Do we use bible translation shibboleths?

Wayne Leman at Better Bibles Blog has an interesting post that is profound and challenging. He states: “I have noticed that one of the marks of religious solidarity is often what version of the Bible is used. In some churches it is a requirement that only the King James Version be used. In others it is the NASB. It appears that there is a recent movement toward using the ESV as a mark of group solidarity and doctrinal purity. I suspect that there is a reaction among some to use the TNIV as a mark of group identity…. We often create shibboleths which are “keys to the kingdom”, social doors through which applicants must pass in order to be fully accepted within the group or church. He also asked:

What are some Bible version shibboleths you are aware of? Which ones are used in your faith community? Which ones do you yourself tend to use? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Bible translation shibboleths for group identity?”

I found this dificult to answer because it challenged me and made me reflect more deeply. In part, I responded:

“I fully agree that these exists when they really shouldn’t. The disadvantage is that they discriminate against others who are outside the circle of insiders. Personally, I try not to use them and would discourage others from accepting shibboleths as a group identity.”

Do you think using or encouraging bible translation shibboleths is right or wrong?

13 thoughts on “Do we use bible translation shibboleths?

  1. Rod, I know how you feel. I use to think that way too about the NKJV and I appreciate your search for truth. As Christians, we must take the bible seriously because it points us in the direction of life and the source of our new life in Christ. I still value my two copies of the NKJV in genuine leather. I’ve used it and appreciated it because it was my source of God’s word. Whether we use the NKJV or T/NIV or whatever, we still receive the written word of God. I know that ignoring parts/verses from scripture almost borders on sin and ungodliness because scripture warns us in Rev 22:19 “and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” This strikes terror in me and I would be fearful of ever removing anything that is scriptural, as all God-fearing bible translators would be.

    But scholars have found that many of the older manuscripts are unintelligible because of the wear and tear of the papyrus. What archaeologists have found are many bits and pieces of the manuscripts. KJV-onlyism does not pay attention to the new manuscripts found after the KJV was published in 1611. It’s been over 400 years and scholarship and archaeology has moved ahead of the older manuscripts since the 1611 KJV and even NKJV. I think it’s based mostly on fear rather than confidence in the authenticity of the word of God.


  2. Rod, thanks for popping by New Epistles. You said:

    I lean toward the NKJV as my main text because of its source manuscripts. The modern translations are good, but the verse omissions and partial omissions in the text bother me.

    The source manuscripts behind the NKJV are out of date. New biblical research have determined that their manuscripts are not the oldest. Translations such as TNIV, NLT, NRSV, HCSB, ESV are more up-to-date because they use the Critical Texts.

    Here is a good presentation of what I’m trying to get at from a fairly unbiased perspective. Click here.


    1. I appreciate the welcome Kevin! The link to the presentation on Bible manuscripts is very informative. I’m not a Biblical Scholar, but I’m a born-again Christian who loves The WORD of GOD and this is one of the reasons this subject interests me. I have read different presentations on the manuscript debate and it is a very technical issue. I guess from my layman’s point of view, I favor a translation(s) that is accurate, complete, and uses easy-to-understand language. In my opinion, there’s no one translation that has all of these features. There are some that come very close, but the “completeness” issue causes me to lean back toward the NKJV which is more readable than the original KJV. The KJV is so awkward with it’s 17th Century “King’s” English. Here are some examples of my concerns about the “completeness” of “modern” translations: in Luke 4:4, “but by every word of God” is removed in the text, in Matt. 27:35, last 25 WORDS are “missing”, in Mark 6:11, last 23 WORDS are “missing”, etc. This is due to the source manuscripts. It just makes me feel unsure about a translation that has these “omissions” especially when the words omitted seem to be foundational to Christian Doctrine. This is one of the claims that people in the King James Only Movement make. However, I don’t believe in King James Only. I wish there was a translation that had the accuracy and “completeness” of the NKJV, the accuracy, footnotes and reference system of the HCSB, the readability of the New Century Version, and the freshness and liveliness of The VOICE Translation.


  3. I feel your frustration, ElShaddai, and T.C. If you remember me, I’ve commented on this issue of Bible Translations on another Blog Site. I have been interested in this subject every since I went shopping for a new Bible several years ago and realized how many translations are available. Until my young adult years, I was only aware of the King James Version of the Bible because that was the translation that every Church I attended used. Much of the language was very difficult for me to understand and as a result, I didn’t really read or study the Bible very much. I’ve come to the conclusion there is no one perfect translation. GOD’s WORD was in the original languages, Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, are. I lean toward having one translation in a worship service for the unity of what is read and heard. Using a different translation from what the pastor, teacher, minister, etc. uses is a little awkward and distracting. My pastor and other pastors I respect use the NKJV. However, for personal study and devotionals I’ll use my preferred translations. I like the accuracy and completeness of the NKJV, the accuracy, footnotes and reference system of the HCSB, the readability of the New Century Version, and the freshness and liveliness of The VOICE Translation. I lean toward the NKJV as my main text because of its source manuscripts. The modern translations are good, but the verse omissions and partial omissions in the text bother me. As you can see, no one translation fits my preferences of accuracy, completeness and readability.


  4. I think a “cult” can use any translation and spin it for their own purposes. The church I am thinking of only uses the KJV for Old and New Testament studies. Which is probably why I’m so gun-shy. 😉

    Thanks for responding. I’ve been enjoying your comparison series.



  5. Valerie, thanks for making your point and I wish I could have responded to you sooner. I also don’t see shibboleths as a good thing. I agree with your suggestion that there is a danger. If we become too attached to one bible translation, we might become kind of inbred. It only produces ignorance. There are very few denominations that only stick to one translations. You mentioned “cult”. I only know of one group that advocates only their own translation, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which I would consider a cult. Of course, they teach that only their translation, the New World Translation, is accurate. I have never been to any church that encourages the use of one translation to the exclusion of others.
    On another note, I would suggest that attending bible studies is always a good thing. There are likely many good churches (wherever you live). But one would have to try different churches to see which one suits you. I have learned that there is never a perfect church so I just stay where I am right now.


  6. Do you think using or encouraging bible translation shibboleths is right or wrong?

    As an outsider looking in, there is one major disadvantage that no one has mentioned…

    Being fixated on one point gives the appearance of worshipping an agenda, which then (as far as I’m concerned) places that group in the same level-of-risk as a cult.

    The one thing I’ve learned in my (very) limited experience with churches is that a wolf in sheep’s clothing is initially indistinguishable from the other sheep. I would rather study the Bible on my own than risk associating with a flock under the influence of a wolf.

    Which is sad because I’d really like to be in a church. It is the same with the translation(s) since I am not yet familiar with the driving force(s) behind their creation. So that, I think, is a major disadvantage of having shibboleths – it scares people like me away.



  7. TC, the NET bible is a really good translation. I’ve never heard anyone considering the NET bible as a possible pew bible because not many in wider Christian circles even know about it. I’m just curious why you would?


  8. Kevin,

    For years I used the NASB, but grew tired of dealing with its numerous inconsistencies and awkwardness. But it’s our pew bible. I hope I can change that in a few years.

    I’ve looked into both the NET and the HCSB, with either one as a replacement, but quite a few still use the NIV and I’ve now been preaching from the TNIV.

    At one time I used the NIV but I had to shelf it because of mistraslations, but the TNIV has corrected most of them, in my opinion.

    Regarding that ecumenical Bible, there will never be such an animal. Even in the times of Jesus and the early Christians, there was no such. And the Patristic period and subsequent years offer no few considerations.

    I feel your frustration, Elshaddai.


  9. Robert, I like the diversity of translations because when I hear passages read from different translations it gives me a broader understanding. In bible studies, I often ask other people with different translations to read out loud from their’s just to hear the difference. Some churches prefer everyone to use the same translation for the sake of unity but I personally don’t agree with that. This is why acceptance of various translations is a good thing in my mind.

    ElShaddai, yes, we are very fragmented but that’s okay because the kingdom of God is not homogenous. It seems too idealistic to think that we should all have one standard translation. It would stifle the church rather than add life to it if we were to have just one ecumenical translation. I wouldn’t like to see us all with the same views anyway.


  10. It’s a good question, Kevin. I spent some time last summer exploring the concept of a “common Bible” and came to the conclusion that Christianity is just too fragmented in matters of doctrine and theology to ever settle on one text.

    However, I think we do see some unity on a local level when churches decided on what translation to provide as a pew Bible. Even if the congregation is “a free for all” as Robert said, the option of unity is given.

    I’ve struggled with this a little, since in my case it would mean carrying the NIV, or perhaps the TNIV is close enough. I strongly prefer other translations, but perhaps sometimes corporate unity is more an ideal to be striven for than the fragmentation of individual choice.

    @Robert: is there a corporate benefit to the diversity of translation in your congregation? Not such that each individual worshiper is comfortable with their translation, but a tangible benefit to the church body as a whole. Just curious…


  11. At our church it is pretty much a free for all. The Senior Pastor will preach out the ESV on Sunday mornings, our other Pastor on Wed nights, will preach out of the NLT or NKJ. When I preach or teach, I am now using the HCSB (with references to other translations as well).

    We do not have any set rule on which bible should be brought to church. I see people with NIV’s, ESV, NKJV, NASB, NLT, and me and another person use the HCSB 😉


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