An Anonymous IMB M

Todd Nelson said...

Oh boy, here we go again. I sincerely hope there's not another "conspiracy" or movement afoot. Surely not. Thanks for going straight to the source, Wade. Your mention of the senior administrator's comment is interesting, but not too surprising.

This hot-button issue can throw us into the whole translation theory debate and further distract from our missions mandate. On the other hand, it is at the heart of our call to incarnate and proclaim the gospel to people in their own languages.

I preach and teach from the NLT. It's my preference for ministering in an international context with many non-native English speakers. But I can fellowship and cooperate with people who use other translations! As long as they don't insist that their choice is superior! Don't get me started...

Anonymous said...

Hey Todd,
Just to clarify, this "issue" doesn't have anything to do with field work. This is for those of us who are asked to write things that are visible to our partner churches (if done through the IMB), or published by Lifeway.

It has me wondering those who hold to KJV-Onlyism have to do their missional work using the KJV? I can't imagine having to only do missions in English! How crazy would that be? It sure wouldn't be very effective among the UPG that God has called me to! There are some KJV-only people that live close to me with another company...this whole question has me wondering if they have to teach people English before they share the word of God with them...I'm definitely going to ask them now!

An Anonymous IMB M

Todd Nelson said...

Hi M friend,

I get this feeling I may know you... :-) as a brother and a friend ... (now I have the Eagles singing in my ear. :-)

I do understand from the comments now that this issue is about writing for stateside publications.

As to KJV-only folks, I can't say much about their missions methods. I do believe all monolingual Christians would benefit from some study of another language and culture. It definitely can make us more humble interpreters of God's Word in the form of men's words. I learned years ago that a missionary must learn 3 cultures well: his own (to recognize his/her own presuppositions), that of the writer of the Scriptural text, and that of his/her target people. My limited experience tells me this is true for sound interpretation and effective communication across cultures.

I'm rushing off to catch a plane for the States. I get to do a few stateside reports and help my daughter Abby start her first year of college in Florida.

Will catch up with the blogs on the other side of the Atlantic.

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering why we (the SBC) suddenly felt the need to have our own version of the Scriptures (HCSB). Perhaps it is the licensing issue?

But has anyone else noticed how we are sort of being "force-fed" the HCSB as of late?

Personally, I'm a bit worried about the appearance that we may have our "own version" of the Bible. It seems sort of ... well ... cultish. said...

Uh, Robin, I think if you read my post you will see that nobody at the IMB has perforative feelings toward the NIV.

It's people who call the IMB.



Kaylor said...

There is a lot of money to be made in the Bible "business." I wonder how much the bottom line has to do with the creation and push of the HCSB.

Blackhaw said...

I think there is much speculation on what the IMB did. I do not think it is such a bog deal. But here is what I think.

1. There is some debate over what is better a word for word type of translation (NASB) or a thought for thought one (NIV). But to my knowledge I thought the Holman was more of a thought for thought version. I could be wrong but I do not think this has too much to do with it.

2. Whenever one has a journal or any other publication like it there will be things like apporved translations for Bible quotes. It makes things simpler and easier for the reader if most if not all quotes are from one translation.

3. There are liscening problems. Thus the NIV is probably taken off the short list of approved versions. That just seems sensible.

4. I do not think it has anything to do with the KJV only debate. The KJV is not the translation that is being pushed. It is the NASB and the Holmann.

5. I know Patterson and SWBTS (As a whole) likes the NASB better than the NIV. It is because of the debate from #1.

6. I do not think it is about the lamighty dollar. But I am sure it is not a bad thing to them that they are selling many Holman Bibles.

7. Todd Nelson- Isn't the NLT like the Living Bible and not a real translation but a paraphrase? I could be wrong here but if I am not then that makes things interesting. Not that someone should never use a living Bible or The Message. My wife and I read the Message often. But what does it say to use a paraphrase often from the pulpit? Again I could be VERY WRONG here about hte NLT.

Okay those are my basic thoughts. I think much of this is much to do about not much.


Anonymous said...

FWIW, several comments in this BP article from 5 years ago are interesting.

Article link.

Best quote (emphasis mine):

"I think in many ways there are too many translations, and having one more translation is not necessarily a great thing. [However,] the changes in the last several months have convinced me that in the end this is an important thing for Southern Baptists to do -- if for no other reason than that we will have a major translation we can control."

Maybe there is a reason there's a sense the HCSB is being 'force-fed'.

Anonymous said...

When I was a student at SEBTS there were many professors and many more students that were very pejorative toward the NIV, and did indicate that you basically were not committed to biblical truth if you used it.

This probably has more to do with money than anything else, but it would not be surprising if there is an element to this of wanting to remove the NIV from use.

Anonymous said...


I think it seems clear from the context that Dr. Mohler was talking about licensing and "politically correct" translation "control."

Many of us were disturbed about the (seemingly) gender-bending rewrite of the NIVr.

Anonymous said...

May I ask why you "still" preach from the KJV? Is it because you believe it is the "best" translation? That it "communicates" best with your audience? Any subtle "pressure" from your congregation? I am not making an accusation - just wondering why it seems many SBC preachers study from a newer translation, but "still preach" to a comtemporary audiance from what seems to me to be the most archaic translation choice.

Kevin said...

Here in the Philippines there are some KJV only churches. I find this quite bizarre, since it is hard enough for me to read it (a native English speaker).

Like Todd, I really like the NLT for an international audience. Another interesting tidbit from the mission field: we have found that students understand a simple English translation better than a Bible written in their own language (Tagalog). The Bibles in their own language are often too hard to understand.

I even ran into this issue when sharing the gospel with a girl from India. She told me that a simple English translation was easier than a Hindi translation.

Perhaps this will be a continuing trend as more and more people use English as a second language.

Not sure if this has anything to do with the post, but just thought I'd share.

Daniel and Christy Davis said...

while i can't comment with full knowledge about the accuracy of translation of the hcsb, i know what i read from the translation principles in the "foreward" of an hcsb bible and other articles/people, that i was encouraged by the effort going into the fresh translation of the Bible. what i've read has encouraged me that the translators/editors had the best of intentions for putting forth an exceptional translation of the bible

as far as the purpose, i imagine that "business" played a part, as now lifeway/sbc has a translation to use without paying royalties - which in part speaks to a value of stewardship for the sbc.

i'm not concerned about the hcsb's publication at "cultish" or even being perceived as "cultish," i'm much more concerned about dogmatic limitations to translations (kjv only).

Wayne Smith said...


The New Living Translation

The value of a thought-for-thought translation can be illustrated by comparing 1 Kings 2:10 in the King James Version, the New International Version, and the New Living Translation. “So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David” (KJV). “Then David rested with his fathers and was buried in the City of David” (NIV). “Then David died and was buried in the City of David” (NLT). Only the New Living Translation clearly translates the real meaning of the Hebrew idiom “slept with his fathers” into contemporary English.

The English Standard Version ---- ESV

As an essentially literal translation, then, the ESV seeks to carry over every possible nuance of meaning in the original words of Scripture into our own language. As such, it is ideally suited for in-depth study of the Bible. Indeed, with its emphasis on literary excellence, the ESV is equally suited for public reading and preaching, for private reading and reflection, for both academic and devotional study, and for Scripture memorization.

"We are building all our future ministry around the ESV. .
.The ESV satisfies the preaching, memorizing, studying, and reading needs of our church, from children to adults." - John Piper, Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church

My personal preference is the ESV, even though when doing research I use these Bibles in this order of preference.

ESV – English Standard Version

NKJV – New King James Version New Geneva Study Bible, New King James

NASB – New American Standard Bible

NLT – New Living Translation

In His Name
Wayne Smith

Anonymous said...


I participated in the HCSB project--on Galatians. And, I was told then exactly what is in the front of the HCSB in regard to its translation/expression in English philosophy: it works very hard at achieving "optimal equivalence." That means, when it makes good sense and reads smoothly in English to translate literally, like the NASB "formal equivalence" (i.e., word for word translation) approach, it does so. But, when it does not, it employs an NIV-like "dynamic equivalence" (i.e., idea for idea translation) approach.

Also, I was told that B&H/Lifeway would save many millions of dollars on licensing for all the literature and study Bibles, etc., that are just now starting to be produced. That is no small consideration.

Finally, the SBC will soon have its own paraphrase also. I have done a draft of Revelation for the HCSB Children's Bible, a 5th grade reading level paraphrase. They're doing the NT first, and the OT will come out later, filling out the whole Bible, as they did with HCSB (and almost every other modern Bible translation project of which I'm aware).

For whatever it's worth,

Hill Memorial Baptist Church said...

Thanks for that info Bro. Wade. I still don't understand the logic of the IMB since the NIV is probably the most popular of the contemporary translations. I really like the HCSB but I am not so sure about how popular it is outside the SBC establishment. My standby and favorite which I teach and preach from is the NKJV . I have found people who love the KJV to accept it better.

Anonymous said...

Of course, you have all heard from the little old church lady who said, "I like the King James since it's the one Paul carried around with him on his mission trips."

I had often wondered how readable the scripture translations into other languages actually were. The Gideons and others pour millions into dozens of different translations but we never got no systematic feedback on their relative merits (when I was a member.)

As English becomes the world's language (outside of the UN & the Vatican) thanks to the Internet, etc., more readers can come to our simpler translations.

I reckon as long as Rome has its Vulgate we'uns can have our Holman!!

Steve Austin

Anonymous said...

I wish companies that published particular translations of the scripture would release all the copyright restrictions on them. This is, after all, just their translation work we are talking about. There is very little difference between the NIV, ESV and HCSB, though the translation teams for the first two would be much less sectarian, and therefore less likely to be biased in a particular translation method. If there were any questions at all about the translation, in terms of its reliability or accuracy, that's something that would have been dealt with long before now. I've not heard a lot of talk about the ESV or the HCSB in comparison.

I remember reading somewhere that some SBC leader put his foot in his mouth and said something to the effect that he was glad the HCSB was complete, so that Southern Baptists now have a Bible translation they can control. With all of the language tools available, and the people who have the ability to study the scripture in its original languages, I would think that a biased translation of the scripture would be immediately identified as such.

I have preferred the NIV ever since it came out when I was barely getting started in the ministry. I'll continue to use it.

Jim Paslay said...

In my opinion, there is one flaw that keeps me from using the NIV consistently. I appreciate the NKJV and NASB using the italicized words in the text to show what has been added to the Greek or Hebrew. For some reason the translators of the NIV chose not to.

The NIV is obviously a very readable version and we use it with our children in our Sunday School classes. It is certainly a realiable translation.

The code word for the KJV only crowd is the "King James Bible." Then you know you are dealing with a true fundamentalist with a capital F!

Anonymous said...


I am an IMB missionary and the whole discussion is a little amusing. I do not use the NIV, KJV, ESV, NASV or any of these in my work. I use the Bible in the language of the people in which I am working, so I'm not sure what all the debate is about.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous who is an IMB missionary-

The debate is because we need something to argue about.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous who wrote to Anonymous:

No kidding. Let's move on. Honestly, other than the pressure some pastors may feel to use a certain version in the pulpit or an employee's commitment to an employer, what's the difference?

Anonymous (who has used them all)

david b mclaughlin said...

Two thoughts on this topic.

A) I agree we should be careful about condemning versions. But we should also make people CLEARLY aware of the differences in a translation and a paraphrases such as The Message or Living Bible. I get nervous when people say "The bible says..." and then quote something about the "unforced rhythms of grace."

B) Being an NIV lover I found myself reacting to the start of your post almost the way my grandpa would have about the KJV. I thought, "Whoa, David. Cool your jets!" I agree, the NIV is not infallible. The best practice is to read a variety of quality translations.

david b mclaughlin said...

So here is an idea. How about a bunch of respected Bible scholars get together, make a great translation and make it public domain.

Wade-you know enough people to get that going. I'll even pitch in money for the translation committee.

david b mclaughlin said...

Or better yet, how about the sbc just release copyright restrictions on the one they did.

Liam Madden said...

Hi Wade and fellow bloggers,

I'm back from my five weeks in China leading a study abroad program for my college.

I found this review of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, describing its features, including those that set it apart from other translations generally in use in Baptist life. It appears to be an unbiased article with some good info. about the HCSB. Here's the link:

For those who would like to read about our group's five week experience in China, there are pics and stories at my blog here:

Anonymous said...

So very well put. And this discussion is vital amongst inerrantists. We strongly hold to the inerrancy of Scripture but we must acknowledge the TRANSLATIONS we hold and preach from. I believe many, specifically in the KJV only camp, have confused this issue and have hindered many from a thorough understanding of God's Word.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be sort of anonymous with that last comment. I forgot that I have changed to a new blog (

Chris Hilliard

Rex Ray said...

Wayne Smith,
You’re right that only the NLT translates the real meaning of “slept with his fathers’ into contemporary English of the 3 translations you mentioned by the NLT stating, “Then David died and was buried in the City of David.”

Wonder if they dug real deep into Greek or did they just copy the Living (Paraphrased) that states, “Then David died and was buried in Jerusalem.” (1 Kings 2:10)

Modern maps have the city where David was buried as “Jerusalem”, so which translation is more in keeping with contemporary English?

So why didn’t the NLT say David was buried in Jerusalem?

I think they were afraid of being sued if they said word for word what the Living said, so most of time the NLT used half “Living” and half “King James”.

Something to think about huh?

Something else to think about is why is the Holman translation the only one that has the ruler’s daughter ALIVE in Matthew 9:18 (which agrees with Mark and Luke) while all others have her dead? “My daughter is even now dead.” KJ

Maybe there’s something to that “Fundamentalist Baptist control” after all. (Do away with discrepancies.)

Rex Ray
Bonham, Texas

Anonymous said...

I would just ask, where is Acts 8:37 in the NIV. Isn't this an incredibly inportant question being asked? Are we to believe that the NIV translates this accurately? And if it does can you tell me why it would skip even the number 37 in the chapter. If it is more accurate, then wouldn't the logical conclusion be that that verse was incorrectly added and was removed, allowing verse the next verse to become 37? There are a number of examples like this in the NIV and curiously they all deal with critical points.

Anonymous said...

Why is it strange to believe there to be an infallible English translation of the inerrant and infallible word of God?
It seems stranger to say there is an inerrant and infallible word of God and then say there isn't actually one I can see.

Rex Ray said...

I attended a ‘King James Only Church’ revival once, but instead of hearing about Jesus, all I heard was how great the Church was. I’ve never been to any ‘cult’ meeting, but I felt close to one that night.

They teach the King James Bible is better than original manuscripts because the ‘original’ is never as good as the ‘replacement’ based on the ’Ten Commandments” being broken and ‘replaced’.

Wade you wrote: “I really get chills up my spine anytime I’m around people who suggest there is an inerrant and ‘inspired’ ENGLISH’ translation of God breathed, inerrant and infallible word of God.”

Now Wade, I know where you’re coming from because these people say the interpreters of King James were smarter, more educated, etc. than the original writers, but on the other hand, is not what they say the same as the ‘powers that be’ who are in control of the SBC?

That is why ‘anonymous’ of August 4, 2007 02:39 wrote: “Why is it strange to believe there to be an infallible English translation of the inerrant and infallible word of God? It seems stranger to say there is an inerrant and infallible word of God and then say there isn’t actually one that I can see.”

Brad Reynolds wrote on his blog 8/2/2007/8:58 PM, “I am grateful that the SB have decided we believe all Scripture is God-breathed and the original manuscripts are inerrant.”

I believe Brad states what anonymous was referring to. He has yet to print my reply, and I will not print it here for risk hijacking your post more than I may have already done.

Bonham, Texas

XtnYoda said...

I used the NLT until the HCSB came out. I was a little nervous at first about the HCSB because I wondered about the whole "control" issue that might be involved as others have mentioned.

But...when I saw the OT use of God's name, Yahweh, in the text I was at first amazed...then quickly converted. I bought my first complete HCSB from our local Lifeway as they were literally putting them on the shelves the day before they were set to go on sale. I guess they gave me a special "dispensation" to purchase one...maybe it was the begging and the tears...

For whatever reason, our translations have robbed us of God's name for five hundred years and I was so excited to actually see it in print on a translation page! I think the HCSB uses "Yahweh" 84 times. The KJV came up with the "Jehovah" morphism, and used that only three times in the whole OT text.

I don't know if it will make a great deal of difference but I just love seeing the name.


GeneMBridges said...

I would just ask, where is Acts 8:37 in the NIV. Isn't this an incredibly inportant question being asked? Are we to believe that the NIV translates this accurately? And if it does can you tell me why it would skip even the number 37 in the chapter. If it is more accurate, then wouldn't the logical conclusion be that that verse was incorrectly added and was removed, allowing verse the next verse to become 37? There are a number of examples like this in the NIV and curiously they all deal with critical points.

There's a note on v. 36 that explains this, and in my copy of the NIV, v. 37 is in the text, below the paragraph. Follow the notation. It's a manuscript choice. V.37 does not appear in the earliest MSS. The NASB brackets this text. It appears to be a scribal addition in the later MSS.

Anonymous said...

Wade, I'm curious as to why you would automatically lump anyone who might have valid questions about the NIV (or any other modern translation for that matter) into the KJV-only camp. There are plenty of godly, solidly biblical folk who do raise some legitimate issues who are not remotely KJV-only-ers. It seems you could be reacting against something that's not there.