Bibles, Bibles, Bibles

The canon (official scriptures) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes the Holy Bible. The Bible is the foundation of our Christian faith. As a general rule, we use the King James version (KJV). At the time of the restoration, there was NO official version or most correct version or the only allowed version.

The KJV was the standard version in the US at the time of Joseph Smith. It varied from publisher to publisher as they tried to update and correct grammatical, spelling, and printing errors. Joseph Smith’s translation (JST) work was based on the  Phinney Bible, published in Cooperstown, New York and purchased from the Grandin Bookstore. The Phinney bible “is a more modern form than the edition used by English-speaking Latter-day Saints today.”  (Joseph Smith’s Cooperstown Bible, BYU Studies Quarterly, Journal 40:1, Kent P. Jackson)

My point here isn’t to discuss the history of bible translations used by the LDS church, it is to promote the idea and value of using more modern language translations.

From the Audience: “Oh, but I only use the Bible that the Brethren use.”

Good, I’m glad. The following recent general conference talks have referenced the New International Version (NIV), 1984 and 2011 translations.

The NIV is very common and an excellent translation. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is one that is often used for academic work and my current preference. Either version would be an excellent choice for your personal study.

Why Should I Use Another Translation?

Consider the sacrifices of the early church fathers as they translated the Bible into their modern languages. Why did they do so?

They might have said something similar to this:

“The goal … is to enable English-speaking people from around the world to read and hear God’s eternal Word in their own language. … we have sought to recreate as far as possible the experience of the original audience blending transparency to the original text with accessibility for the millions of English speakers around the world.” (Preface, NIV2011)

From the Audience: “Thou hast a wayward mind and speakest of things thou shoudst not. Knowest not that God speakest in a tongue that is hard to the ears and troubles the mind?”

Yeah, right.

Would our youth be more receptive to religion if it wasn’t so foreign and hard to understand? Why shouldn’t the scriptures be approachable?

From the Audience: “But if everyone in Sunday School class is reading from a different Bible translation, I will get confused.”

If you are not already confused by the Bible, you are doing better than most. However, in practice, different Bible translations differ only slightly in the message they convey (if you understand the language). These differences can provide insight into the source texts, history, and culture, and make you think more deeply about the authors intended message. Similarly, a good instructor will often restate important information using somewhat different language. Doctrinal differences between the common Bible translations are rare. So, don’t panic. (If anyone knows of a book that addresses this issue, please let me know.)

Translations of Translations

Before you go off and condemn all translations as further departures from pure language and absolute truth, I would ask you to consider two things.

1- Just as technology has changed since the KJV proposed to bring a more “exact Translation of the holy Scriptures into the English Tongue” (KJV introduction), all areas of human knowledge have similarly advanced, including our understanding of ancient Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and biblical provenance (the source of the ancient texts). The knowledge exists to create a more “correct” and meaningful translation than all of the kings men could in their time.

2- Read the Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation and maybe the preface to NIV2011. I think you will find it fascinating and a foundation for understanding any translation, including the KJV.

Where Do I Get a Copy of The NIV?

Well, you don’t go to Deseret Book for the NIV, at least not yet.

If you want a print copy, there are many configurations of the NIV, which can be found online and at your local Christian bookstore from many publishers.

I’ve installed a number of Bible apps on my phone and computer, trying to find one that is easy to use and offers convenient features, such as side-by-side reading of different versions, allows direct keying of verse references, and is stable.

After trying out four or five and reading up on others, the one that I have settled on for my phone and computer is from Olive Tree Bible Software. The program allows you to download a number of free bible translations and commentaries. Like most Bible software,  you can position two versions side by side for comparison. This can be an illuminating activity. I also have the Harper-Collins Study Bible, that I can view side by side with the Bible content.

Bible Gateway also has a good website and has a decent cell phone app, but no Windows version.

It Doesn’t Sound Right

As LDS readers first picking up a modern language translations, we may be shocked and suspicious of the language. However, I think you will find that the NIV and NRSV are faithful translations and allow you to focus more on the intent of the message rather than trying to decode the language. You might also find that when teaching children and youth these sources are approachable and more meaningful to your students. I hope you enjoy them.


Another interesting article on the subject is at Times and Seasons. The comments are especially interesting.

Update 2018-11-25: A modern English translation of the New Testament is now available at Deseret Book, The New Testament – A Translation for Latter-day Saints.

Update 2020-05-01: Ben Spackman likes to tease us to be more educated about the Bible. The following article is typical of his encouragement for LDS and other conservative traditions to use modern Bible translations. Ben also introduces us to YouTube videos by Mark Ward.
Scriptural Language, and False Friends

Mark Ward’s YouTube videos on The Use & Misue of the King James Bible

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