12/15/2015 1:18:52 PM
With the coming Book of Faith emphasis you will hear a lot more about Bible study. From time to time people ask me the best Bible translation. Most modern translations are well done and each offers benefits. The back of the new Augsburg Fortress Bible catalog has a nice summary of the different translations. This month I will share some history and thoughts. In the late 1800s an updating of the KJV was undertaken in Great Britain followed by an American edition (the American Standard). In the 1940s and 50s work was done to improve that and the Revised Standard Version was born. By the 1960s the American Bible Society released Today's English Version (the Good News Bible) with a seventh grade reading level. A new British translation, the New English Bible, soon followed. The Living Bible, a paraphrase, was published in those years as well. In 1966 the Jerusalem Bible, a Roman Catholic work (and my favorite for reading and devotions because of the beauty of the language and because it is written to be read aloud.) was published to update their old Douay-Rheims version.
The New American Standard - the most literal translation - was published by the Lockman Foundation in the 1970s. (This is my favorite for study because it is the most literal; though that gives it a 12th grade reading level.) The New International Version was the work of the International Bible Society and has become the most widely used translation in the U. S. The New Revised Standard came out in the 1980s. It is the most universal with a translation committee including Protestant, Jewish (for the old testament), Roman Catholic, and Orthodox scholars. The Contemporary English Version, CEV, from the American Bible Society was an attempt to reach people who had English as a second language. One of its translators goals was to make it easy to understand when read aloud. The New Jerusalem Bible and the Revised New English were published in the 1980s. In the US the Roman Catholic version most used is the New American Bible published about the same time. The English Standard Version is a recent attempt and is the first one to include a CD-ROM with the Bible in most editions. Other newer versions include the New Living, the New King James, the Message (another paraphrase) and an update to the NIV.
Despite ads that imply otherwise these are all the work of people who have tried to faithfully put the words of ancient scripture into modern language. Except for the New American Standard, first edition (which was word for word), all follow the principal of keeping the thoughts as close as possible to the original while using modern grammar rules to improve clarity and understanding.
What about the King James? It is obviously a good translation but recent works have available many ancient manuscripts found over the last four hundred years as well as archaeological discoveries made in recent centuries. In addition, English has changed so much it has a very high reading level making it hard for many people to understand. But for the sheer beauty of the language I doubt that it will ever be equaled. As Eudora Welty (one of our gifted southern writers) wrote: I'm grateful ... that from my mother's example, I found the base for worship -- that I found a love of sitting and reading the Bible for myself and looking up things in it. How many of us, the South's writers-to-be of my generation, were blessed in one way or another, if not blessed alike, in not having gone deprived of the King James Version of the Bible. Its cadence entered into our ears and our memories for good. The evidence, or the ghost of it, lingers in all our books. In the beginning was the Word. One Writer's Beginning (Reader's Digest condensation, Sept. 1986).
Study Bibles, Devotional Bibles, Reference Bibles, etc., are available in many versions. The New Oxford Annotated NRSV is most used at our seminaries and colleges. The NIV and NASB Study Bibles have comprehensive notes and visual aids. The Learning Bible, published by the American Bible Society using the CEV, has excellent and extensive supplemental material. The Life Application Bible notes are focused less on information and more on daily life. The Concordia Self Study Bible is based on the NIV Study Bible with some Lutheran notes added. In 2009 Augsburg Fortress will publish the Lutheran Study Bible as part of the Book of Faith initiative using notes written by Lutheran pastors and theologians. Lutheran Men in Mission have produced an edition using the Serendipity study guides with added material aimed at better involving men in faith conversations. Devotional Bibles, with spiritual guidance and reflections, are available for men, women, teens, couples, parents, children, those in recovery, etc.
So which is best? The one you like, can understand, and will read! In worship we use NRSV and our Sunday School classes use the NIV. Confirmation classes have recently used the New Living version with Life Application notes designed for teens. In the end I would say it is a matter of personal preference. I have copies of most of these and a couple of parallel Bibles. You are welcome to stop by and take a look at how they differ.
The most important thing however is to read whichever version you choose. As Mike has noted, unless the covers are opened it doesn't really matter what is inside!
In Christ's love and service,