Monday, June 15, 2020

Ward: A Rising Tide Sinks All Boats: The Legacy Standard Bible and Stewarding the Church’s Trust


The following guest post is from Mark Ward (PhD, Bob Jones University), who serves the church as an academic editor at Lexham Press (though his opinions in this piece are solely his own). His most recent book is Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, and he produced a Faithlife infotainment documentary by the same title.

It’s time for someone to stand athwart American Christianity and yell “STOP!”—to anyone planning yet another “centrist” English Bible translation. By “centrist” I mean versions designed to be used by actual churches rather than for specialized study purposes.

Making a new “centrist” translation is precisely what a man I greatly respect and love, Dr. John MacArthur, is doing with his recently announced Legacy Standard Bible; and yet I must stick to my guns. Nerf guns. I am not shooting to kill or even to wound but to dissuade: faithful are the foam darts of a friend. And I don’t care to fire even these at Dr. MacArthur in particular; my words apply to all evangelical institutions who might now be planning their own centrist English Bibles. MacArthur is simply the most recent, so he has the privilege of occasioning this piece.

MacArthur has long used the 1995 New American Standard Bible in his world-famous teaching ministry. Its reputation fits his well: both are focused on a careful, literal approach to Bible interpretation. And of these things I have no complaint. But as the NASB branches into a 2020 revision (while promising to continue to print the 1995 edition), MacArthur is branching off in a different direction. One Bible translation (the NASB) is becoming three (NASB95, NASB20, and LSB) in a very short space. ETC has already announced this, but I’ve been invited to subject the LSB decision to some of my foam darts.

Different kinds of English Bible translations

I’m actually a big fan of English Bibles, plural. When someone asks me, “Which is the best Bible version?” I answer with sincerity, “All the good ones.”

I use multiple Bible translations all the time in Bible study, because the ones I use have staked out usefully different spots on the continuum between formal and functional. You’ve seen that continuum in the standard diagram:

Translation chart

The “centrist” translations are the ones that go from about the NASB on the left to the NIV on the right. These are the translations that in my unscientific experience actually get used as the main translation in doctrinally sound evangelical churches. (I could be generous and include the NLT, too.)

Any further toward the left than the NASB and you cross into translations that are designed to be Bible study tools for those who know the original languages (the NASB itself is also often used this way). My own employer’s Lexham English Bible, born as a set of interlinear glosses, is an example. I see room for more translations that are hyper-literal like the LEB, because no one sees them as competing with the centrist ones to be used in churches. They are tools for study.

Any further to the right than the NIV and you cross into translations that, for all their genuine usefulness, are generally perceived to do “too much interpreting” to be useful for all the varied needs of the average church. Some people take what I’ve just said to be a criticism; I don’t. Not infrequently, I need the help the NLT’s—and even The Message’s—interpretation provides. These are useful Bible study tools, if you know what they’re aiming at. But careful preachers of the kind ETC serves have voted with their feet: they generally stick to the centrist translations unless they are serving people without high school educations—which is precisely what I did very happily with the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) for almost six years in a weekly outreach ministry.

Quite a few English Bibles exist that aren’t on that chart, because they just aren’t popular enough to warrant mention or can’t realistically hope to be used in actual churches. The KJVER, KJ21, ISV, WEB, BEB, and others I see sometimes on land here.

Other translations are misguided, irresponsible, or even wacky. Here I’d include the frankly weird and alarming Passion Translation, the impossibly idiosyncratic and overweening Pure Word New Testament, and the heretical New World Translation. Not all translations count as good ones.

There are also Catholic and mainline and Orthodox translations that I admit I’m not experienced enough with to say much about; but there’s little chance they’ll be used in evangelical Protestant churches. They aren’t trusted there.

Then you have the “concept car” translations, as I call them, the ones done by major scholars who, I have to presume, did their work without any expectation that it would actually be used as any church’s main translation. N.T. Wright’s and D.B. Hart’s personal translations of the NT are two examples; Robert Alter’s and John Goldingay’s translations of the OT are two more. These scholars, because they aren’t bound by the constraints around a centrist translation, were free to try new things—some of which may find their way, concept-car-like, into centrist Bibles over time. I think this kind of work is valuable and good (and I find Alter’s to be the most promising source of concepts).

In other words: there is a ton of room for various kinds of Bible translation outside the “centrist” band on the spectrum. I don’t care to stop the insignificant ones; I’ll never stop the wacky and non-evangelical ones; and I’m happy to have the single-scholar ones.

But the centrist band is full.

Bible translations and trust

Here’s why: Bible translations succeed only when they achieve widespread trust, and the more translations we have in that center band the more it appears to the general Bible-reading public that theological and financial special interests are driving the production of English Bibles rather than the genuine needs of the church. This appearance, in turn, decreases collective trust in the good Bibles we have.

Bible translations thrive on trust for the simple reason that very few people can and even fewer do sit down to the hard work of comparing whole Bibles. God has not called very many of us to have the necessary skills and take the necessary time, but he has called all of us to read our Bibles. So we have to take someone else’s word—someone who has and uses those skills—that what we’re reading is faithful to the original texts.

The KJV is trusted by default, since its hegemony went basically unchallenged in English-speaking churches for 300-plus years. And the KJV-Only movement, which thrives on distrust—it’s a conspiracy theory that has persuaded many Christians that modern Bible translations are diabolical counterfeits—actually underscores the importance of winning and stewarding laypeople’s trust. Among certain Christian tribes, trust in the KJV and distrust in, for example, the NIV are so strong that they cause people to deny, even write whole obsessive books denying, what every native English speaker can’t not know: that the NIV is translated into English as we actually use it and the KJV is not. Trust is a powerful force.

Even among those who use modern Bible translations, I commonly hear rank-and-file Christians complaining that today’s Bible publishers are just out to make a buck. I try to build back their trust by saying, It’s not HarperCollins that sits down to translate the NIV; it’s Doug Moo, a beloved exegesis professor and author of the best commentary we have on Romans. Crossway, who produces the ESV, is a non-profit—and one of its leaders is Vern Poythress, a godly man whom I know personally. That’s a pretty serious charge to make against Christian brothers and sisters who have dedicated their lives to studying and teaching Scripture. What evidence do you have that they’re just in it for the money?

But it’s hard even for me, a dedicated promoter of the use of multiple Bible translations and editions, to trust that money and other kinds of kingdom building played only appropriate, subsidiary roles in the release of some Bibles. It’s hard for me to convince people, because I can’t convince myself, that all Bible publishers have been acting solely for the good of the church.

And it’s not just that poor whipping Bible, the Precious Moments New Testament, which makes me feel this way. It’s my beloved Dr. MacArthur’s proposed LSB. Now, I’m 100% confident he’s not in it for the money: nothing impressed me more at the one Shepherd’s Conference I attended than the generosity at Grace Community Church. But will the proposed LSB truly be a net gain for the church?

Maybe my years of trying to reach our KJV-Only brothers has sensitized me too much, but I simply cannot hear words like MacArthur’s pitch for the LSB without a little alarm:

It’s going to be the expositor’s dream Bible, to have the absolutely accurate, consistent text to study, to preach, and it’s bound to be the most accurate, the most consistent, translation in English.

“Absolutely accurate”? KJV-Onlyism in all its forms makes basically this same claim for the KJV, either explicitly (far-right Ruckmanism) or implicitly (every other variety). We simply must be careful not to repeat their errors, the most foundational of which may be that there can be only one really trustworthy Bible in any given language.

“Most consistent”? I presume this means lexical concordance, rendering individual Hebrew and Greek words with the same glosses as much as possible. This is useful as a translation tool but not useful as an ideology. It simply isn’t true that literal = moral, or Jesus and the apostles would be guilty for quoting the LXX in places where it fails to be as literal as the NASB, such as Acts 8:32. And the KJV would have been wrong to translate shalom two different ways in three occurrences, none of them using “peace,” in 2 Sam 11:7.

There is no possibility—none—that the new LSB will be “more accurate” than what’s already on offer in the centrist band, because “accuracy” in a collection of decisions as huge as that required by a Bible translation cannot be objectively measured. It’s a marketing slogan. And it’s often acidic to the trust Christians properly place in the English versions their pastors recommend to them. As I watched a man in whom I place a lot of trust try to build our tribe’s trust in the upcoming LSB (which is certainly not in itself wrong), I couldn’t help but feel that he was throwing other excellent translations under the Accurate Bus.

This is my last chance to shoot a fusillade of foam at the LSB, because if it does reach the hands of actual lay Christians as their pastors choose it, I plan to go silent. I don’t want to do anything to harm their trust in it—and I myself will be more than happy to use it! I’m sure it will be a fine Bible, even if I’m a little skeptical that transliterating Yahweh is “more accurate” than translating it (Jesus himself and/or the Spirit [let’s not get into what language Jesus spoke!] translated both Yahweh and Adonai with κύριος, just like the LXX did, when he quoted the all-important Psalm 110:1 in Matt 22:44).

But I genuinely believe that Dr. MacArthur will do more good for the church by investing his trust stock in an already trusted Bible like the NASB 95 or 2020 than by creating something new and dividing Christian trust still further.

Losing trust

The LSB will be seen, is already seen, and can only be seen, as a translation owned by John MacArthur. This isn’t all bad. But it is, in my opinion, mostly bad—and I would say this no matter who the big-name progenitor of the LSB was. It furthers the public perception that the Word of God is our creation rather than we its.

The CSB and ESV, two of the English-speaking world’s most recent successful Bible translations, are often seen as Southern Baptist and neo-Calvinist translations, respectively. The truth is that the committees which worked on these two excellent translations hailed from multiple different denominations. But perception is reality when trust is the most important asset a Bible translation has.

Publishers can lose that trust when they come to be seen as (or actually are!) promoting a narrow theological agenda, as the backers of the now-defunct NIVI (New International Version Inclusive Language edition) found out when WORLD Magazine famously attacked/revealed (depending on your perspective) their work as a “Stealth Bible.” Once trusted sources proclaimed it not just wrong but untrustworthy, no amount of frantic explanation could save the ill-fated translation. The mistrust generated by the controversy over the NIVI was enough to sink the subsequent TNIV (Today’s New International Version) as well.

Publishers can shake public trust without demolishing it, as Crossway did after they announced a “Permanent Text Edition of the ESV, a Bible that would remain the same “in perpetuity.” The ensuing Internet uproar drastically shortened perpetuity—and gave a lot of fuel to people who saw the ESV’s revision of Gen 3:16 as a complementarian power grab. I say this as a published complementarian who has pointed countless people to the ESV. People such as my elder brother and teacher John MacArthur may think they’re protecting the Bible from tampering by taking it in-house, but I think they overestimate the likelihood that something like the Vulgate’s poenitentiam agite will sneak into English Bibles and mislead readers. And I think they underestimate the trust-building power of unity by (the right kind of) compromise with other Christians.

Zondervan/Biblica, too, faced much more of a backlash to the release of the NIV 2011 than I expected—solely for changing something familiar to people. The lesson to Bible publishers: trust is hard-won and must be stewarded well.

Building trust

The best way I know for Bible publishers to steward trust and avoid the fate of the NIVI/TNIV and the missteps of the ESV, NIV, and now the LSB is to stop. No more new “centrist” translations. Sign a non-proliferation treaty with other publishers and make a big deal out of it so upstarts (like the LSB, I’m afraid) are shamed into complying. I’m perfectly serious. Set up a publicly available plan for making revisions every 35–50 years, with fine print indicating that 1) major advances in the biblical scholarship regarding a certain word (like monogenes in John 3:16 or of some obscure plant or animal in Leviticus) or 2) rapid shifts in the meaning of certain English lexemes (like gay; cf. James 2:3 KJV) will permit minor adjustments but not a full new edition. Set up a plan that will conserve the church’s trust for the future, and aim to serve the entire church and not just a sector of it. We got into the situation we’re now in because every institution did that which was right in its own eyes. Now that we’re here, let’s agree for the good of us all not to make things worse but to instead steward and build the church’s trust. Legitimate financial and theological interests—“the labourer is worthy of his hire,” as the KJV says—will end up being served along the way if we are driven by love for the Body.

The KJV is the premiere historical example of an English Bible that won public trust. It did so in part by refusing to include sectarian marginal notes such as those in the Geneva Bible. Reformedish conservatives like me feel more affinity to the Geneva; we like those notes and trust the Calvinists behind them. But maybe it’s time to acknowledge and learn from the success of the KJV. Old Testament scholar David J. A. Clines has called it a “truly Anglican enterprise,” “a via media.” The KJV succeeded in becoming a Bible for all Christians, regardless of their theological views. We must all live in our denominational “rooms,” as C.S. Lewis famously said, but Bible translations should be made by and for the “Mere Christian” hallway. By not favoring one party, the KJV ended up pleasing and serving all parties for multiple centuries.

We lost something as an English-speaking church when the dominance of the KJV began to erode. KJV phrases were common coin; we memorized verses together by accident just by living within the Christian community. It seems unlikely to me that we will ever regain the value of a universal standard English Bible translation. It’s kind of hard to have one without a monarch governing the English church.

So I suggest we focus on what we have gained in our multi-translation situation, and unite to take steps to protect those things. When the NIV, NASB, and other modern renderings achieved widespread usage, we gained the insight into God’s word that multiple legitimate perspectives, on different parts of that continuum, provide. We may threaten even that value—decreasing trust in what we now have—if more centrist translations keep coming. A rising tide sinks all boats.


  1. Thank you for the post, Mark. I would like to make a couple counter-points. I don't so much want to defend the LSB per se. I know nothing about it beyond what's been said previously on this blog, and I totally agree with your points about the claims that were made about it being the "most accurate," etc.

    But it seems to me that your strongest points were the one that struck that chord, the chord of advocates for particular translations being overly dramatic and defensive about them, rather than addressing the possible value of the translations themselves, or of other new "centrist" translation. In spite of the proliferation of modern Bible versions, especially within the range of what you're calling centrist, I still see niches that could stand to be filled.

    And one of those niches is precisely at the point on the spectrum occupied by the NASB. Notice that on your own diagram, the two versions immediately to its right both use the TR as their basis for the NT text. And I think your are right in putting the ESV further toward the dynamic side than those. This means that of Bibles based on the NA text, the NASB is really the only one that's even close to as literal as it is. But the NASBs of 1971 and 1995 have been much criticized, and I think a lot of the criticisms that have been made against it are genuine opportunities for improvements that could be made, generally while still keeping it just as literal or at least almost as literal.

    However, just from what little I've seen of the 2020 NASB, it looks like it has moved much farther over toward the dynamic side, as if its trying to occupy the same place on the spectrum the ESV already does.

    I don't know yet where the LSB will fall. But if it really improves on the NASB without resulting in a much more dynamic translation, I think there're room for that. And the value of a Bible like that should be distinguished from any overselling of its virtues that its advocates may make.

    Incidentally, I think there is a major English Bible based on the NA text in the NT that does occupy the space between the NASB and the ESV in its translation philosophy, which is not on your chart. And that's the NRSV. I assume its absence is because the NRSV is somewhat out of favor with conservative evangelicals and is more identified with mainline Protestants. But I have found it to be an overall good, and pretty literal, translation. I'm not a fan of certain readings, and I grant that a more liberal theology does sometimes shine through, but even when it does, I haven't found the readings to be any less defensible than what can often be found in some of the translations that are on the chart.

    I also see room for a major English version with a NT based on the Majority Text.
    And I see room for a major English version that significantly increases the quality, accuracy, and number of text-critical footnotes over those available.

    1. Eric, you make me believe that reasoned, civil discourse is still possible. The ETC comments often make me do this. Praise God. Great points—especially your distinction between overblown promises about a translation and the quality of that translation.

      You've made me realize that I’m baking some value judgments into all this. Here are a few:

      1. The NASB and ESV are similar enough that we don’t need anything in between.

      2. The NRSV may be great (and I generally agree with you that it is), but its association with mainline Protestantism is a sufficient reason to leave it off the chart—when the trust of the evangelical layperson is the currency we’re interested in here.

      3. The TR and CT are not sufficiently different (hey—I’ve done the work on this: to justify a separate translation continuum for the TR.

      (3a. The Majority Text and CT are also not sufficiently different to justify a new centrist translation of the former. ETC and ETS and SBL are the places to debate textual criticism: I don’t want laypeople being asked to take a side. Doing so is what gave us the nastiness of the KJV-Only movement.)

      4. Maybe most importantly, and the place where I find myself most directly disagreeing with your comment: the NASB doesn’t have so many places where it really needs to be improved that those places justify a new daughter translation.

      I agree with you that the NASB 2020 has moved toward the dynamic side with some of the few updates they’ve revealed. Their choices seemed to me and the friends I’ve spoken to be inexplicable: the NASB is already trusted *precisely as the most literal “centrist” English Bible*—why in the world squander that trust by making precisely the touchy gender changes that are likely to destabilize trust?

      In a way, though, our more careful and knowledgeable (and civil!) wrangling in ETC comments is not very accessible to the average person in the pew, so my case still stands. =) The average lay Christian can only perceive a new “centrist” translation as a challenge to the others. Pastors and educated laypeople will know that it’s more complicated. But, again, when trust is the issue, even if there’s space in a perfectly rational world for another centrist translation, there isn’t space in ours.

      Thanks again for a thoughtful comment. Happy for pushback!

  2. Mark, I so admire you ability to engage with contentious issues in such an irenic and compelling way.

  3. Mark Ward,
    << The TR and CT are not sufficiently different to justify a separate translation continuum for the TR.>>

    Yes they are. The entire shift by publishing-houses to the Nestle-Aland base-text, away from the TR, was build on the foundational view that the TR is permeated with "grace defects." Do we really need to review the claims? Does someone need to walk you through the century of claims to the effect that the superiority of the mainly-Alexandrian base-text of WH-1881 = reasons 1, 2, and 3 for the Revised Version, ASV, RSV, and subsequent versions based on UBS/NA compilations to exist?

    If you really think the text-critical aspect of the situation is some trivial detail, why not use the NKJV, rest and be grateful?

    1. I think there's just as much as grace in the TR as there is in the CT! =)

      I would be willing to use the NKJV if I could somehow make a grand deal with all the varieties of TR defense to stop causing bitter division over textual criticism. But because I don't believe that hardly anyone in the IFB-KJVO world "cares one whit" about the TR (I'm actually quoting Robert Truelove's assessment of them there) but rather is only trying to defend the KVJ, that deal won't work. And since the Confessional Bibliology world is really tiny, there isn't much to gain from them by making such a deal. While believing that the TR and CT are not massively different in kind (I've done some work to show this, as I think you know:, I nonetheless believe the CT to be superior and would prefer to use it. But I would put my money where my mouth is if I could: I would willingly use the NKJV in public teaching and writing ministry.

    2. [Errata - *grave* defects, that is!]

    3. I agree James, this is all but axiomatic. If the "grave defects" of the "vile Textus Receptus" were sufficient enough to cause the shift away from the TR and towards the CT, then they're also sufficient enough to justify an independent line of translation for the TR. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

  4. Very fine research here. I mean no disrespect to anyone, but only their good when I say far more people should just learn Hebrew and Greek. It's not a pastor's profession. It's not a seminary specialty. It's a normal human pursuit. It's not like it is asking people to amputate a limb (still, if I had to choose between knowing Greek and Hebrew vs a limb, I'd choose the languages). Some talk about learning these two fairly simple languages like it is a stage of dying. It is not. It is a stage of living. Alas, far too men gladly learn C#, JavaScript, HTML, Spanish, Law, Accounting, DNA Sequencing, gardening, woodworking, chemistry, Calculus..., even while spending copious amounts of free time on Netflix and Amazon Prime (not me of course, just people). My point, however, is not extreme. Learn Hebrew and Greek and be proficient with an interlinear. BibleHub has a decent interlinear for free (though, training in dictionaries is needed just like parsing verbs is).

    1. While I like the idea of everyone learning Hebrew and Greek, it just isn't practical which is why it is good to have translations. For most people in the pew who don't have strong language skills, but do have a job to go to, family responsibilities, and everything else in life, the choice is this: they can spend a lot of time and energy to undertake a third rate reading of the original Hebrew and Greek, or they can with ease read a first rate translation in a language they understand.

  5. You did not refer to text critical issues, which I thought strange on this particular site. But know that
    in every NT t.c. issue, the translators/editors examine closely the NA27 apparatus (and the NA28 in the Catholic Epistles) and then also take into consideration the variant readings noted in the SBL and the TH Greek NTs.

    1. The work of the NT TC guys does tend to find its way into the versions, and I do think that evangelical TC practitioners need always to keep the end goal, serving the church, in mind—but ultimately I blame Peter Head for letting me post this despite it not discussing TC directly! =)

    2. Blaming Peter Head is always a good option.

    3. Thanks for this comment. You bring up a good point that (in my admittedly anecdotal experience) most people are either unaware of or in denial of—the people who actually have the real 'control' over the text (with regard to textual criticism) are not the textual critics but rather the translators.

    4. Dr. Hixson,

      I would agree that exaggerations have occurred upon these lines. I would also agree that translators have the final word ultimately,--if that is what you mean by, "the real 'control' over the text."

      ...But, if most translators are simply following a Greek edition of the NT, i.e., NA26/UBS3, NA27/UBS4, NA28/UBS5--then what difference does it really make? The 'control' is put right back into the Text Critics hand's. Unless, (of course,) the translators are masters of Textual Criticism and work out every pertinent textual variation afresh for themselves. Which is not a likely endeavor; nor would one who is taking on such an exhaustive task as Bible translation (to begin with), be very willing to add unto it the daunting work of *adjudicating between every single important translatable variant unit*! (A work of a lifetime in and of itself.)

      So, as I fully agree that this line of argument can, and has been exaggerated:--I must say that you are downplaying the importance of the roll that a Text Critic *can* play in what our Bible *does* read. If that makes any sense (?).

    5. MMR, thanks for this, and please just call me Elijah.

      You are correct that by "the 'real' control over the text" I mean that translators have the final word authority. That being said, I have known a handful of Bible translators (including Ibexdr), and the ones I've known are certainly competent in text-critical matters—noticeably (to me at least) more so than the average NT scholar.

      My intention is not to downplay the role of a text critic but to point out that as much as people rail against the 'bad' people and use guilt-by-association with people like Ehrman, etc., arguing "is this who you want to hand over your Bibles to?", it's not actually those people who anyone is handing over their Bibles to. It's the Bible translators. The NIV website even lists the church/denominational affiliations of the translators alongside their academic credentials, so there really is an aspect to it that these people are representatives of the church who have academic credentials to do the job rather than merely academics who know all the right things.

      But as Ibexdr mentions, they aren't simply following a Greek edition. It's a baseline from which they can deviate if necessary. The NIV did this (wrongly, in my opinion, but they still did it) at Mark 1:41, where neither the UBS nor the NA28 has an 'Angry Jesus'. The 2001 ESV did this at Jude 5 (and kept it in I believe all subsequent updates), where they rejected the NA27 reading "Lord" in favor of "Jesus", even though the NA28 wouldn't come out with "Jesus" at Jude 5 until 2012.

      Sure, monarchs and presidents (and translation committees) have advisors, but at the end of the day, they aren't *forced* to listen to them.

    6. Thanks Elijah,

      You write:"But as Ibexdr mentions, they aren't simply following a Greek edition. It's a baseline from which they can deviate if necessary."

      My point is that they don't deviate from said edition all that often, and even if/when they do, it's to follow the view of another (wait for it) text critic. This is apparent even in the examples that you've provided (i.e. Mark 1:41 & Jude 5). So an edition (or editions) created by textual critics are followed, unless the translator chooses to follow another text critic's judgement in such and such place. Either way, the 'control' is set in the critics lap by default. Unless--of course, the translators choose their own path; similar to your statement: "Sure, monarchs and presidents (and translation committees) have advisors, but at the end of the day, they aren't *forced* to listen to them."--indeed!

      But if: "Bible translators (including Ibexdr), and the ones I've known are certainly competent in text-critical matters—noticeably (to me at least) more so than the average NT scholar."; they're essentially Text Critics anyway (specified accolades aside). So it's 'out of the frying pan and into the fire' per se. That said, it's not *necessarily* a bad thing to have experts involved in the editing and translating of our Bible's (right!!). I think that the weariness displayed by some (concerning this point) is connected to the possibility that such experts can, and sometimes are attached to liberal, un-Biblical and questionable beliefs. I'd say that we're essentially on the same page on this, but perhaps from a different vantage point. Kind of a 'half full--or--half empty' scenario.

      Thank you again for your comments!

    7. Matthew,

      Thanks for this. I would still draw a distinction though between following a text critic and following an argument that happens to be made by a text critic. It's a subtle distinction that I'm sure many would try to deny, but ultimately, it is an argument itself that carries the authority, not the person who makes it. A person can be respected for having a good track record of solid arguments, but even then his or her opinion is not the law of the Medes and the Persians. For example, I have a couple of friends who, If I ever find myself in disagreement with either of them, my first assumption is that I'm the one who is probably wrong because they are a lot smarter than me, and they know more stuff than I know. I should have the humility to admit that and to acknowledge that if I disagree with them, it's probably because they know things I don't. There's no shame in admitting that. But I still want them to walk me through the reasons *why* I would be wrong in any disagreements we might have! That is to say, it is not who they are that makes their argument authoritative, it is their track records for knowing more than me, being smarter than me and consistently providing solid arguments that makes them *who they are*—people whose opinions shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.

      Admittedly, most people aren't equipped to deal with arguments because textual criticism just isn't taught sufficiently for that purpose in most seminaries. Unless they want to go out of their way to supplement that limited knowledge with adequate training (and it took me years to do so, but it's not impossible if you're willing), they are left with evaluating a person instead of evaluating an argument. Hence the fixation on, as you said, "the possibility that such experts can, and sometimes are attached to liberal, un-Biblical and questionable beliefs."

      Truth is truth, no matter who says it, and even in Scripture God uses people who are opposed to the Truth to speak truth. Caiaphas wasn't wrong in John 11:50 because he was Caiaphas. He was right because what he said was true despite the fact that he was Caiaphas. But it takes a lot of training, experience and skill to be able to sift between a text-critical argument and the person making it. Or in many cases, to sift among data points, interpretation of data points and conclusions based on that interpretation. It's often easier to accept or reject the person instead of dealing carefully and accurately with the argument.

      But just because many NT scholars and commentators do seem to follow Metzger's Textual Commentary blindly, it does not necessarily follow that Bible translators themselves are always guilty of the same. I would think that any Bible translator worth his or her salt would be competent to evaluate an argument on its own terms and for its own claims, and in my experience with some of the people involved with the NIV, ESV, and with Ibexdr, they certainly are.

    8. Elijah,

      "It's often easier to accept or reject the person instead of dealing carefully and accurately with the argument."

      Well said. I would also have to agree with you when you state, "Truth is truth, no matter who says it"--indeed it is!

      As the Rabbinical maxim reads:

      Accept the truth from whatever source it comes


      Even so, I hope we can all agree that textual critics *do* play an extremely vital role in what our Bible's read, regardless of the fact that translators have the final veto power.

    9. Better yet: "*some* textual critics *do* play an extremely vital role in what our Bible's read"

      Obviously the influence of any particular critic (and/or Greek edition) will vary on a case by case basis. Some being much more influential than others, naturally.

  6. Hi Mark, you write:

    "The Majority Text and CT are also not sufficiently different to justify a new centrist translation of the former."

    By what standards? This appears to be overly subjective. How many translatable differences are needed to justify a "centrist translation"? An English translation of the Majority Text is (in fact) long over due. The Church should of been furnished with an adequate translation of the MT over thirty years ago (in my view at least). So I would have to agree with Eric Rowe when he writes:

    "I also see room for a major English version with a NT based on the Majority Text."

    Again you state:

    "The TR and CT are not sufficiently different to justify a separate translation continuum for the TR."

    Then what could ever be? An English translation of Codex Bezae perhaps(?). The threshold that you have implied is very extreme. As James Snapp has already stated, "Yes they are"--in fact "sufficiently different" enough to warrant an independent English translation; in continuum no less. (That would be my assessment--of course.) Perhaps you could elaborate on how you came to your conclusions. Respectfully.

    1. Matthew, I think it is surely rational for a Majority Text advocate to argue as you are (at least implicitly) doing now. I might do the same if I were in your shoes: if I thought I had the right text of the New Testament and everyone else was lacking it, of course I’d want it to be reflected in translation.

      But let’s think this through…

      TR proponents are generally bound by their own rhetoric to claim an “absolute,” “perfect,” “stable,” “pure,” “certain,” “preserved” text (all words I’ve heard them use repeatedly—and cite them so doing in my paper). If you prefer the TR, then you are empowered by a righteous zeal to defend The Perfect Bible against all corruptions, of even half a jot or three tenths of a tittle. If you’re a TR guy, and if you use Matt 5:18 as a prooftext (and they literally all do, in my experience), then you shouldn’t be happy until that perfect text is reflected in at least one English Bible, and hopefully all of them.

      But if you’re not a TR absolutist (sorry for the redundancy), then you’re free to weigh the value of continuity within the gathered church—using the same text used by most other believers—against the value of having a more accurate text. Ironically, you’d be using one of the major arguments for the Majority text in defense of the CT. You’d also humbly acknowledge, in this case, that the majority of knowledgeable evangelicals disagree with you. You’d let that weigh against you. I think, after such a process, you could (should!) indeed conclude that the confusion likely to result from the introduction of yet another centrist Bible (see article above =) will do more harm than good.

      Indeed, I’d encourage Majority Text advocates to consider the possibility that the best way to promote their viewpoint *and the good of the church* is to slog through the academic debate until they win the day—rather than taking the divisive shortcut that I think an English translation would prove to be (though probably only a little divisive?). I can’t give a precise number, but I would consider it distinctly possible that an MT proponent would weigh the number of differences between the MT and CT, weigh the value of sticking with the text most evangelical are using (the CT), and decide that the latter weighs more. Fundamentally, my work on KJV-Onlyism has led me to believe that laypeople with no Greek/Hebrew knowledge should not have strong opinions about textual criticism. Because in my view a Majority Text translation’s only justification for existence would be textual-critical, it would necessarily have to tout that justification in marketing materials. And I think that would almost necessarily cause confusion and division. Laypeople aren’t equipped to handle the arguments. The Bible doesn’t tell us how to do textual criticism, and we should be very careful not to lay on the consciences of believers any burden the Bible doesn’t place there.

      I say all this with all due respect—which is reams of respect—to knowledgeable and charitable proponents of the Majority Text. I view their position as fundamentally different than defenses of the TR. But, naturally, as a CT proponent, I’d like to see the church unite behind it.

      I betcha wiser heads than mine at this blog have thought through these issues in more detail and have better wisdom to offer. I admit to offering more inchoate thoughts in this comment than I usually like to do. I hope indeed that others will chime in.

    2. Mark, there are two lines in your response to Rose here that I think get down to where you're coming from and why I see this all very differently. Those are your fear that another centrist translation will do more harm by causing confusion, and then at the end your hope that the church will unite behind the CT.

      Reading between the lines it seems like you wish to see a modern English version have a status similar to what the KJV used to. You want to see a day when the preacher and all the laity in the pews will be reading from the same Bible translation and where you can visit a new church and assume that the same one will be used there too. And the more these new Bibles proliferate, the further we'll get from that.

      I admit, that would be nice. But I don't see it happening and don't see a point in hoping for it. And I also don't think that the lack of that unity of the church behind a modern English version is causing harm or confusion. And in fact, I think a situation like that would make the problem of people thinking there's one "right" English version and that when someone uses a different one that's some kind of theological red flag, worse, rather than better.

      For non-KJVO folks, the cat is out of the bag. There's not one perfect translation. And there's not one perfect extant Greek NT text either.

      What thee is now is a marketplace of supply and demand reflecting different preferences for Bible translation approaches. If any version does achieve a kind of dominance, it will happen the way VHS did over Beta, and if that happens, it's bound only to happen within certain circles within the larger evangelical Church (such as the circle that John MacArthur belongs to). And I actually think that even this limited kind of unity is sped along more efficiently by a continual process of improvements being made to English Bible versions.

      Finally, there can't ever be more than a handful of English Bibles that get more than a few percent of the market share a piece. Everything outside that handful will just join the ranks of the scores of little-known versions that are already out there. Sometimes, a Bible that had a status among those popular English Bibles gets pushed out of that rank by newcomers (like I think we may be able to say has happened to the NASB over the years since the ESV came out). This will go on forever, as the English language changes and as translation fads and controversies come and go.

    3. Eric, you're talking to Mr. Multiple Translations, Mr. Look At All The Benefits Of Our Multi-Translation Situation. =)

      I agree fully that we'll never have One Ring to Rule Them All again, and I actually don't want that to happen. I like having a set of good translations that are at usefully different spots on the formal-to-functional continuum.

      I agree, too, that translation fads and controversies will come and go. I agree, too, that the KJV-Only folks have vasty overblown the amount of controversy that attends the existence of multiple translations. I have tried in many ways to teach laypeople (or teach pastors to teach laypeople) how to use multiple translations profitably. Small groups don’t have to devolve into, “Well *my* Bible says…” arguments.

      But I also think my KJV-Only brothers are onto something. Who are KJV-Only people, by and large? People who will never darken the URL of this blog. They’re usually comparatively poorly educated people. I’m not insulting anyone, just telling the empirical truth. I’ve looked at the credentials of their Bible college professors in some detail, and there are effectively no biblical studies PhDs in all of IFB KJV-Onlyism, and only one that I know of in the tiny (and generally more intellectual) portion of KJV-Onlyism called “Confessional Bibliology.” Poorly educated leaders attract poorly educated parishioners. Do we need to care about poorly educated sheep? Absolutely. I think their smoke alarm is too sensitive: it’s going off like crazy because there’s more than one translation in use in evangelicalism. But I think we just need to recalibrate the setting, not unplug the alarm. The one truth KJV-Onlyism has really laid hold of, it seems to me, is that we have to shepherd the sheep patiently when it comes to Bible translation. They simply cannot be expected to jump around all the time. Somewhere between one-version-onlyism and Rick Warren’s wildly profligate translation-quoting in The Purpose Driven Life =), we’ve got to find a happy medium. (Continued…)

    4. (Continued…) I myself am alarmed, not precisely because there are so many translations—as I said in the piece, and as you said in your comment, most of them will never achieve even 1% market penetration. I am alarmed because smaller and smaller groups are being associated with translations. I’m an evangelical: I won’t work with Roman Catholics on a Bible translation. But I don’t want to give up the ideal of multi-denominational *evangelical* participation in Bible translations, either. That’s because I want the whole church, and anyone outside who’s paying attention, to have confidence that no parochial interests are pushing a narrow agenda into the Bible. Too-many-cooks keeps the broth from having anything idiosyncratic (like “Yahweh” translating κύριος); too-many-cooks keeps the diners from wondering what special ingredient the chef has placed in the pot. *I don’t actually think that the LSB will contain any renderings I view as agenda-driven, but I can’t trust the outside world to be as accepting.* And I don’t think they ought to be.

      Our English Bible tradition limits us in some ways. I have Bible translator friends who see that with clarity. When they start a first translation for a given language, they are free to—they have to—establish brand new conventions for mapping OL lexeme to TL lexeme. The expectation of concordance is lowered, too, I think. They like that freedom. In an ideal world, maybe we’d have that freedom in English translations, too. But our Tyndale-KJV tradition, is also a major strength. “Cavil, if it do not find a hole, will make one,” said the KJV translators (I have that phrase memorized because I think of it so often when I read KJV-Only stuff!), and one way to preserve unity in the church is to recognize that universal human tendency—and to be conservative on how much you alter that tradition. The major translations on that continuum have made what have proven to be acceptable additions to the Tyndale-KJV tradition. The NIV is perceived by many to have broken off and started its own tradition, but I really don’t think they did. As Mounce said, they basically go literal/formal until they feel they can’t—they just reach that “can’t” feeling sooner than the ESV translators usually do. And when they go literal/formal, they’re basically going Tyndale-KJV. I guess I’m urging the influencers who read this blog to think quite self-consciously about how to preserve the health of our largely good English Bible translation tradition—for the good of the church.

  7. I just wanted to say thanks for a fantastic post. I had similar concerns when I first heard of the new version coming from The Master’s Seminary (John MacArthur’s school). I also dislike the approach to YHWH, as I take the example of the LXX and the NT, and most of Bible translational history as instructive on the question. (I greatly appreciated the CSB’s explanation as to why they abandoned their attempt to transliterates YHWH in the earlier HCSB.)

    I too sense a rival spirit between groups of Christians and their versions. The ESV can be promoted in such a way, and the NASB certainly has been. Perhaps those closest to KJV only circles (speaking as a former TR onlyist/ KJVO) are more aware of this tendency....

    I also thank ETC for publishing this post!

  8. Thank you for this post. I share the sense that the proliferation of more and more Bible translations, particularly when we already have so many good ones, will only hurt the church.

  9. Excellent article. I couldn't agree more.

  10. Stephen Samec6/16/2020 6:13 pm

    Thank you for the thoughtful article. I agree with your premise. Actually, my prayer is that more scholars would dedicate themselves to foreign Bible translation. I also affirm that we must avoid an only-ism mentality.

    The NASB95 has been my primary English Bible for the past 19 years (which I began using in a KJV-preferred culture), so the announcement of the 2020 update piqued my interest.

    My observation is that some NASB readers are expressing concerns over NASB20. So I write here to pose this particular question: Is the LSB committee working from a desire to preempt distrust in the NASB “legacy”? I offer one example. On October 4, 2018, the Lockman Foundation previewed its updated rendering of אָדָם in Micah 6:8a, “He has told you, a human, what is good”, which is neither in keeping with NASB translation philosophy regarding gender equivalence nor an improvement literarily. (See post and comments here:

    1. This is a theme I probably should have picked up in the post, and that subsequent discussion has brought out: it is indeed very rational for MacArthur to think (SPECULATION WARNING HERE), 1) I'm getting older and what to leave a valuable legacy before it's too late; 2) the Lockman Foundation appears almost inexplicably to be taking the NASB in a gender direction I can't support with its 2020 edition; 3) the 1995 isn't guaranteed to last, despite what Zondervan says; 4) I've got to act to ensure that the NASB's true legacy remains. That's all rational. It does tend to hinge on point 3. Zondervan says they're "committed" to the 1995. I'd rather wait till that commitment clearly erodes before I made another (centrist) translation. But see point 1…

      This is all public, and I am a friend not a foe to the LSB folks. A fellow graduate of my PhD program is now the president at Master's. I would be happy for them to chime in personally. I know I just did it, but I actually don't like to speculate! I think it's fair to ask for more specific answers from them. I hereby respectfully do so.

    2. Since the example of Micah 6:8 uses a gender-inclusive English word to translate a word that is also gender-inclusive in the original language (at least in this context), how is that not in keeping with the NASB translation philosophy regarding gender equivalence?

      Note that some changes of that sort were already made in the 1995 revision of the NASB, such as when the word "sons" in Matthew 5:9 in the 1971 edition was replaced with "children" in the 1995 edition. And I suspect that if we scoured the 1971 edition we would even find some examples of this phenomenon there. There are also places where we can find it in the KJV.

    3. Eric, I feel as you do—with a smattering of caution from good points Poythress has made about places where gender-accuracy, by choosing to change number, actually does alter the overall meaning of a proverb, for example.

      But as I said in the piece, perception is reality when it comes to Bible translation. The NASB has been known to take the more linguistically conservative route—to self-consciously choose to be behind the curve and to use pronoun conventions (namely the generic "he") that are still widely enough understood, especially among the conservative Christian cognoscenti who like the NASB, that they still work. I don't think it's fair or true to tag Doug Moo and the CBT with caving to pressure from feminism by choosing gender-accurate language, but given that the NASB has long served the portion of the church that did precisely this, it seems rather foolish for the NASB to poke their constituency in the eye. They're squandering the trust they built up on a very touchy issue. I'm not the only one to notice this.

    4. (Eric, that last comment from "Unknown" was from me. Accidentally responded in a Chrome tab that wasn't logged in. Ack.)

    5. Helpful response. Thank you.

    6. Stephen Samec6/17/2020 9:08 pm

      Clear. Thanks!

    7. Stephen Samec6/17/2020 9:13 pm

      To Eric:

      Fair question. I’m not saying that “human” is an intrinsically secular or politically correct translation of אָדָם. The said NASB20 preview simply struck me as an awkward attempt at gender neutrality, English style considerations notwithstanding. I have heard other NASB readers independently draw the same conclusion, which is why I used this example to form my original question. Also, I say it’s inconsistent with the NASB translation philosophy because אָדָם is gender-specific in NASB95 about 500 out of 545 times. (NET, NIV84, ESV use “man” in Mic 6:8.) Thanks for the interaction.

    8. I agree with you that it's awkward style. Stylistically, I personally don't like what NASB20 did with that verse.

      I think that since common English usage over recent decades has moved away from using masculine words in gender-inclusive ways, translators today have to reckon with that. I think Mark is right that generic "he" is still widely understood. But it is getting less and less so. And for younger people who have been raised in English speaking environments that no longer use it find it especially jarring. I think one option that a Bible version with a literal translation philosophy could adopt today is to have a statement in the preface essentially saying the following:

      //In its original languages in both Testaments the Bible has words that can in some contexts indicate maleness, but in other contexts be generic as to the sex of their referents. For these words, it is the context that determines whether they are generic or specifically male. The translators of this version have avoided making those context-based decisions, and have instead used male-specific English words, and encourage the reader to consider whether the context permits a reference to both males and females. The main examples of English words used in this version that can refer to both males and females when the context permits are "he," "man," and the plural forms of "brothers," and "sons."//

      At least then when the question arises for certain readers, there's something to point to. But I think the days where this kind of translation can be made in English without explicitly addressing the question are gone.

      Note that to do this would be to adopt a certain philosophy of translation where the goal is for the text to be understandable, whether than to imitate common English usage. Those two things are not the same. And I think too often in Bible translation debates advocates of dynamic translations assume that they are and criticize more literal translations on that score. An English Bible can use a style of English that is quite unlike what is used in any other context and still be relatively easy to understand.

      All that said, to go back to the flip side of that coin, with the point I was originally making, I have heard critics of gender-neutral language that is used in modern English versions (including the ESV, which ostensibly exercised great caution in this) insist that the relevant words in the original languages actually are male-specific, such that adelphoi, for example, strictly means "brothers," and never "brothers and sisters," which of course is not true. In some cases, the only way to justify a translation of "brothers" is by expecting English readers to understand that the English word "brothers" is not always specifically male.

  11. Mark,

    To be clear, I'm not a MT advocate or a "TR guy" properly speaking. I do consider both to be 'good' Texts generally speaking, but I would disagree with the methodology of the MT camp, as well as many aspects in regards to the ideology (and reasoning) of the TR camp. Besides this, I would also depart from both (in numerous places) on the Textual level.

    That said, it appears that your views are not particularly founded upon any sort of hard data--as much as on personal tastes. (Which is fine, (because after all,) we are all entitled to our own opinions.)

    From what I can gather in your post's to Eric Rowe and myself, it seems that you are advocating for a type of "Evangelical Bibliology";---in some ways a CT-Onlyism. Some of your rhetoric and arguments mirror those that frequently come out of the "Confessional Bibliology" and "TR-Only" camps, yet with an extreme advocacy for the CT and it's English translations instead.

    You state that you're: "Mr. Multiple Translations, Mr. Look At All The Benefits Of Our Multi-Translation Situation."

    Except if it's made from the MT or the TR (?). Is that your position?

    Again you state: "Indeed, I’d encourage Majority Text advocates to consider the possibility that the best way to promote their viewpoint *and the good of the church* is to slog through the academic debate until they win the day—rather than taking the divisive shortcut that I think an English translation would prove to be (though probably only a little divisive?)."

    Are you of the opinion that academia has the ultimate authority over God's Word? Are Christian ministers to also wait for Creation Science to, "win the day" after they, "slog through the academic debate" and defeat Darwinism before a literal Biblical creation can be taught? This sounds like an extremely arbitrary standard to set.

    Again you add: "You’d also humbly acknowledge, in this case, that the majority of knowledgeable evangelicals disagree with you."

    They would disagree with the MT position in general, but I don't think that the majority of knowledgeable Evangelicals would disagree with an English translation of it being produced. And considering the present situation, I, (for one,) would advocate for an English translation of the RP Byzantine Text, and the sooner the better!

    Even so, I appreciate your input and thank you for the reply.

    1. Matthew, every viewpoint on the internet is founded on hard data—except the ones I disagree with! =)

      I wouldn’t call the unity of the church a personal taste, however. And though—touché—I can see why you’d see parallels between my viewpoint on textual criticism and that of the Confessional Bibliology guys, I ultimately reject the link. I’m not pushing for a CT-Onlyism. I’m happy with some textual variation among major evangelical English Bibles (and that is, in fact, what we have—in both testaments). I actually agree with Maurice Robinson—and this may sound like a reversal of what I said earlier, but I base it on hard data!—that it would be nice if the NKJV had been a Majority Text Bible. *What I don’t want is more division among laypeople over textual criticism, a subject they are not equipped to handle carefully.* If the NKJV could shift in an MT direction without making claims to have finally achieved the “right” text, I could really see that as valuable. I’d definitely use it in my study. I’d be happy to preach from it in a church. It wouldn’t be adding to the tally of English Bibles, either. (I see some potential for Thomas Nelson here. The TR guys haven’t accepted the NKJV; maybe the MT guys will.)

      I’m most certainly not of the opinion that academia has the ultimate authority over God’s Word (you’re in-other-wordsing me here, to use Alan Jacobs’ phrase from his great book How to Think!), but your example of Creation Science provides a good example of why I say what I said. My entire life, ever since I was a kid, I’ve been aware at some level that I had to defend my existence as a thinking person who nonetheless accepted a young earth, six-day creation. But in my judgment, the Bible is more than sufficiently clear, in any translation, that the major tenets of materialistic, macro-evolution are wrong—sufficiently clear that I am willing to hold others morally culpable for reading Scripture otherwise. I cannot in good conscience read the text of Genesis 1–11 (and add in Rom 5 and Rom 8, especially) to allow for theistic evolution, let alone to allow for even more deistic views. I expect laypeople without specialized hermeneutical training, people outside the academy, to come to the same conclusions. They should be humble, given that smart evangelical pastor/scholars such as Tim Keller take a BioLogos-type view. But they should also be steadfast. Jesus has the right to say to them, “Have you not read, that he who created the world created it in six days?”

      But does the Bible speak clearly to how we ought to do textual criticism? Does it speak clearly enough to rightly compel the consciences of laypeople to take a critical-text or a Majority text view? *No.* God has not chosen to tell us how to weigh textual variants. Providential use fails as a standard, both because the Bible doesn’t give it as one and because providential use does not speak clearly at the micro-level necessary for us to do textual criticism by that method (see all the instances of *per multi* in the NA28). However, I personally think that providential use is still a reasonable tool to use, given other things we know about God, as long as people don’t make absolutist and (therefore) divisive claims. As long as they acknowledge that they are a few inferences away from direct Bible statement. As long as they acknowledge that they are standing in an area in which God through his word appears to give some liberty. (Continued…)

    2. (Continued…) Now what do I do when I’m in an area where God gives liberty, matters are complicated, but I still have to make a decision? Among other things, I look to my authorities. If my pastor felt strongly that we ought to use a given text in worship and preaching, I would follow, as long as he wasn’t divisive about it. Let every man be persuaded in his own mind. Nearly always, though, pastors are quite self-consciously following their crowd or specific authorities within their crowd. So I ask: which authorities should I follow? My answer: the proprietors of ETC, basically. =) Why? Because they share my theological commitments and have demonstrated the highest abilities in amassing and synthesizing the TC data. Where the Bible does not speak, I am looking for the most responsible human authorities—and where else am I going to find that but in the (evangelical portions of the) academy? I may additionally do my own homework—and on TC I have. But I’m never going to achieve the mastery of the experts. At some point, I do just trust the majority of evangelical textual critics—not to be perfect, no, but to be, at the very least, my starting point. Now, in my opinion, not to puff anyone up… Dr. Robinson is an expert who is above my station. I take account of that in my view. I maintain a distinct humility toward him even while ultimately siding with the evangelical academic biblical studies mainstream. I would take it *very* seriously if he managed, in time, to bring the mainstream toward his view.

      As I said to Eric, I think, it is quite possible that my work on KJV-Onlyism has made me too sensitive to the possibility that unnecessary division will occur if we try to win laypeople to our textual critical side. But still, that’s the main reason I encourage TC debates to stay in the academy. What can we realistically expect laypeople to do with them? I don’t feel this way about YEC, because I can put Bible verses in front of people to compel their consciences. If that creates division, that’s God’s fault (I speak as a fool), not mine.

      Have I clarified anything helpfully? Or have I just added more words to the vast internet ocean?

      Matthew, I’m going to let you have the last word on this if you want it. I didn’t intend for this article to generate questions about textual criticism.

      (So maybe I shouldn’t have posted it on Evangelical Textual Criticism… =)

  12. The easiest solution to the desideratum for a proposed "majority text" (or more accurately, Byzantine text) translation would be for Nelson Co. simply to update the NKJV for such throughout, and not merely in regard to the limited number of footnoted "M-text" renderings that currently appear in that edition.

    I doubt whether that would ever happen, but it should be an idea that Nelson Co. might consider pursuing, given that a particular ready audience (along with ready profit!) would welcome such, especially since their intended KJV-oriented audience didn't exactly come on board full blast with the NKJV to the extent originally anticipated by the editors.

    Of course, the (H)CSB could have gone a similar route, thereby fulfilling its own and Art Farstad's original intent — but that possibility is now apparently long past.

  13. Well...there's more than one way to skin a cat,--Doc. ;-)

  14. Have you guys checked the data on who reads any particular Bible translation?

    Sorry for posting as "Anonymous", but I don't seem to be able to post under my name and email address! Admins, help please? Thanks!

    1. If this appears, the problem is solved!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.


    From Public Arena Data From Private Research Data

    From Public Data From Private Research
    2014 2016 2019 2014 2016 2019
    KJV 45 34 26 42 36 33
    NKJV 12 14 18 13 13 14

    “KJV” 57 48 44 55 49 47
    NIV 19 16 13 11 8 5
    ESV 5 11 15 23 25 26
    NLT 3 4 8 1 4 6
    CSB 1 1 3 1 2 2
    NRSV 3 3 4 2 3 2
    NASB 3 3 4 4 6 8
    Amplified *9
    Others 9 5 9 3 3 4

    * Joyce Meyer promotion!


    From Public Arena From Private Research Data

    2014 2016 2019 2014 2016 2019


    KJV 37 24 13 45 33 26
    NKJV 14 18 21 17 21 33

    “KJV” 51 42 34 62 54 49
    NIV 29 28 26 17 14 11
    ESV 4 12 18 7 16 21
    NLT 3 6 7 1 2 3
    CSB 1 2 3 1 2 2
    NRSV 3 3 4 3 2 3
    NASB 2 3 3 3 6 8
    Others (<4) 7 4 5 6 4 3

    1. Sorry about my machine's skewing the figures!


    The relevant OECD literacy levels are set out below:
    Level 3: Adults are required to read and navigate dense, lengthy or complex texts. Level 3 literacy skills are the minimum considered necessary for coping with everyday life.
    Level 4: Adults can integrate, interpret or synthesise information from complex or lengthy texts. Adults can identify and understand one or more specific, non-central idea(s) in the text in order to interpret or evaluate subtle evidence-claim or persuasive discourse relationships.
    Level 5: Adults can search for, and integrate, information across multiple, dense texts; construct syntheses of similar and contrasting ideas or points of view; or evaluate evidence based arguments. Adults understand subtle, rhetorical cues and can make high-level inferences or use specialised background knowledge.

    KJV 17+ Proficient 4.5-5 17-18 To be acquainted with THE English classic.
    NKJV 12+ Basic 3 11-14 The modernised partner for the traditional Bible.

    NIV 12+ Basic 3 11-14 A modern bible with a ”less literal” approach.
    ESV 15+ Intermediate 4 -4.5 15-17 A modern bible “softening” the “less literal” approach.

    NLT 14 Basic 3 11-14 Perhaps set to become the Bible of many average readers?
    CSB 12+ Basic 3 11-14 A good stater bible for reluctant average readers?

    NRSV 16 College 5+ 18 plus The Bible for academics, students and church lecterns!
    NASB 16 College 5+ 18 plus The best translation in English, but hugely underused?

    * The (years) age is an estimated age at which a reader can fully read and understand it [the Bible}.

    Blockbusters are written at 12 year level.

    “The average American reads daily at a 14 year age level.

    Millions of British adults are functionally illiterate, but the problem is ignored.


    lowest 314 368 332 340

    highest 556 613 556 555

    average 493 494 498 497

    US 500 481 496 505

    UK 494 494 509 504

    US ranking 17 36 25 14

    UK ranking 25 26 15 15

  18. Some of the answers, at least to the questions that have been exercising me, seem to be suggesting themselves; but I await your information and observations and comment! Many thanks!

  19. I cannot find my copy of E C Colwell's book,"What Is the Best New Testament"; and nor can I see any copy for sale on either US or UK Amazon or Ebay or Abebooks. Does anyone have a copy for sale, please, or for scanning or photocopying? Prompt payment assured! Many thanks!

    1. Sorry! "What Is the Best BIBLE" Thanks!

    2. from Alexander Thomson

      Last call for any help in obtaining a physical or electronic or photo- copy of E C Colwell's book, "What is the Best Bible".

  20. "Sign a non-proliferation treaty with other publishers and make a big deal out of it so upstarts (like the LSB, I’m afraid) are shamed into complying."

    Makes me think of a line from Fiddler on the Roof: "If they would agree, I would agree."

    Seriously, though, I think this is a good idea. Each publisher gets to update their translation once every 35-50 years.

    1. Given the absence of an evangelical pope (which I don't want anyway!) or some other kind of institutional unity, I'm under no illusion that I'll be successful in my call. But I've got just enough Don Quixote in my blood to feel like I have to try.

  21. I agree with Dr. Ward's point that there does not seem to be enough new discovery and updating needed to justify an entirely new daughter version of the NASB. The new name “LSB” I think will cause confusion of the relationship between the two translations. A 2020 update to the NASB would have been sufficient.
    And even now I'm confused, is there both a 2020 update to the NASB while also the LSB supervised by John MacArthur?

    1. Yep. A 2020 update, the LSB, and Zondervan is going to keep printing the 1995 update!

  22. Well, perhaps the money from the LSB will enable Lockman to continue to print, for more than a token period, the NASB 1995 in competition with both the LSB and its own NASB 2020: but then, maybe "I'm the King of Siam, so I am".


    No. Countries/Economic Areas 65 66 70 77
    Reported Literacy Scores 2009 2012 2015 2018

    lowest 314 384 347 316
    highest 556 570 535 555
    average 493 496 493 487
    US 500 498 497 505
    UK 494 499 498 504
    US ranking 17 26 22 13
    UK ranking 25 25 21 12


    34 Countries/Economic Areas
    Level Average US UK

    College [University] 5 2 3 2
    Proficient 4 10 9 11
    Intermediate 3 35 36 35
    Basic 2 34 33 34
    Below Basic 1a 1a 4 8 4
    Below Basic 1b 1b 5 3 4
    Below Basic 1c 1c 5 3 6
    Nonliterate nl 5 5 4

    Blockbuster novels are at reading age 12 level.
    Popular newspapers are at ; text 9-11 ages, and editorials at 12-14 levels.

    Basic Level 2 is the level needed to cope with everyday tasks.
    The “tolerable limit” can be taken as 2 years above the nominal year.
    Most Americans and Britons at Basic Level 2 can, within a shorter or
    longer period, increase their reading, by at least 2 years.


      Bible OECD OECD Reading

      Bible OECD OECD Reading Translation Level Category Ages

      US.A US.B UK.A UK.b
      KJV L5 College 17 18 26 33 13 26
      NKJV L2 Basic 11 14 18 14 21 23

      NIV L 2 Basic 11 14 13 10 26 11
      ESV L 3Intermediate 11 15 15 21 18 21

      CSB L 2 Basic 11 14 3 2 3 2
      NLT L 2 Basic 12 14 8 6 7 3

      NASB L 4 Proficient 11 14 4 8 3 8
      NRSV L 4 Proficient 16 17 4 2 4 3

      Others 9 4 5 3

      A = from public information B = from private information

      Lower age begins understanding of translation’s register and style
      Upper age brings understanding of translation’s language and style

      KJV To be acquainted with the English classic
      NKJV The modernized partner for that classic

      NIV A modern Bible with a “less literal” approach
      ESV A modern Bible “softening” that “less literal approach”

      CSB A good starter Bible for the reluctant reader?
      NLT To become the Bible of many average readers?

      NASB The best translation in English but hugely underused?
      NRSV The Bible for the academic desk and the church lectern?

  24. From Alexander Thomson. For some reason, I'm having trouble with the Google account here, so the last 3 posts have been "Anonymous"! I have not received any comment on the previous schedules sent in.Perhaps people are just not interested Fair enough. The two schedules now sent are enough for our purposes, and have now passed their first audit stage, so we can use them for discussion. If Admin wishes now to remove the previous schedules, in order to declutter, I don't at all mind!

    The schedules tell their own story.Both the US and the Uk are average in literacy distribution, and too many folk are reading their Bible at the comfortable everyday level of their newspaper or the like, while a switch to a higher-level Bible could be easily assimilated within a relatively short period of encouraged and assisted use. We must raise Bible literacy. The second of the two schedules shows Bible pairings, already operated successfully by some. I will add this about the Bible reading ages : I have shown the reported age range; but, frankly, they are all, in my experience, on the high side. The KJV is certainly readable and read at a lower age, as is the ESV. I suspect some attempt to over-emphasise difficulties, in the interests of promoting other translations!

    AsIt should be remembered that many KJV's do not appear through the public data, while very many NIV's sold, especially in the US, are destined to be read outside the US. Beware the published unit sales figures of Bibles sold in the US!

    The NKJV is going to be continued only by academics and (reluctant) students; and the NASB is not going to be used by more than, say, 10% of readers.Moreover, the existence of THREE NASB products will further erode confidence and use.

    So, it seems to me that we have six translations of realistic usage : KJV and NKJV, NIV and ESV, and CSB and NLT. If one of these pairs is chosen to suit the user (individual/group/church), then that user will greatly benefit from the constant cross-fertilisation of the pairing. Perhaps existing or new parallel editions might be best.

    Finally, we should continue to urge, and (in churches, at least) insist on, Bibles a consistently high number of individuals in the US - between 85% and 90% - prefer such a Bible.

    Thank you for your patience, and I hope that you may wish to comment on matters.

    1. ..."insist on PRINTED Bibles..". It is astonishing how many individuals of all ages and categories prefer to be alone with the printed page!

  25. So many great conversations! Reading these comments makes me feel like the historical connotation of Evangelical is still alive. It's not just orthodoxy, but it is charity towards one another.

    My thoughts on a new "centrist" translation is that it belongs to a commentary series- or even something like a 2 or 3 volume study Bible of sorts. There needs to be engagement with the text critical issues of major theological influence, as well as the translation issues that have theological import-- especially examples like Gen 3:16! But to have something that is just like other single volume study Bibles just adds to the confusion.

    I always appreciate your posts, Mark. As someone who grew up in the IFCA, what you say is often like listening to a cousin at a family reunion. You understand the idiosyncrasies of the family but still love us.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Benjamin.

      And yes, what you're describing is a lot like the NET Bible—and I think the NET Bible is fantastic! I'm not aware of any church who uses it as their main pulpit Bible. It is and always has been a study tool, and one I never knew I needed. Even though I have access to scholarly resources, sometimes the NET is the quickest way to the answer of a simple question.

  26. Mark, I personally agree with you regarding the LSB. I also think the NASB should have gone more literal, not less in the 2020 update. I must admit that I am a little weary of your consistent jabs (ahem, bringing people's attention to) perceived issues with the ESV. However, you grouped the NASB 2020 update with the LSB as crowding the field of centrist bible versions. Lockman wants to give people choices. How is that a bad thing? I can't imagine that you are really concerned that churches will be adopting the NASB 2020 as a centrist version. I wonder if this criticism just serves to further marginalize the NASB and as sort of a back door justification for Zondervan's aggressive elimination of the 1984 NIV that many people knew and loved. They likely did this to move people over quicker as it would have been more complicated and expensive to keep producing both versions. However, one might also speculate that they did this because they anticipated push-back from conservatives who might have had an issue with the forceful gender changes in the 2011 version. But there has been so little backlash, it's hard to believe that you are still running interference for them. What gives?

    1. from Alexander Thomson.

      Anonymous, I think the flow of Bible publishing is against us, and I'm afraid that it was the US that is responsible. Nelson financed and copyrighted the ASV, the American revision of the English RV. The National Council of Churches secured the ASV copyright from Nelson, which the financed the RSV, in return for ten years' rights to publish the RSV. Exit ASV, apart from sporadic appearances once US copyright had expired. NCC publishes, slightly revises, publishes,extensively revises NT, publishes, adds Apocrypha, publishes, plans to revise OT - all part of an ongoing and rational plan to keep on improving a modern translation that was beginning to gain ground. NCC gets into financial difficulties, financial scheme is devised, NRSV is produced, NCC still retaining copyright. RSV disappears, except for late deal with Roman Catholics to continue their own version - an option denied to Protestants. Along comesome Evangelicals, and - never heard of before - pay lump sum to NCC, to allow (hastily compiled) ESV to be published and to compete against NRSV! Big money here!

      The third is the NIV 1984, completely and suddenly removed, discontinued - despite explicit earller promises. We can't have competing products! Big money here! NIV 1984 disappears.

      Now, Lockman has an excellent product, the NASB 1995. But, it is poor at marketing, and it loses ground to the expertly-marketed ESV (which has to have three revisions between birth 2001 and 2016. So, instead of doing what was obvious to all - a slight revision / better margin / whatever, and a sensible and sustained distribution and marketing policy) - it decides to revise that product in the direction of its rival(s), diluting the quality of the product and alienating its loyal customer base. Incredibly, it then strikes a financial deal with another party to produce a niche edition, highly oriented to a particular position. Of course, such rival product will reduce sales of its own revised product, but it assures us that it will continue to produce the original product. Three editions of the same product in the marketplace at the same time! Something will have to go! It won't be the niche product, because that's owned and controlled by another. So, as it will be pushing its own new product, guess what has to go - the original product! Big money here! Exeat NASB 1995.

      Bible publishing is big business, and it is continuously trying to lure customers from a product to a "new / improved "version, and from one publisher's product to another's. Excellent items are discontinued or tweaked and repackaged, and a sorry scramble takes place for a larger share of a diminishing market. I fear that the NASB is, alas!, now a player in that game.

  27. NASB study Bible or LEB study Bible?

  28. Why doesn't the Holy Spirit settle which English translation of the Bible is the best? If the Holy Spirit speaks to individual evangelical Christians, as they claim, why doesn't He send them each a personal communication with his preferred choice of English Bible translations? This issue could be settled in the next five minutes! Sound silly? Why? Read this:

    “In point of fact, we can know that Jesus rose from the dead wholly apart from the historical evidence. The simplest Christian, who has neither the opportunity nor wherewithal to conduct an historical investigation of Jesus’ resurrection, can know with assurance that Jesus is risen because God’s Spirit bears unmistakable witness to him that it is so.”

    –William Lane Craig, evangelical Christian historian and apologist in the preface of his book, The Son Rises, 1981

    Why should skeptics bother debating evangelical Christians regarding the evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth if at the end of the day their belief in the historicity of this event is not based primarily on historical evidence but on their subjective perception of a spirit (ghost) living somewhere inside their bodies? Regardless of how much evidence we skeptics are able to produce against the eyewitness authorship and historical reliability of the Gospels (the lynch pin arguments of evangelical apologists), evangelicals will refuse to concede an inch of ground due to the alleged “testimony of the Holy Spirit”.

    If you believe that the spirit of God the Creator “testifies with your spirit” that the Gospels are historically reliable sources of information, no amount of objective evidence against that position is going to change your mind!

    I therefore suggest that skeptics refuse to debate evangelical Christians regarding historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus until evangelicals first provide the evidence for their belief that the spirit (ghost) of Jesus is at this very moment living inside their bodies, communicating with them in a “still, small voice”!

    Due to their belief in this core evangelical Christian teaching, how can any evangelical scholar or apologist deny that their research is hopelessly biased?

    Gary Matson, Jr., author of Escaping Christian Fundamentalism blog

  29. from Alexander Thomson.

    I have now completed my latest (final and audited) schedules, and in line with my earlier drafts, it is established that; (1) the US and the UK are equal in their latest (2019) OECD scores – Average (of 77 countries/economic areas) 487 – US 505, 12th in ranking – UK 504, 13th in ranking; (2) that each of them has one-third of its adult (16-65) population at each of the OECD average Level 2 Basic and Level 3 Intermediate literacy, being one-third at each of the two Levels; (3) that the everyday-task reading age of the average adult is in the range of 11-14 years, though 15 might sometimes be used; (4) that blockbuster novels are written at reading age 12 Level, and that daily newspapers are read in the range 9-11 years – though editorials are pitched in the range 11/12-14 years.
    All this tells us that both the US and the UK are really operating at the level of functional literacy, though the newspaper editorials example (and other evidence and experience) show that the average adult is capable of reading at two to four years above everyday level – if there is real interest in a matter and/or the matter is serious,
    My review of the preferred Bibles of those, in the US and the UK, who express a preference for a particular version/translation, consistently (and over some years) shows that between 70% and 80% of preferred Bibles are shared by only 4 versions/translations. (In the following, the figures given are on two bases : the first for public=general readers; and the second for private=serious students.) KJV commands US 26-33 and UK 13-26; NKJV commands US 18-14 and UK 21-23; NIV commands 13-10 and UK 26-11; ESV commands US 15-21 and UK 18-21. [percentages]
    In both countries, ESV commands 6-8 but only 3 among serious UK students; CSB commands only 2-3; NRSV commands only 3-4; and NASB commands only 3-4 generally but 8 among serious students in both countries. [percentages]
    The public sales figures for the NIV show that it is the top sales Bible in the US, but it does not figure high in surveys. Many of the copies registered as US sales are sent abroad. The NIV figures lead me to wonder about its future.
    And the KJV, though figuring respectably in declared sales, is understated, as many private groups print and use and distribute it.

    What leaps at me is that, in order to encourage and improve Biblical literacy and understanding, we should be promoting (only or mainly) these 4 Bibles, paired or parallel – ie, KJV+NKJV and NIV+ESV. In fact, why not all four together? (I have ideas about the formats for pairing/parallel.)

    Are we dissipating our efforts and resources on (far?) too many translations? Should we be indulging our intellectual passions in private but in public endorsing and explaining and gradually improving the four translations that Americans and Britons are actually using overwhelmingly?

  30. from Alexander Thomson.

    I am surprised not to have received comment on the matter of Bible literacy, preferred versions, etc., but it may be that folk simply have no interest in such topics - even though darling versions, such as the NASB and the NRSV, have a small following. Never mind! Let me say thanks for the opportunity to have posted on the topic.

  31. If it would help, I have now prepared three schedules in very readable and stable pdf format, setting out everything very clearly! Anyone interested?

    1. It's pretty late to be asking this but do you still have a pdf I can download of the literacy/bible statistics you posted there. I'm from the UK myself and haven't seen such detailed statistics about this stuff from the UK.

      Thanks, Joshua.

    2. Alexander Thomson5/29/2021 10:37 pm

      Huge apologies!For some inexplicable reason, I did not reply to your request!
      If you click on my profile, you will find my email; and, if you're still interested in the statistics, I'll email them to you.
      Unless/additionally, someone can show this technofumbler how to deposit schedules in my profile page?!

  32. I stumbled across this article and found it very intriguing. It touches on something I've wondered about many times. Do you know of any accessible analysis of NT writers and speakers who quote the OT and what their hermeneutic principles are?

    1. Troy, that's an area that has had tons of works devoted to it in recent decades. For something that's pretty comprehensive and pretty accessible (I believe it gives English alphabet transliterations of all original language text) see the following:

  33. To whom it may concern… I am rooting FOR and not AGAINST John MacArthur and all the institutions connected to him. I pray that where there is smoke there is no fire, that all smoke of scandal is being blown in from the enemy of our souls, the accuser of the brethren. I make no comment on whether the various allegations of impropriety regarding accreditation, hiring/firing, finances, and COVID-restriction-complicance at TMU/TMS/GCC have any validity. I make no comment on the GTY piece critical of Dane Ortlund's book. I only observe that when a Bible translation is tied tightly to one man, the fortunes of that translation are likely to rise and fall with that one man. Committee-based translations can survive scandal in the life of one or more translators (not that the scandal helps). The CSB seems to me to be riding above the fray that is the Southern Baptist Convention. J.I. Packer's ecumenism is widely criticized by the very circles that nonetheless use the ESV he attached his name to. I am praying that MacArthur can clarify (and repent?) as the need demands and that his institutions can survive him. But I tend to think that the LSB will go down with him if he goes down (something I do NOT wish for!), and that the involvement of even one other trusted institution could have saved that from happening.

    Lesson: in our multi-translation situation, multi-institutional buy-in is a desideratum. We need to work to steward the trust of the English-speaking world in the good Bible translations we have.

    Second lesson: "desideratum" means something that is necessary and desirable. =)

  34. This is an amazing piece. Thank you so much for writing it! MacArthur, in my view, should have gotten behind the ESV at this point or stuck with the NASB95. The publisher he has putting out the LSB already puts out the NASB95 in a variety of editions, from kids' Bibles to preaching editions, from hardback to premium leather. And besides, his study Bible is one of the best sellers, in the NKJV, NASB, and ESV (even NIV, I believe). Really, all he was after was getting Yahweh and slave (for doulos) in the translation. The other changes to the text have been, from my limited experience, relatively minor.

    If we're looking for a standard English Bible, the one I see many teachers and readers of all kinds, from a variety of denominational and theological commitments, using fairly regularly is the ESV. It seems to calm the nerves of the conservatives who don't want any "gender neutral" language in their Bibles and who want a pretty darn literal version. The KJV types don't seem to mind it, not nearly as much as say the NIV or NAS, because it retains some of the classic syntax and even a handful of the archaisms from the Authorized Version. And the more progressive types who may have been more readily accepting of the NRSV have a translation that is still in the RSV tradition. Besides, I don't think any publisher can rival Crossway in the way they've produced diverse editions and sheer number of copies. So, it's widely available and accessible. Not to mention that the copyright is a little looser than other versions, making it usable for a variety of needs.

    If MacArthur would have gotten behind the ESV at this stage, it would have been game over, so to speak, for the NASB (at the very least the 2020 iteration of it) and perhaps the NKJV, too, at least in his community (and those who respect him). If Crossway could get some outside the conservative Reformed [baptist] types to give the ESV an endorsement, it could also help broaden its appeal, perhaps.

  35. MacArthur on Dec 3, 2021: "To every believer who wants to know what [the Bible says] in its original autographs—this is as close as the English language has ever gotten to that.… Translations have tended to go toward the reader, to accommodate the reader, when we know a translation should take into account only one person, and that's the author.… This goes back to what the Author said. It's up to the preacher to close the gap between the author and the modern world. That's what expositors do, and this is the perfect tool for Bible expositors and serious Bible students."

    1. from Alexander Thomson

      Having received and perused the NASB 2020 and the LSB, and having consulted with others in the UK, I (and they) are of the view that all forms of the NASB are finished in the UK, and that readers will switch to the ESV. The proliferation and direction of NASB editions, and the disappearance of the inexpensive hardcover side-column reference edition, have meant that the switch is all but inevitable. Sad, but there it is!

  36. Unfortunately, Bible publishing is indeed big business in the US. The World English Bible is the only modern English translation in the public domain. Perhaps some smaller publishers would be able to enter the Bible market and spread the Word if US publishers and/or Bible Societies did not charge royalties or just a nominal fee to utilize their translation for specialty Bibles, study Bibles, etc.

    Does Lexham charge to license their translation for Bible production/study Bible production?