The Battle of the Versions

By Cecil Willis

For a good many years there has been conversation, controversy, and even conflict as to which is the better Bible translation. That conflict usually is settled, quite subjectively, by each person deciding that the one he uses is the best one.

As a preacher, I am stuck with the American Standard Version. If I did not think it was an accurate translation, I would switch to a “better” one. One brother recently published a translation and named it “The Better Version.” I guess he leaves little room for controversy, or even doubt, by his choice of a title for his translation. But after studying from, and memorizing from the American Standard Version, I have concluded that if I were to attempt to change to some other translation now, I would never be sure what translation I was quoting from. It probably would have to be called the “Willis Interpolation.” So I have no plans to make a change in my preaching Bible.

For the purpose of study, one might find many translations helpful. A few brethren quite usefully specialize in collecting and comparing translations. Brother Luther Martin is one good example on this point. Many competent literary critics have said that the King James Version is strong in English, but weak in Greek; while the American Standard Version is strong in Greek, but weak in English. In my opinion, this is a fair comment to make while comparing translations.

This morning I was reading an article in Christianity Today on “How To Choose A Bible,” written by Gerald F. Hawthorne, who is Professor of Greek at Wheaton College in Illinois, having earned his M.A. at Wheaton, and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Those degrees are supposed to squelch all criticism to his judgments. No, they do not do that, but they do indicate that he is speaking on a subject upon which he has made considerable preparation and study. His comment on the King James Version as compared to the American Standard Version is this:

“For careful study I recommend that you use several translations, but that you begin with the American Standard Version (ASV) or the New American Standard Bible (NASB). These Bibles are exceptionally faithful to the Hebrew and Greek texts. So if you do not know the original languages but want to know what the original says, use either of these two translations.

Now that wise advice nearly has to be correct, for he and I are in agreement on the subject matter. I guess I can cite him as an authority on that subject, seeing that we already are in agreement.

One other comment he makes might be of some interest to you. He says:

“Zondervan also publishes The New Testament From Twenty Six Translations. This volume prints the KJV and, right below each KJV line, only the significant differences from the KJV found in the other twenty-five translations. It is a handy tool, but weakened by the fact that the editor gives no criteria for what he considers a significant difference.”

Professor Hawthorne presents some interesting observations, but for these two quotes the title “A Bouquet and Some Thistles” came to my mind. But for a certainty, one should use every means at his disposal to learn what God said in the original languages. For those of you who are not, or cannot be, careful students of Greek and Hebrew, then the choice of a reliable translation becomes a matter of supreme importance.

Truth Magazine, XX:15, p. 3
April 8, 1976