Top 10 List: Worst Bible Translations

Update: I’m home now so my links are readily available.  This post has been updated with the 3 missing terrible translations as well as links to all of them.

There’s been much talk of the best Bible translations recently (see Doug Mangum’s post and TC’s response), and Doug Mangum is quite correct that personal preference plays a role in everyone’s ranking, but to date I haven’t seen a worst list yet.  So here’s my top 10 worst translations list, in no particular order.

1.    New World Translation (too many theologically motivated mistranslations)
2.    Concordant Literal New Testament (too mechanical, virtually unreadable)
3.    Contemporary English Version (doesn’t quite sound Biblish enough for me)
4.    New Century Version (same as above)
5.    The Message (what the Bible would sound like if God were Eugene Peterson)
6.    Young’s Literal Translation (too wooden)
7.    Any Sacred Name Version (too annoying)
8.    Good News Bible (HT: Andrew Bourne)
9.    God’s Word Translation (pretentious title)
10.  The Amplified Bible (Every word has a lexicon attached)

*Bonus: lolcat Bible Translation (HT: Jeff)

But there’s no need for a top 10 best translations list because there’s only one worth any attention: the KJV baby!   

B”H

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56 thoughts on “Top 10 List: Worst Bible Translations

  1. People blast on Peterson a lot, but I think he does some interesting things. When you go through and try to translate difficult words, then check his translation, you can see that he’s trying to work with the research. I actually don’t think it’s half bad.

    How about the KJV for your list? :)

  2. I would have put the Message at #2. I don’t know how Patrick thinks that the Message is not half bad. Compare Matthew 5:3-

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (NIV)

    “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (The Message)

    Or how about this beatitude-
    Matthew 5:7
    “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. (The Message)

    Sorry, but the Message is simply terrible.

  3. Patrick: Yeah, some folks like it. I just can’t get behind it. As for your KJV comment, I’ll pretend I didn’t read such blasphemy!

    Brent: My list isn’t in any particular order. I don’t feel like expending the energy it would take to decide which was actually the worst and then move on from there. In my opinion they all suck!

    Andrew: Done! Good call.

    Jeff: I just threw up in my mouth!

  4. Roger: First of all, everyone likes the KJV, so weirdos aren’t unique in that sense. Secondly, weirdos like all kinds of things, I can’t go around writing it off just because of that. If I did then I’d have to stop reading half the blogs in my feed.

  5. Nick,

    You ignored the NKJV – all the anachronisms and mistranslations of the KJV without any of its poetry or authority.

    I tend to agree with Jeff. If I’m looking through a load of translations, I’ll tend to include the Message. Sometimes it gives an interesting point of view. I tend to view it more as Peterson’s commentary than a translation though.

  6. Damian: I ignored the NKJV because I like it. And I tend to avoid the Message like the plague.

    TC: That would be any of the many different “Sacred Name” versions out there. Sacred name versions “restore” the names of God (and often Hebrew names of people as well). Click any of the three links above for examples.

  7. Nick, really? I have to ask, what do you find redeeming in the NKJV? Whilst I love the original, I find the NKJV stilted and without much of the grace and rhythm of the original. At least the other decendants of the KJV (the NRSV/ESV) retained many of its better qualities.

  8. Brent, you’re right that the Message is not always on target. But he’s really working with the language and trying to do something creative. You have to take it for what it’s worth. If all you want is a fairly literal translation, then it won’t be for you.

    Actually, I might say his creativity works better for OT passages than NT. I have more often checked out his wording when translating Hebrew since Hebrew requires more creative finesse than Greek does. Sometimes it really is a really cool option.

    I mean the guy went through the ENTIRE Bible by himself. There’s bound to be good stuff and bad stuff.

  9. I agree with those who have put up a defence of The Message, in particular with Patrick. I don’t think he is going for a translation, per se. Reading his book, Eat This Book, I understand a lot more of what he’s trying do. Nor does he claim to be a translation, like the Good News Bible (or, as some as my friends call it, the ‘voodoo bible’). They are every where over here in England because somebody gave them for free to all churches. Well, you get what you pay for.

  10. Damian: There’s enough of the original in the NKJV to make it recognizable to folks who are used to thr KJV, yet its language is updated enough to be useful to folks who aren’t. I much prefer the original, but I’m not mad at the NKJV. And I love the NRSV while just liking the ESV.

    Patrick: Very true, there’s bound to be some good and bad. From what I’ve read (and I haven’t nearly read the entire thing), the bad outweighs the good.

    Will: But if not a translation then what? Obviously it’s Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, but isn’t that basically just a translation? Like an English targum or something?

  11. That may be a good description. Of course, it is a translation, but one that goes along with a paraphrase. I don’t know about its midrash elements, though. I don’t think he was going for interpretation as much as, ‘how would this sound?’ Of course, he fails in some areas terribly, but in others its fantastic. I discourage it being read as the text in worship, but will quote him in a sermon. Also, I discourage it being used as a primary bible in bible study, but only as a secondary text – almost like a commentary.

  12. Will: I don’t doubt that there’s some good parts (although I’ve yet to come across them ;) ), but I’m with you on not recommending it as a primary text for church or study.

  13. Dude, you forgot my personal favorite:

    The Derek Worded Version! Every single verse contains a reference to me in some capacity!

    It my own translation and even I find it annoying!

    :)

  14. How about the translations done by people who know some Greek and Hebrew (but don’t speak it) and read the Bible in it’s original languages but still translate it into English in their heads, even though they think that all English translations are inferior to reading the Bible in its original language and all Christians should learn to read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew?

    I’d vote for that as the worst Bible translation.
    ; )

    Bryan L

  15. Derek: I’m not familiar with the DWV but it sounds strangely similar to the DMV and I get annoyed every time I have to go there so I’m sure I’d be annoyed by the DWV as well. ;)

    Bryan: That would make my top 10 list of most annoying types of people. ;)

  16. *The Message* is indefensible. It’s not even worth reading as a commentary, because when it’s wrong (which is pretty much always), it’s really wrong. There’s no possible reason that anyone should read it. If anyone objects, I’d invite them to give an example of a verse for which *The Message* helps us out in some way.

    The sad thing is that magazines like *Christianity Today* will never denounce this dreck, because they’re too interested in the advertising dollars they’re getting from the publishers.

    There once was a day when I said that the NIV was the worst translation out there, but the past couple of decades have seen a steady downturn in the quality of new translations–so much so that the NIV is now somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

  17. Concerning the “New World” Translation used by Jehovah”s Witnesses: As a basis for translating the Hebrew Scriptures, the text of Rudolf Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica, editions of 1951-1955, was used.The 1984
    The 1984 revision of the “New World” translation benefited from updating in harmony with the Biblis Hebraica stuttgartensia of 1977. Additionally, the Dead Sea Scrolls and numerous early translations into other languages were consulted.
    For the Christian Greek Scriptures, the master Greek text of 1881 as prepared by
    Westcott and Hort was used primarily, but several other master texts were consulted as well as numerous eary versions in other languages.
    How much more accurate can you get?

  18. Patrick: They could get a lot more accurate by not allowing their theological biases to color so much of their translation. The texts they use are of no consequence if they aren’t faithful in their translating them.

  19. Clear Word Bible: too many theologically motivated distortions.

    Ferrar Fenton Bible: many strange renderings.

  20. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authorized_King_James_Version

    Read paragraph two for starters…

    This is your top, #1, go-to Bible? When I have to study with people who use this Bible and I explain why their Bible says what it does contrary to mine I look up the words in the original Hebrew or Greek and then check with Strong’s concordanance. The KJV has ALWAYS chosen poor or incorrect translations of the words, but ones that fit their theological agenda.

  21. Trish: I’m sorry, but that’s nonsense. And if you have to refer to Strong’s concordance then I’m afraid you’re in no position to be criticizing translators of any Bible.

  22. Reading a heap of these comments I think people are losing sight of the one factor when it comes to Bibles. And that one true factor is a Bible that has the most accurate translation to the dead sea scrolls that were found. If people find the KJV too hard to read then maybe they need to ask the Lord to show them what it means. In fact, studies have shown that the KJV is the easiest to read because of its flowing rhythym of language and that it resembles English in its most pure form. English today has degraded much like everything else in this world. There are also nuences and other such markings in the KJV that change the whole understanding of a verse to its truest form. For example if a verse has LORD as opposed to Lord it changes the meaning of that verse (Casing changes the meaning). Studies have also shown that even children can understand and actually memories the KJV more easily than any other Bible. Why? Well, not just the reasons I have stated above but maybe it is the truest Word of God. KJV just may have God’s blessing upon becuase it is the most accurate. When tracking down a Bible, don’t look for something “you think” is easier to read, but rather track down what all the experts say about a Bible. You want God’s word, not man’s word. And if you have that Bible, God will help you to understand it. That is the key factor – God will help you understand it. Why would God create a code book that nobody could understand? He wouldn’t. Ask God if your Bible is His word, he’ll soon tell you yes or no. And remember the new the versions, the less likely it will be a true Bible. So obviously I would promote the KJV. One Bible I would never promote is the Good News Bible. This bible was actually written by communists people to bend God’s word for their benefit, so steer clear. The NIV is also one I would steer away from, as it is half Bible and half commentary. You want all Bible. Plenty of commentaries out there. But you put part commentary in a Bible and you are asking for trouble as commentaries are man’s outlines on the Bible, not God’s. I hope this comment has helped someone out there – God bless in choosing God’s Word.

  23. Christopher: I’m certainly a fan of the KJV but it’s not quite what you claim it is. The KJV is not “the most accurate translation to the dead sea scrolls.” This is a very strange claim and I wonder where you first heard it. Studies have not shown that the KJV is the easiest to read, nor should we expect that they would, seeing as how we are 500 years removed from the English of the KJV. What translations are you aware of that don’t make some kind of distinction between the various Hebrew words for “Lord” and the divine name YHWH? Even if the distinction is not LORD/Lord, but something else, it’s still there. What studies about memorization are you referring to? And what experts have you been reading? I don’t know of any experts in the field of translation today that will say the KJV is the best of the bunch. I know of many who certainly appreciate it for the scholarly accomplishment that it was in its day, and also for its longstanding history, as well as its undeniable influence on the English language and literature, but there are other formal equivalent translations that conform to modern English much better than the KJV. The KJV is one of many wonderful translations that exists. It’s not the only one, or the best one, or the most accurate one, but if it’s the one that people read and use to get closer to God, then I say amen!

  24. Thanks for the excellent list.

    Some of the Good Bibles in English are sometimes translated to other languages. The final result is a disaster.
    There is this notion that American Christians have to convert everyone else in the world to American Style Christianity. I’m sure some Bible Belt pastor will come with the bright idea to translate this beauties to Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, etc.

  25. Hey, I just saw your list and I was wondering if you could steer me in the right direction for a bible. I have a NIV study, ESV study, Holman Christian Standard Bible, and my NKJV slimline (which is my go to bible as of now). Most of the people in my ministry read NKJV and ESV. I just can’t find any solid sources saying which is better! A quick email to TaylorDeSotoiphone@gmail.com would be amazing if you could give me some input! Thanks!!

  26. Taylor: I’ll respond here first if that’s okay. I don’t think the issue is so much “better” as it is “different.” Both the NKJV and ESV are formal equivalency translations meaning that they seek to the best of their ability to maintain the form of the original text. They have different underlying texts though. The ESV is essentially a revision of the RSV which relies on a modern critical text while the NKJV is obviously a revision of the KJV which relies on the so-called Textus Receptus. The critical text of the ESV and the Textus Receptus of the NKJV differ in a great many places which means that the resulting translations differ. Again, it’s not so much a matter of “better” as it is “different.” The critical Greek texts relies on older manuscripts (which plenty of scholars believe to be better) while the Textus Receptus relies on later, but more abundant (and widespread) manuscripts (which some are convinced is better). I will say this about each translation:

    Some say that everywhere where the NRSV and ESV differ from the RSV (of which they’re both revisions), the NRSV is better.

    Some say that the NKJV retained the worst part of the KJV (its underlying Greek text) and did away with the best (its wonderful prose and poetry).

    But even with these jabs at each translation I happen to like them both. I say whichever translation keeps you reading the Bible is the best. A great book to check out on the subject is How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss.

  27. The Young’s Literal is perhaps the BEST translation out there. It is literally translated from the original Greek and Hebrew. The KJV is a translation in centuries-old English. The YLT, however, preserves the literal meaning of every word and relegates the real details of the Bible to the person reading.

  28. Revan: That’s nonsense. YLT wasn’t even good in its day. Most Bibles are translated from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek so it doesn’t get points for that. The YLT is wooden and clunky and the exact opposite of a joy to read.

  29. If you think the YLT is a tough read open an interlinear. Youngs intent was mainly as a read along side of another. It is a tougher read because the words are as much as can be in original order from his perspective at the time. Of popular modern versions I would put the “MESS” at the top of the bad list with many not so heard of versions filling up the rest.

  30. Ron: One can follow word order closely and still produce a good, readable translation. Robert Mounce’s translation of the entire NT in The Zondervan Greek and English Interlinear New Testament (NASB/NIV) is a prime example of how things should be done.

    But I’m with you on the Message. It’s awful in so many ways.

  31. What you get with a kernel/husk model of Scripture…this is quite simply awful. Psalm 7:14 in the Message:

    “Look at that guy!
    He had sex with sin,
    he’s pregnant with evil.
    Oh, look! He’s having
    the baby—a Lie-Baby!”

  32. Thomas: Thanks. I was worried for a second that those sites advocated KJV onlyism. I should have known better since I used to reference Doug Kutilek’s articles on kjvonly.org quite often a number of years ago.

    Casey: We need a stronger word than awful!

  33. Nick, I would like to make a comment about your remarks to Taylor. After spending 15 years studying the KJVO junk, I finally realized that the underlying Greek text has very minimal influence on the translation. For instance check out John 1:1-51. There is absolutely no difference between the TR, Majority Text, Westcott & Hort and the Critical text in vvs. 1-14, 23, 33, 34, 36, 38, 40, 44 and very minor differences (which often would not show up in translation) in verses like 24, 31, 48 where only the definite article is left out by the Critical text (& W&H). And there are 4 other verse also with extremely minor differences like a different conjunction (v. 16), a different preposition (v. 30), and shifting a word from one position in the verse to another position (vvs. 37 & 43). And we could point out more.
    My point is that of the reportedly 8,000 differences (that’s all out of somewhere around 250,000 words in the NT) a huge percentage of them have no effect on translation. Most translational changes are due to translator choice. For instance in John 1:3 the preposition “dia” is rendered “by (him)” while the NKJV and others have “through (him)”. But the facts are that the KJV rendered this Greek preposition as “through” in 88 places (see Matt 12: & 12:43 for the first two places).
    The text issue is a smoke screen for those who don’t know Greek.

  34. Tim: I’m struggling to make sense of your comment. How can the underlying Greek text have “very minimal influence on the translation”? It has every influence on translation. The fact that the Greek text can be rendered differently into English where the Greek text doesn’t differ between say the TR and the NA27 doesn’t mean that the Greek text has “very minimal influence on the translation” does it? Of course not. It means that translation from source language to target language doesn’t manifest in 1:1 concordance. I’m also not sure what you mean by “smoke screen.” Are you suggesting that the TR and modern critical texts don’t differ in many places? Are you suggesting that where they do differ that the resulting translation is only a matter of translator choice and never a matter of different words appearing in the different texts (as in, e.g., John 1:18; 1 Tim. 3:16; or the infamous Johannine Comma)? Again, I’m struggling to make sense out of what you’ve said.

  35. You are right, Nick! I did not express myself very well–done in haste. My point was that over all, a vast majority of the changes have absolutely nothing to do with the Greek. Some claim that there are 100,000 changes between the KJV and NKJV (which would means other versions have far more changes). There are only somewhere around 8,000 differences in the Greek–so that means most of the changes are translators choices, not changes forced by the Critical text.
    Yes, by all means the differences are there but even among those 8,000 (or whatever the number) a huge number of them are spelling differences or things that had no effect on translation. I recommend J. A. Moorman’s book, 8,000 Differences (he’s a KJVO but his book makes my point). I just grabbed one example for you. On page 82, he lists one change in Mark 6:45 where the TR has και ευθεως while the UBS 4th has Καὶ εὐθὺς. He translates both with “And straightway.” Of course I doubt any modern version uses “straightway” but the fact remains, any change by the translator was due to his choice of different English word, not forced by the Greek.
    My “smoke screen” comment refers to the fact that the KJVO folks constantly harp on the Greek text when the vast majority of differences have nothing to do with Text.
    I hope this is a more clear but I am not shocked at your reaction. I have not found anyone who seems to have noticed the 92,000 instances where the Greek text could not have caused a difference!
    Please let me know if this still does not make sense to you.

  36. By the way I should have added that I have never preached or taught from anything other than the KJV. As my friend remarked, I’m not against the KJV, just the KJVO. I personally believe that we can profit greatly from comparing and reading a diverse group of Bibles–I regularly compare the KJV to the NKJV, NASB94, ESV, NIV, Geneva and Bishops. I could not begin to tell you how many times I have found something in another version, go check the KJV and be surprised. Many times the KJV had the same sense but it was obscure by old words or old world phrasing. I’m becoming, not a one Bible man, but many.
    Bedtime!

  37. Tim: Thanks for the clarification. I get what you’re saying now. Nowadays I do most of my teaching/preaching from the ESV but I’ve been known to use the (T)NIV on occasion. But the KJV is really my “first language” — it’s the translation I have memorized and when I think Scripture I think in the King’s English.

  38. I don’t get all this defense of The Message. “How would this sound?” “What he was going for…” etc…

    It claims to be the bible in English, but clearly deviates from the original-language texts to such a degree as to be one dude’s version of what he thinks the bible says or – even worse – should have said. It amounts to little more than what Paul would have called ‘ear tickling,’ in my opinion. Let’s-make-the-bible-trendy-and-cool seems a poor basis for producing a bible; the word of God should not be treated so carelessly, or with such a lack of respect. Again, imo, ymmv.

  39. Yeah some versions are misinterpreted in some parts but don’t throw out the whole bible. Personally I think one should use many translations to study from and to get many different views from other people.

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