Does the Assemblies of God accept more than one Bible translation?
The Assemblies of God recognizes value in and accepts the usefulness of several Bible translations. One of the strengths of our Fellowship has always been a strong commitment to the authority of the Bible as the fully inspired and inerrant Word of God. We believe the Bible is a true guide and judge for all beliefs, practices, and experiences of believers.
The Bible has always been held in high respect by Assemblies of God leadership and members. Our commitment to the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Word rests on the ancient manuscripts transcribed from the original autographs first written by the holy men inspired by God to record His words to the human race. Although we acknowledge that the divine inspiration has carried over into translations from the ancient manuscripts into modern languages such as English, we do not claim any translation to be completely free from errors of detail.
Admiration and use of the Authorized Version, popularly known as the King James Version (KJV), was quite uniform until the flurry of new English-language translations began appearing in the 1940s. At that time there was considerable alarm over the Revised Standard Version (RSV) because it appeared to water down cherished core beliefs about the person of Christ. To this day neither the RSV nor its NRSV successor has been well received in the Assemblies of God. More recently an Evangelical publisher acquired the rights to the old RSV text and subsequently commissioned a committee of Evangelical scholars to remove the liberal bias of the RSV. The improved translation, the English Standard Version (ESV) was published in 2001.
For a time, many felt that clinging to the King James Version, rather than using the newer translations, was essential to our faith. However, in succeeding decades, a number of very good translations have appeared. The New International Version (NIV) is a good example, although a later modification, the TNIV, has raised some concerns over gender specific words. An Assemblies of God scholar served on the editorial committee of the 1973 NIV.
Many of the newer translations have attempted to provide today’s English reader with as literal a rendering of the original Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) writings as possible. In doing so some have sacrificed the literary beauty of the King James for a clearer meaning of Scripture. The new translations bring increased clarity to God’s Word by (1) essentially providing a more accurate translation of the ancient manuscripts, and (2) by communicating God’s truth in language that is more easily understood by today’s readers, and thereby is more effective in impacting today’s culture.
We can fully appreciate the limitations of the King James Version translation committee in the years of scholarly work before 1611. They worked from 14 ancient manuscripts, whereas more than 5,000 manuscripts are available to modern-day translators. Even with this seeming handicap, the King James Version has proven a surprisingly resilient and useful rendering of the Bible. Even through its own subsequent revisions, the King James translation has shown itself to be a wonderful communicator of the truths of God.
One last consideration we must acknowledge in Bible translations is the issue of language. Modern languages such as English are “living languages” that often shift and change with new meanings given to old words. This is especially true in American culture, where English speech and the written word are especially dynamic, ever changing according to geographic regions, ethnic cultures, social classes, and time periods. That simply means we do not speak the same language/dialect as our parents spoke. Our children don’t speak the same language/dialect we do. Though we understand the words others speak, we bring to their meaning our own cultural backgrounds. The important fact is not that we speak the same words; it is that we believe and practice the same truth, living our lives according to the eternal Word of God. As messengers of the Good News, Christians should seek always to keep the Word of God understandable by making it easily accessible (readable) to every generation. Paul said: “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4, NIV).
Today it is safe to say that other translations besides the King James Version have found a well-deserved place in many Assemblies of God homes and churches. Some of these are the 1973 NIV, the New King James Version (NKJV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB). These, like the King James Version, are produced by committees of scholars. Of course, all versions have strengths and weaknesses. To simplify the choice of versions in curricular materials and National Office publications, the Assemblies of God has officially approved two versions: the King James Version and the New International Version. Other versions are also quoted, but their use is always identified after the quotation.
We must realize the most important issue in the translation discussion is truth. The church must never be afraid to unveil barriers that bar us from the ultimate truths of God. We must realize that by further reducing barriers, whether by improved language or by heightened accuracy in translating the Scriptures, we will find ourselves more effectively connected to the revelation of truth, and ultimately closer to God.
One of the results of the publication of many fine contemporary translations is the effect of those various translations on corporate Bible reading by church congregations and memorization of Scripture by our children. It is no longer safe to assume that all members of the congregation have the same version so that they can experience the power of a congregation reading passages of Scripture together. Some churches have solved this problem by using readings in the back of a hymnal or asking members to bring a particular translation to church for congregational group reading. But we must never let the Bible fall into disuse because we do not give it high priority in the worship experience. Likewise, Sunday schools can choose a translation that is used for memorization purposes. In any case, the choice of a particular version should not be allowed to denigrate other good versions. An excellent practice for personal Bible study is the comparison of different translations.
Another concern is a tendency by some to equate paraphrased Bible translations as scholarly and accurate. Such versions do have a place in comparative study. They are attempts to make meaning clearer by adding explanatory comments into the text. Paraphrases include The Contemporary English Version (CEV), The New Living Bible (NLB) with 4th grade reading level, and The Message: the Bible in Contemporary Language. These versions can be helpful, but they also present the risk of personal interpretation seeming to be part of the original text. Paraphrased Bible translations should always be used along with one or more of the more literal translations for comparison.
Finally, many of the respected translations are published as study Bible editions including commentary notes on specific passages of Scripture. Although the study notes can be helpful in understanding the meaning and application of particular verses, they do not have the same divinely inspired and inerrant qualities that are part of plain Bible texts. Interpretations can enter here as they could in the paraphrased versions. A Pentecostal study Bible appreciated in the Assemblies of God is The Full Life Study Bible: An International Study Bible for Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians.
With these cautions in mind, our task is to encourage all Christians to develop the habit of consistent Bible reading and study. Since the Bible is God’s Word to us, we should take the time to listen to His voice that faithfully comes as we read with open hearts and minds.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.