Foolish and Unlearned Questions Avoid

When I was a summer camp counselor at a Christian camp in 1999, I once had a cabin full of younger junior high campers.

One of my campers at least was only in sixth grade, and he was a bus kid. That means his parents were lost, but that the church came by every week and took him to Sunday School in a big bus full of other kids. Obviously, this kid knew very little about the Bible—only what he couldn’t help learning once a week on Sunday mornings. But here he was at camp, in my cabin on the first day.

Another kid made it to my cabin from perhaps even worse circumstances. He came from a single-parent family and had bounced around to different churches until his mom ended up at the one that brought him to camp. He hadn’t been there long, and knew next to nothing about the Bible.

He brought with him a little dark blue NIV that he had probably never read more than five words from (including “Holy Bible, New International Version”). The first boy, the bus kid, saw that Bible on the first day of camp and said, “Oh, man! Get that thing out of here! You should burn that!” Dan did not take kindly to this Bible-burning order, and there were shouts fired. Naturally, I came in to resolve this dispute. and I told the bus kid that he was wrong, and that Dan could use his little Bible just fine.

Here was a bus kid who didn’t know Jacob from Jerusalem or Jericho from Joash. But he knew that the NIV was wicked, fit only to be burned! This is what he learned at church! This is what a sixth-grade bus kid learned when he went to church once a week.

“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” 2 Tim. 2:23

What Bible(s) Will I Give My Kids?

My fiancée thinks it’s a bit amusing (but also sweet, she’d say) that I think so often about this, but I really do: What Bible(s) will I give my kids?

Let’s tick through the options:

  • KJV: I want them to be familiar with it for its cultural value (both in American culture and in evangelical culture going back through Spurgeon to earlier times), but not at the expense of misunderstanding God’s words. Because the latter is so weighty to me, the KJV is probably out—though they can read it when they get to exegesis courses in home school =) because of its relevance to the history of interpretation.
  • ESV: I like it. It’s my main version. There are lots of editions. The editors and backers are generally people I can trust for sound hermeneutics. This translation is catching on, I think, better than the NAS has. And Crossway has become a wonderful conservative publisher.
  • NAS: Wooden, sure, but not so bad. Already I think it’s available in fewer editions—and certainly fewer adventurous or innovative ones—than the ESV, despite being substantially older. I plan to have my kids make regular use of this translation.
  • NIV: I want even my youngest readers to read the Bible. For that reason, I’ve considered the NIV (and the TNIV). A little of the old irrational fear of the NIV persists in my heart, grabbing at me from the early 1990s. And I can’t shake the feeling I get from reading the regular criticism of the NIV in, of all places, the Expositor’s Bible Commentary. The EBC is based on the NIV, and the commentary’s authors often find what they consider poor renderings.
  • NLT: The NLT goes a bit too far afield into interpretation for my tastes, even for young readers, but I admit that making the Bible text easier to read necessitates interpretation. The translators for the NLT were some real theological heavy-hitters: Carson, Bock, etc.
  • NET: Great for strong readers who have some experience asking questions of the Bible text. I know I would have loved to have those notes when I was in 7th grade and beyond. I really imbibed the notes in my King James Study Bible during those days. I could have soaked in some good advanced hermeneutics if I’d had a NET.
  • HCSB: Not sure what to think here yet. Seems similar to the NIV.

Probably I’m just going to be eclectic, to have each child read one translation per year and to have them all using different ones at any given time. A regular feature of family devotions will be low-level comparison of translations. I want to inoculate my children against any kind of -Onlyism. NAS-Onlyism or NIV-Onlyism is just as bad as KJV-Onlyism. It’s just not as popular or virulent.