Daily Bible Study Tips: Reader Questions Answered
You keep telling us to get a good, modern translation of the Bible. What translation do you
The best translation for you is the one that you will read
Here’s a little chart that might be helpful in choosing a good translation that you could enjoy reading.
|Your Pleasure Reading ||Translation to Consider Buying|
|Shakespeare, Chaucer ||Protestants: King James Version; or|
Catholics: Douay-Rheims; or
Jews: Jewish Publication Society Bible
|King James, Douay-Rheims, or JPS ||New King James Version|
|Wall Street Journal ||New Revised Standard Version|
|Mysteries, SF/Fantasy ||New English Bible|
|Novels by British Authors ||New Jerusalem Bible|
|Other Newspaper or Novels ||New International Version|
|Technical materials ||Contemporary English Version; or|
English Standard Version
|Limited or no pleasure reading ||Today’s English Version (Good News); or|
Bible on CD or tape
|Anything on your iPod ||One of the above from e-Sword |
(This is also a good place to download [free!]
various Bibles to try them out.)
You can “test read” these in a church or public library, or possibly in a bookstore. I recommend that you sit
down and read for half an hour, at least. For example, I like Good News and CEV for the first few minutes, but
after an hour they drive me nuts
. Imagine my surprise when I abandoned CEV for the email study and then
had to bring it back by popular demand. No accounting for taste, and I guess mine is bad.
My recommendations are based on what you already enjoy reading because I think it’s more important to read any
translation at all than to find a translation whose translators’ theological position agrees with your own.
Until you are a very savvy reader, you won’t notice the theological differences, which are tiny; you won’t
get to be a savvy reader until you read the Bible routinely; and you won’t read the Bible routinely until you find
a translation you enjoy. If you are buying a Bible for a child, I suggest that you pay more attention
to the child’s reading level than grade level, and do remember that children are growing all the time.
The Rev. Ken Collins gives detailed pros and cons of 20 translations, and I agree with much of what he says. Pastor Collins does not include either the Jewish Publication Society Bible or the Schocken Bible,
both of which I use. JPS sounds a lot like the King James; see my comments on the King James below.
Whatever Bible you buy, be sure to get the study edition! Study editions have fairly comprehensive
explanatory footnotes and scriptural cross-references. The notes in the Jerusalem Bible Study Edition are my
favorite, but they only come with that translation, I think. Oxford and Ryrie are supposed to be very good.
You can also get specialized study editions for men, women, teens, children, dads, pastors, brides, new believers,
recovering alcoholics, and (presumably) zookeepers. People in my Sunday School class occasionally read footnotes
out loud from various of these, and they seem to be pretty good in general. Usually you can, if you look, find
various combinations of translations and specific study notes.
While you're looking for a study edition, give some thought to getting a self-pronouncing edition. I grew up on a self-pronouncing King James, which is one that has diacritical marks for practically all names of persons and places. In consequence, I hardly even notice the funny names. I searched long and hard to find a self-pronouncing NIV for my young granddaughter. A lady in our church told the pastor how impressed she was that he could read that stuff out loud. He answered that he pronounced them differently every time. I noticed that he read with confidence, however, so nobody noticed. (Well, I noticed Belteshazzar [aka Daniel] wasn’t quite right, but basically, nobody noticed.) Nevertheless, if you find the names intimidating and confusing, it can keep you from understanding what’s going on. A self-pronouncing Bible can help you develop confidence.
Don’t be afraid to get one of the new “gender-neutral”
. These translations
are not politically
driven, believe it or not. My Hebrew/Greek teacher is very conservative, and he generally approves of them. (Don't confuse gender-neutral and "gender inclusive," which sometimes moves into paraphrase or commentary.)
For regular reading, my favorite New Testament is the Jerusalem; the Bible I carry around is the New English,
because it doesn’t weigh as much as my study edition of the Jerusalem. I also use the New English whenever I get
behind in assigned readings, because it is a very fast read. My favorite Torah is the Schocken Bible, but it
weighs a ton and
is incredibly slow to read. I try to discipline myself to read from a different
translation every couple of years.
I sometimes use the King James Version: I prefer it for psalms, and occasionally I like a particular passage
in KJV better than in other translations. It’s the one I used growing up, so the KJV wording is what’s in my
brain. This is handy whenever I have to look up a passage in a concordance, because most concordances are based
on the KJV. I also use the KJV as a study guide when I get confused in translating Greek or Hebrew. The KJV is
not only beautiful, but its word-for-word quality explains to me exactly what is said
by the Greek or
Hebrew. Unfortunately, sometimes sentences that are translated word-for-word from one language to another leave
the reader or listener wondering, "What?" This is less true of the KJV than of many other versions, because the
idioms of the KJV have seeped through our entire language. Now that I’ve said all that, let me say one more thing
about the King James: Please, please
do not try to read the KJV as a study Bible, or even as a reading
Bible unless you grew up on it. It’s difficult and slow to read because the language is archaic, and the newer
translations are based on newly discovered and better Greek manuscripts.
Now, this raises another really good question: what's the difference between a translation
? A version tends to translate the text word-for-word. That's why I use the King James
Version when I'm translating and get stumped. A translation tends to depart from the exact words
text in order to give the exact meaning
of the text. Several years ago I translated Mark 1:28 as
"the buzz about Jesus immediately went out through the whole surrounding countryside of Galilee." "Buzz" was a
slang word that was a great oral translation right then; I don't think I'd use it today or in writing. One thing
you'll notice in translations is that sometimes the verses get blended or the order changed so as to clarify the
meaning. Translations often use headers and English-style paragraphs.
(e.g., the Living Bible or The Message) departs even farther from the text, expanding and
explaining the text, frequently by including words or phrases that are not in the text at all. This can be
wonderful, especially if you are thoroughly familiar with the text of a version or translation. If you aren't,
you may think that all that stuff is in the real Bible, and sometimes it isn't. Consequently I don’t recommend
either one of these for study, although my husband is a retired clergyman, and he loves The Message.
Bottom Line: Find a Bible that you enjoy reading. Read various translations to get new insights into the text.
Copyright 2007, 2010, 2011, 2016 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the
Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
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