The Bible has always been central to the Baptist tradition. Baptists believe that Scripture is God’s Word to people in which He reveals Himself, including His nature, His will, and His love for people. Yet there are many English Bible translations today, so which ones do Baptists use?
Most Baptists use the New International Version (NIV), King James (KJV), New King James (NKJV), or the New Living Translation (NLT). A few prefer the New Revised Standard (NRSV) or the New American Standard Bible (NASB). A growing number prefer the English Standard Version (ESV).
Why do most Baptists prefer the NIV, KJV, NKJV, or NLT? What’s the difference between popular English translations? Keep reading to learn more.
Also, see Are Baptists Allowed to Dance? to learn more about the tradition.
Can Baptists Read Any Bible Translation?
Baptists have the freedom to use any accurate English translation. Baptist denominations, churches, and pastors may make recommendations to people. However, the individual can make the choice. Church membership, the ability to serve in various ministries, and partaking in the Lord’s Supper aren’t contingent upon what translation a person reads.
Are there certain translations that are off-limits? Yes, but they aren’t popular English translations like the ones already mentioned. An example of a translation that is out of bounds is the New World Translation (NWT). The NWT is the Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the English is rendered in such as way as to reflect the beliefs of that religion. (Also, see Baptist vs. Catholic: What’s the Difference?)
The key is accuracy: Baptists are encouraged to read any accurate translation of the Bible. While there are differences between the most popular English translations today, they are all accurate. Different translation philosophies, such as word-for-word and thought-for-thought, are considered accurate, even though their approach differs.
What Translations Do Baptists Pastors Use?
Like other Christians who attend church regularly, many Baptists like to use the translation their pastors use because it makes it easier to follow along in sermons, Sunday school classes, and small groups. Baptist pastors have the freedom to use any accurate English translation.
Recent studies show that Baptist pastors prefer specific translations, but there isn’t any consensus on which one.
* The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is not only a revision of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) but also the base text of the ESV. One reason the ESV is growing in popularity, not just in Baptist circles but in others too, is because the NRSV already has a devoted readership. (Also, see This Is What Baptists Believe About Salvation)
NIV: First appearing in the early 1970s, the NIV gained market share about a decade later. Bible readers love that it’s accurate but also readable. 20th-century Bible readers, new Christians, and children often had difficulty understanding the KJV’s old English style. The NIV gave readers an accurate alternative that allowed them to read the Bible often.
KJV: Some people prefer the old English style of the KJV. Some Christians grew up with it. For some, it was the translations used in their childhood church. For others, it was the translation their parents used. The KJV has been a classic translation since the 17th century for its accuracy and the beauty of its translation and phrasing.
NRSV: The NRSV has been around since the 1980s, yet it’s based on the older RSV translation. The RSV is based on the American Standard Bible translation, published in the early 1900s. The ESV, based on the NRSV, is also now a part of this translation family. (Also, see Do Baptists Believe in the Holy Spirit?)
NKJV: The New King James isn’t directly associated with the original KJV. The translations appeared centuries apart. The NKJV first appeared in the early 1980s. Its translators followed the same translation philosophy of the KJV in several ways as they sought to update the classic text with newer forms of English.
NASB: The NASB is an update of the American Standard Bible, first published in the early 20th century. The NASB is translated directly from the original-language texts of the Old and New Testaments. The original ASB wasn’t. Many consider the NASB the most accurate word-for-word English translation available today.
What translations are considered the worst?
The reason some translations are considered poor is primarily due to inaccuracy. Baptist pastors consider the following translations inferior, according to the study:
- The Living Bible: Not to be confused with the New Living Translation (NLT), most Christian pastors, not just Baptists, consider it highly inaccurate and discourage its use.
- Today’s NIV: To some Baptist pastors, the word “Today’s” makes a big difference compared to simply the “NIV” because it signals that terms related to gender are changed. Today’s NIV is controversial because it reflects gender-neutral language in places where the original text is gender-specific. (Also see Do Baptists Believe in Angels?)
- The Message: More of a paraphrase than a translation, the Message is the work of pastor Eugene Peterson. According to some readers, some of Peterson’s renderings go too far in using modern phrasing, even slang.
- The KJV: Some pastors prefer the KJV (see above), yet others consider it poor. Pastors who dislike it find that people have a hard time reading it. People need to be able to read the Bible for comprehension and apply it to their lives. The KJV makes this harder for people, according to some Baptist pastors.
How do people choose a Bible translation?
As mentioned, some people choose to read whatever translation their pastor uses because it helps them learn in church. Yet there are other reasons people opt for one translation over another:
- Accuracy: Many readers value accuracy higher than any other aspect of a translation. The NASB is considered the most accurate word-for-word translation among scholars and pastors. The English text is so close to the original language that it makes reading difficult for some.
- Readability: The term readability describes how easy a translation is to understand. A translation like the NASB may be highly accurate, but if a reader can’t understand it, perhaps another translation would be better. Translations that are well-reviewed for combining accuracy plus readability include the NIV, the NKJV, the NRSV, and the ESV.
- Writing style: This category is mainly associated with the KJV. People either like the KJV’s older writing style or avoid it altogether. The KJV is considered an accurate English translation, even by those who don’t prefer themselves. For some, the NKJV is a great compromise because it has a similar translation philosophy as the KJV but updates the language for twenty-first-century readers.
Baptists will continue to use different translations of the English Bible because the tradition values the autonomy of each person. Whatever translation is used, Baptists will continue to love Scripture as the Word of God, study it, defend it, and do their best to live according to its teachings. (Also see Do Baptists Believe in Predestination?)
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)
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