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Bible Versions: What is the Best Bible Translation? by David Malcolm Bennett

In the powerful rhythm of the words you can hear “The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels” and the sound of “galloping horses”. In fact, you gallop along with them. You can see the “Charging cavalry” and the swords and spears doing their terrible damage. You slow down as you see the mournful piles of dead. And in these words one is brought face to face with God’s judgment on sin. It is an extremely powerful translation of a deeply disturbing passage. And sometimes we need to be disturbed!

None of the other Bible versions, in my view, present this as boldly or as clearly as the NIV. The NIV races through its horrors and carries you along with it. It is very dramatic. It is most terrible.

When we become very familiar with a book, however wonderful, we tend to discover that it is not perfect (and no Bible translation is perfect, only the original manuscripts). I have read numerous books about William Booth, the Founder of The Salvation Army. In my opinion, the best of them is St John Ervine’s God’s Soldier. I could tell you three significant things that are wrong with that book because I know it so well. But I still regard it as the best ever biography of General Booth.

In a similar way, I can find fault with some specific translations in the NIV, while still regarding the whole work as splendid. For example, what the translators have done with Eph. 5:21- 6:9 is either sloppy or biased. Here it is not the translation itself that is the problem, but it is how the passage has been divided up. It begins like this:

21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

[Then comes the heading] Wives and Husbands [which is followed by]

22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. While it is fair to link verse 21 with what has gone before, there are good textual reasons to regard the connection between verse 21 and 22 as much stronger. Therefore, it is quite wrong to place a heading between these two verses. If there is to be a heading, it should be before verse 21. Indeed, verse 21 in its own right can be fairly considered a heading for what follows. In the 2011 revision of the NIV the heading has been wisely both altered and moved. It reads “Instructions for Christian Households” and is placed before verse 21.

Another problem I have with the NIV is its omission of the word “propitiation” from Rom. 3:25; 1 Jn. 2:2 and 4:10. (That word is used in the KJV in each of those verses.) The NIV uses instead “sacrifice of atonement” and “atoning sacrifice”, which it retains in the 2011 revision. The word “expiation” is also used in some translations. While this, no doubt, is partly because most readers would not have a clue what propitiation meant, or expiation for that matter, there is also a debate about the meaning of the Greek word hilasterion and its cognates, which lie behind this English translation. Some argue that it does not mean propitiation. The English word propitiation means “to prevent or reduce the anger of”5 God or “The removal of wrath by the offering of a gift”.6 But does hilasterion mean that? The issue is very complex and this is not the place to deal with it in detail.7 The most famous defense of the propitiation translation was by the Anglican scholar Leon Morris.8 Though written a long time ago, it is still well worth reading.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Spring 2013

About the Author: David Malcolm Bennett, Ph.D., is an Anglo-Australian Christian researcher and writer with over 15 books in print. They include The Altar Call: Its Origins and Present Usage, The Sinner’s Prayer: Its Origins and Dangers (companion website:, The Origins of Left Behind Eschatology, Edward Irving Reconsidered: The Man, His Controversies, and the Pentecostal Movement, and The General: William Booth. He is also the transcriber, editor and publisher of The Letters of William and Catherine Booth and The Diary and Reminiscences of Catherine Booth.

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