Daily Bible Study Tips: Reader Questions Answered

You keep telling us to get a good, modern translation of the Bible. What translation do you recommend?

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”
translations. 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 and a version?  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 of the 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.

A paraphrase (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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