Thanks to Mike for this contribution:
It’s been a long road from where I’ve started to where I am now. Ever since I began studying seriously the Scriptures in my early teens, I’ve been sensitive to the translation philosophies of the various versions of Scripture that have appeared in the last 30 years. I remember distinctly the time when my father took me to the local bookstore to choose a study bible with which I could begin delving deep into the story of God’s interaction in the lives of men during the first several millennia of recorded history. Although today there is a dizzying plethora of translations from which to choose, even in the mid-80s there were still enough translations on the market to make choosing the right one difficult. Although my father was a dedicated proponent of the New American Standard Bible (NASB), he recognized that, for a 16-year-old, I likely required a “less literal” translation. In the end, I opted for the NIV Study Bible, which served me well for about a decade, at which point I felt embarrassed carrying around such a tattered holy book. In the decades that followed, my interest in the principles of Bible translation became both more informed and more sensitive: informed in the sense that I understood the need of an “essentially literal” translation (e.g., the KJV or NASB), and sensitive insofar as the importance of the Scripture’s understandability (e.g., the NIV or Good News Bible). Personally, I chose a more literal translation, landing solidly in the NASB camp for about a decade and then switching over exclusively to an ESV/NET Bible combination.
Despite my inclination toward “essentially literal” translations, I still wondered whether I was being too close-minded when it came to more dynamic translations such as the New Living Translation. I mean, was an update of that awful (yet extremely influential) 1970s paraphrase really a tool that God could use mightily? Wasn’t fidelity to the original languages something to be pursued? Yes. And no.
Ironically enough, in recent years I’ve come to the conclusion that, while still the “word of God,” the Bible is not as inerrant as I had once believed. I had come to recognize that ancient science (e.g, a 3-tiered geocentric cosmos) pervaded both the Old and New Testaments and, thus, for me to hold to the belief that any scientific matter upon which the Bible touched was forever scientifically correct would result in severe cognitive dissonance. And that’s when it hit me. The ancient cosmology reflected in the Bible was merely an incidental vessel in which God’s truth was communicated. God accommodated his message in terms (scientific, historical, or otherwise) that the original readers could understand. To focus on the science would be to miss the big picture. It dawned on me that I was attributing to Scripture a property that it never claimed for itself. As well, the facts of history bear out the truth of the matter: the Christian church has never possessed a perfect Bible. Because of inherent imperfections in the translation process, as well as the manual process by which the Word of God was transmitted to the Church through the ages, it goes to say that it is extremely likely that God never meant His word to be immaculately preserved.
So, with what was I left? Biblical adequacy—the concept that, regardless of the fallible human methods by which God communicated and transmitted his word, the Scriptures remained sufficient, despite the ravishes of the millennia, to “teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17, NLT). From a careful reading of these verses, it appears to me that “what is true” has much less to do with transmitting history, scientific concepts, and languages with 21st-century accuracy and everything to do with helping us to recognize our inadequacy to do what is right in the sight of God, to recognize the necessity to rely on God’s moral guidance, and to recognize the mission to which we are called.
Wrought-iron fidelity to the original languages, while it has its place, is not the end-all-be-all of communicating God’s message faithfully to the English-speaking world. What’s more important to recognize is that a “less literal” translation, such as the New Living Translation, is equally capable of doing everything 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states to be the purpose of Scripture. The New Living Translation is adequate and sufficient to communicate the truths of God. And that’s why I’ve decided to give the NLT a chance to speak to me next year, as I read through the entire Bible for the fifth time.