Last week, we talked about Bible memorization and how to accomplish extended memorization of entire chapters and even whole books of the Bible. This conversation on memorization forces on us the inevitable question of translations. We are blessed with many good English translations to choose from. Pastor John, when setting out on a major project like this — investing hours of time memorizing whole chapters of the Bible — how important is it to settle on a specific translation you will use for years and maybe for the rest of your life? Or is this decision really not a big one?
From King James to English Standard
That is a great question. Here is my thought with a little history. Growing up, I was given a King James Bible when I was small, and I used it until I was nineteen. And I memorized a lot of Scripture as a kid in those days, and so to this day, I have a lot of the old Authorized Version, or King James Version, language in my head. When I was nineteen, I made a very significant choice.
And this is the choice I think you are asking whether people need to make. I think the answer is they do. I made a choice to move to a more modern translation, and in 1965, when I made that decision, I chose the Revised Standard Version (RSV). And I used the RSV for my personal devotions from 1965 to the mid-nineties, so thirty years or so, and I memorized from that.
I would probably be using it to this day if it hadn’t gone out of print, because I had so much of it in my head. But it went out of print. You can’t get an RSV. You can get a New RSV, but that is not the same anymore. It has changed in significant ways, some of them politically correct that don’t help me at all.
So I had to make a choice: Now what do I do? And that is the time in history where I really was rejoicing that Crossway Books had gotten the copyright to the RSV from the National Council of Churches and had planned to do a light revision of it to preserve the lineage, because the lineage does go from King James, through the American Standard Version, through the Revised Standard Version, to the English Standard Version. So when the ESV came out, I looked at it, and I thought, Oh, this is it. This is the RSV with very few changes. So, I was able to make that transition and stay in the stream of King James, RSV, ESV, and so I am happy that I made both of those changes.
Settled on One Translation
Now I do suggest people make a settled change, because if you are going to do significant long-term memory, it will be very difficult to jump around in translations, because the mind gets locked in, and it needs to get locked in to certain wording, so that it doesn’t have to be self-conscious as it is reciting the Bible and can focus on the meaning. That is one of the great values of having it become second nature, and all those synapses in the brain just clicking away automatically with the words you’ve used, so that you can focus on meaning and the people you are talking to.
“It is just far better to be memorizing any version than to be memorizing none.”
So, if I were to suggest, I would say, If you don’t want to take my word for it, go to the leaders of your church and ask them, “What are we going to be using here for the long haul? Do you have any suggestions for me? I am going to do significant memorization. I don’t want to have to be changing. What would you say that we settle in on?”
And I don’t think you want to use an idiosyncratic translation, so it would be one of the ones that are pretty near the center. The New International Version (NIV) is going to stick around for a long time, I am sure. The New King James is probably going to be around for a long time. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is a little wooden, but it is going to be around, and the ESV has proven for me to be most helpful in being something you can read in public, something you can have kids memorize, and something I can memorize. It is a pretty sober, respectful, traditional, and yet, I think modern and understandable, translation.
So that is a really good question. And my own vote is for the ESV, but, boy, it is just far better to be memorizing any version than to be memorizing none.