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Why I Like the NKJV

Part One

By Gary F. Zeolla

I mention throughout this Web site that the New King James Version (NKJV) has been my primary Bible for some time. Even with having translated my own New Testament (the Analytical-Literal Translation, ALT), I still use the NKJV quite extensively. I discuss why I like the NKJV in detail in my book Differences Between Bible Versions. But in this two-part article I will summarize my reasons for liking the NKJV.

Translation Principle

The NKJV utilizes a "formal equivalence" translation principle. This is basically a word-for-word translation principle. What this means is, the NKJV translates most every word from the original Hebrew and Greek texts. Each word is given its most exact equivalent in English. Words added for clarity are generally italicized or bracketed to indicate they have been added. Moreover, the original grammar is retained as much as possible.

Now, a formal equivalence translation would not be as literal as a literal translation like my ALT. Some "minor" words like conjunctions are occasionally omitted while some added words are occasionally not italicized. And the grammatical forms of words are occasionally altered. However, a formal equivalence translation will still be far more literal than a "dynamic equivalence" translation.

Dynamic equivalence refers to a thought for thought translation. Rather than trying to find an exact translation for each and every word in the original, a dynamic equivalence translation tends to translate phrases by what the translators believe are equivalent phrases in English. In other words, the translators try to express what they believe are the thoughts or ideas of the original writers rather than translate their exact words.

In doing so, original words are often not translated and words are often added without any indication that the words have been added. Moreover, the grammatical forms of words are often altered.

Most modern day versions follow a dynamic equivalence principle. A popular and recent such translation is the New Living Translation (NLT). The difference that these different principles make will become apparent by looking at a couple of verses. The verse will be quoted from the above three mentioned versions.

1 Corinthians 11:10:
ALT:    For this reason, the woman ought to be having [a symbol of] authority on her head, because of the angels.
NKJV: For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
NLT:    So a woman should wear a covering on her head as a sign of authority because the angels are watching.

In this verse, it can bee seen that the ALT and the NKJV are almost identical, with only a couple of minor differences. The first is in the translation of "to be having" vs. "to have." The ALT uses the participle form as the Greek infinitive is in the present tense indicating ongoing action. So the ALT is a little more exact in bringing out the "nuance" of the Greek grammar.

The second minor difference is the NKJV italicizes "her" while the ALT does not. While the word "her" is not in the Greek text, the word "head" is preceded by the article ("the"), and the article can function as a possessive pronoun in Greek. So I did not feel that the "her" was really added but rather a rendering of the article.

But these differences are very minor as compared to the NLT. The NLT adds the following phrases without any indication that they are added: a covering, as a sign of authority, are watching.

These additions are important as each of them is interpretive. Looking at the last phrase first, "because of the angels" has garnered many different interpretations, only one of which is that angels are watching. But more importantly, the preceding context of the text does seem to indicate that Paul is referring to some kind of head covering as being a symbol of authority that women should be wearing. But there are some who would disagree with this interpretation. In fact, the key to interpreting this passage is probably the last verse of the passage.

1Corinthians 11:16:
ALT:    But if anyone seems to be contentious, we do not have such a custom, neither [do] the assemblies of God.
NKJV: But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.
NLT:    But if anyone wants to argue about this, all I can say is that we have no other custom than this, and all the churches of God feel the same way about it.

Again, the ALT and NKJV are virtually identical. The only real difference is the ALT uses "assemblies" rather than "churches." This is because the word more generally refers to an assembly of any sort and not a "church" per se. Moreover, often today, when people see the word "church" they think of a building, while the Greek word is referring to people. So I thought "assembly" was more appropriate. But rightly understood, "church' is accurate as well.

But back to the point of this passage, note the phrase "we do not have such a custom" in the ALT and "we have no such custom" in the NKJV. With these words, it seems that what Paul has been doing with the whole proceeding discussion about head coverings is to relate what his "opponents" have been saying. He then is dismissing the whole argument by his off-handed remark, "we do not have such a custom."

Note that the "we" is underlined in the ALT to indicate it is emphasized in the Greek text. So Paul seems to be saying that he himself and those with him do not require head coverings, and neither do the other assemblies/ churches. Now, again, some would disagree with this interpretation. But the important point is, the ALT and NKJV has accurately translated the relevant words so that the reader can decide how to interpretive the passage.

But look at the NLT. Not only has it completely re-written the verse, it has outright mistranslated the most important word. Rather than "such" it has "other." This change makes it sound like Paul and those with him do have the custom of requiring head coverings for women, along with "all the churches." So that one change of a word completely turns the interpretation upside down.

And that is the problem with a dynamic equivalence translation. In trying to translate the original writer's "thoughts" rather than their words, the translators just might get it wrong. But with a literal translation like my ALT or a formal equivalence version like the NKJV, the reader is given the original writer's words and then can decide for him/herself what the writer meant by what he said. And that is why I prefer a literal or formal equivalence version rather than a dynamic equivalence version.


One of the main reasons given for using a dynamic equivalence translation principle is it makes the text more readable and easier to understand than a literal translation would be. And it is true that at times a literal translation can be awkward and hard to understand. But dynamic equivalency advocates often exaggerate the difficulty. Having translated a literal translation, I can say, that yes, at times a literal translation is awkward, but once one gets used to it, most of the time it is relatively easy going.

Moreover, to make the text more readable does not require the wholesale changes and additions that versions like the NLT make. The NKJV makes far fewer changes and additions yet it is still more than understandable for most who read it. At least, that is overall consensus of the emails I have received in regards to the NKJV.

But, of course, readability is quite an individual thing, and only the reader can decide for yourself how easy the NKJV is to understand. So below is 1Corinthians 11:23-26 from all three versions.

ALT:  23For I received from the Lord what I also handed down to you*, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread, 24and having given thanks, He broke [it] and said, "Take, eat; this is My body, the [one] being broken on behalf of you*. Be doing this in remembrance of Me." 25And in the same manner [He took] the cup after [they] ate, saying, "This cup is the New Covenant in My blood. Be doing this, as often as you* drink [it], in remembrance of Me." 26For as often as you* shall be eating this bread and drinking this cup, you* proclaim the death of the Lord, until He comes.

NKJV:  23For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.

NLT:  23For this is what the Lord himself said, and I pass it on to you just as I received it. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant between God and you, sealed by the shedding of my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it." 26For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord's death until he comes again.

It can be seen that at times the NLT does follow a rather literal translation. But at other times, interpretive words are added without any indication they have been added. So there is no way of knowing when the text is being literal or when it is being interpretive.

Only the reader can decide for yourself if these added words are helpful or if they are unnecessary additions. But personally, I would rather have a Bible version present me with what the original authors actually wrote and let me decide for myself what they meant by it, even if it requires a little more effort to read and understand the text.

Conclusion to Part One

A formal equivalence translation principle and a high degree of readability are two reasons I like the NKJV. Part Two of this article will address two additional reasons I like the NKJV.

Verses marked ALT taken from the Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament of the Holy Bible: Second Edition. Copyright 2004 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
Verses marked NKJV taken from New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.
Verses marked NLT taken from New Living Translation (NLT). Tyndale Charitable Trust. 1996.
The latter two copied from BibleWorks for Windows Copyright 1992-1999 BibleWorks, L.C.C. Big Fork, MT: Hermeneutika. Programmed by Michael S. Bushell and Michael D. Tan.

Why I Like the NKJV. Copyright 2004 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).

The above article first appear in the free Darkness to Light newsletter.
It was posted on this Web site June 15, 2004.

Bible Versions Controversy: KJV vs. NKJV
Bible Versions Controversy

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