What Version of the Bible Do Lutherans Use?

The Bible is the sacred text at the heart of Christianity. For Lutherans, as for all major Christian traditions, the Bible is the ultimate source of spiritual authority and divine revelation. However, there are numerous translations and versions of the Bible. So which one do Lutherans recognize and use?


Lutherans predominantly utilize the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Holy Bible. This translation maintains the majesty of the King James Version but updates the 17th-century English wording for improved readability. The NKJV is rooted in the same ancient manuscripts and rigorous translation principles that defined the original KJV. As evangelical and Charismatic Christians, we must remember that while translations vary, the Word of God remains eternal and unchanging.

Key Takeaways:

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  • Lutherans mainly use the New King James Version of the Bible
  • The NKJV modernizes the language of the original King James Version
  • Lutherans uphold the authority and accuracy of the ancient biblical manuscripts
  • Slight differences between translations do not compromise God’s unchanging truths

Martin Luther, the seminal leader of the Protestant Reformation, published a German translation of the Bible in 1534. This work built on existing medieval German texts but with close attention to the original Hebrew and Greek. Luther’s Bible spread rapidly and helped make Scripture newly accessible to common people. This pioneering contribution remains integral to Lutheran identity.

While the Bible forms the bedrock, Lutheran doctrines emerge from historic Christian creeds, Luther’s writings, and other key theological texts. But the NKJV provides Lutherans their most direct window into the words of divine revelation.

What Version of the Bible Do Lutherans Use?

The Origins and History of the King James Bible

To grasp why modern Lutherans utilize the New King James Version, we must explore the rich history of the King James Bible itself. This translation profoundly influenced the English-speaking world for centuries and remains beloved by many Christians today.

In 1604, King James I of England commissioned a new translation of the Bible into English. A team of 47 scholars undertook the project, aiming to make an authoritative, accessible Bible. The translators relied on the bestavailable ancient manuscripts in Hebrew and Greek. They also built on work of previous English Bible translations, like those of William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale.

The scholars organized into six teams, each assigned a section of the Bible. Learned representatives then reviewed and refined the translation drafts. Their approach included translating as literally as possible, adhering to church doctrines, and aiming for eloquence, beauty, and musicality of language.

After seven years of meticulous work, the authorized King James Version of the Bible emerged in 1611. This majestic translation made the Word of God ring anew in English. Many memorable Biblical phrases originated in the KJV, like “the salt of the earth” and “the powers that be.” Over centuries, no other work profoundly influenced the English language and imagination.

The King James Bible held special significance for Lutherans. Martin Luther’s German translation established the importance of making Scripture accessible to the people. The KJV accomplished this for the English-speaking world. Through the KJV, ordinary Christians could now read and interpret the Biblical text for themselves, rather than relying on clergy. This aligned with Luther’s vision of Biblical authority superseding ecclesiastical authority.

However, over centuries the KJV’s archaic Jacobean-era English became increasingly difficult for modern readers. So updated revisions were needed to keep the Bible vitally relevant.

The Creation of the New King James Version

In 1975, 130 biblical scholars began work on a major revision of the KJV under the sponsorship of Thomas Nelson Publishers. This became the New King James Version, published in 1982.

The stated goal was to update and enhance the timeless KJV without compromising its faithfulness to original manuscripts, its literary beauty, or its theological integrity. The NKJV keeps the entire text of the traditional KJV but modernizes the language.

The revisers pronounced the KJV as unquestionably accurate and enduringly powerful. However, they sought to make it more accessible for modern readers. Specific changes included:

  • Replacing thou, thee, thy and other archaic pronouns with modern equivalents
  • Dropping the -eth verb endings of verbs like doeth or runneth
  • Using contemporary word order and grammar
  • Rendering words like “charity” as “love” for clarity
  • Generally replacing obscure terms with modern equivalents

Importantly, though, the NKJV revisers followed the same rigorous translation principles that guided the original KJV. They worked from the Masoretic Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Textus Receptus Greek of the New Testament. These manuscripts represent the best scholarly recreations of the ancient biblical texts.

The NKJV keeps the unparalleled literary achievement of the KJV but updates it into modern, understandable English. This makes it an appealing Bible version for Lutherans and many other traditional Protestants today. The beauty and gravity of the KJV remain, illuminated for 21st century readers.

The Use of the NKJV Among Lutherans Today

Many Lutherans grew up with the majestic cadences and imagery of the KJV. Some still use the traditional KJV in worship services or for Bible study. However, most Lutheran individuals, scholars, and clergy now rely on the updated NKJV in their pastoral work and personal devotions.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) does not mandate or formally recommend any single Bible translation. Individual congregations utilize various versions, including the NRSV, NIV, ESV and others. However, the NKJV remains widely preferred and used within the ELCA.

For example, the ELCA publishing arm Augsburg Fortress predominantly uses the NKJV in its printed and online materials. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton frequently quotes the NKJV in sermons and writings. Luther Seminary, the ELCA’s largest seminary, utilizes the NKJV in its core curriculum. Professors Caryn Riswold and David Lose, well-known ELCA scholars, often cite the NKJV favorably.

Other Lutheran groups like the Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod also draw heavily on the NKJV. While no official policies dictate Bible versions, the NKJV clearly enjoys widespread use and trust as the foremost translation that preserves the legacy of Luther’s Bible and the KJV.

For Lutheran pastors preparing sermons, and students and scholars studying Scripture, the NKJV provides an ideal balance of ancient authority and modern readability. Where exact wording matters, as in theological analysis, the meticulous NKJV serves as the most authoritative English translation.

The Significance of Different Bible Translations

Christians generally agree that the Bible as a whole represents the true, inspired Word of God. But translators face choices in rendering the nuances of ancient Hebrew and Greek. Slight variations between translations carry real significance.

Two key spectrums exist between Bible versions. Some prioritize literal, word-for-word accuracy, while others aim for freer, thought-for-thought renderings. And some utilize contemporary language while others retain a more traditional style.

The beloved KJV leaned toward literal and traditional. The NIV emphasizes freer, modern readability. The NKJV strikes an effective balance between these approaches. By maintaining the precise language of the KJV but replacing archaic terms, it keeps the solemn theological authority of the original.

Among mainstream English Bibles, the NKJV sits on the more literal and traditional end of the translation philosophy spectrum. This becomes meaningful for biblical exegesis and doctrine.

For example, some modern gender-neutral versions like the NRSV use inclusive language, substituting “neighbor” for “brother.” The NKJV retains the more literal “brother,” an important distinction for Evangelicals studying church relations.

In Isaiah 7:14, the KJV and NKJV use “virgin” while the NRSV says “young woman.” This holds huge theological significance in debates over Christ’s divinity and the meaning of Christmas.

So for Lutherans concerned with defending biblical orthodoxy on issues like gender, sexuality, or Christology, the meticulous NKJV serves as a trustworthy resource. This explains its enduring popularity in Lutheran study and worship.

The New King James and Lectionary Readings

In worship services, Lutherans follow a prescribed schedule of scripture readings known as a lectionary. This allows wide exposure to the entire Bible over a three-year cycle. Lutheran and other mainline Protestant churches closely follow the Revised Common Lectionary in selecting these readings.

For the Old Testament, the lectionary primarily prescribes passages from the NRSV. For the Psalms and New Testament, passages draw from the NKJV. So each Sunday, Lutherans hear scriptures from both translations through the course of worship.

This balances the more updated NRSV rendering of the Hebrew scriptures with the timeless eloquence of the NKJV for the New Testament. Using the NKJV for all New Testament readings ensures consistency and gravity befitting these Christian scriptures. Hearing the same NKJV passages read on a given Sunday across different churches also underscores the unity of the Lutheran tradition.

So the influential lectionary helps reinforce the NKJV as the dominant modern Lutheran Bible. Laypeople and scholars alike rely on its accuracy and familiar phrasing. For individual study, the more accessible ESV or NIV might serve equally well. But the NKJV remains integral to formal Lutheran worship and education.


To conclude, the New King James Version serves as the preeminent modern Bible translation used and cited by Lutherans. It carries forward the unparalleled literary achievement and fidelity to ancient manuscripts exemplified by the original KJV. But the updated language makes the Bible fully accessible for 21st century readers.

Luther opened the door to vernacular Bibles by translating into German and empowering lay Christians to read Scripture themselves. The NKJV stands as the heir to this tradition, elucidating God’s word for today’s world. Whatever translation one may prefer, all Lutherans unite around the infallible truths of the Bible that transform our lives and faith.

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