Friday, November 5, 2010

What Version? :: Unlock the Bible {5}

After spending three days on a "breakfast" perspective of God's Word, let's buckle down to some midmorning mental gymnastics today and talk about Versions of the Bible.

I heard a story once of a commencement speaker at a major Christian university (surely it wasn't mine), expounding on the virtues of his favorite version of the Bible. As he reached the crescendo of his argument, he thundered to the auditorium, "And after all, if King James English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me!"

Maybe I have a few minor details mixed up, but the humor carries a valid point: Jesus never spoke a word of English. We can argue about the greater authenticity of one English version over another, but the fact remains that the Bible was originally composed in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Unfortunately, most of us have not had the training to read those ancient languages, so we have to rely on the scholars that brought God's Word into the language we know.

But where to begin? Go to the bookstore, find the shelf of Bibles, and . . . commence with a feeling of being overwhelmed. How can there be so many different editions? I just want "original!"

If you must choose only one with which to start, consider it your first instead of your only. This photo shows all the Bibles I have had through my entire life. And I continue to use most of them.

I have an obnoxious number of Bibles, don't you think? They have been collected over the past 30+ years, and in fact I only actually bought 2 for myself. The rest were gifts. 

Let's start by asking, what will you be using this Bible for?

Perhaps, with our blessed abundance of English versions, we can view them  not as "right and wrong" but as "better for one situation or another." For example, a more literal translation might be better for intensive study, when you want to know how many times a particular word repeats throughout a passage; but a modern English paraphrase might give you the spirit of the passage a little more clearly.

Wait, what's the difference between a translation and a paraphrase? All these big words are so confusing!

Translation: A translation attempts to take the words of the source language (Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic) and turn them as exactly as possible into readable prose in the secondary language. As the first English translation was painstakingly penned in 1385 by John Wycliffe, it makes sense that subsequent translations would attempt to represent our continuously evolving English language over the centuries and, more recently, decades.

Part of the reason for differences in translations can be explained by the difference in language structure. Different languages put subject, verb, adjective, etc in different order. In some languages word order affects meaning, while in other languages word order is nonessential. In addition, some versions attempt to translate a full thought at a time, while some take a phrase at a time. Some, called "transliterations", literally translate word for word, and are often found in works that present the actual text of the original language above the English words.

When choosing a translation, consider whether you intend general use, in-depth Bible study, or simply to appreciate it as literature.

1. General Use:
The most widely sold translations include the following:

English Standard Version (ESV)
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

New International Version (NIV)
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Keep your servant from deliberate sins!
Don't let them control me.
Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin.

These vary between evoking the high language of KJV and expressing the actual prayer of the psalmist. Any of these makes a good "original" Bible. The NIV can probably be considered the current standard as far as Bible memory, but the more recently published English Standard seems to me to have a nice formal tone to it.

I switch around a lot between the NIV, NLT, and ESV because sometimes reading different versions helps expand my understanding of a passage. Most of the Scriptures I have memorized are in the NIV, but currently I am reading through the Bible in the NLT. I tend to take an ESV to church because it hits a nice balance between the more literal NAS (see below) and the more familiar tone of the NIV. And because it's my pretty red leather slimline gift Bible. 

2. Bible Study
My favorite literal translation to use for Bible study is the New American Standard. I think it does a good job of walking the line between readability and literal, word for word, translation. The Psalms present a bit of challenge in this version, but here's your example of Psalm 19:13.

Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; 

Let them not rule over me; 
Then I will be blameless, 
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.

3. Literature

The King James Version of the Bible represents the state of the "King's English" in 1611. I enjoy reading this as Literature. All the high language fires off creative neurons in my brain. Also, I keep a KJV Bible handy because the ultimate Bible study tool, Strong's concordance, is keyed to KJV. I will explain that statement better, when you're older. Like a week older.

Here's an example of Psalm 19:13 in the King James:
Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous [sins];
let them not have dominion over me:
then shall I be upright,
and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.

So if all of those are different translations, why would I want to confuse myself further with a paraphrase?

Paraphrase: A paraphrase may take an entire passage and rewrite it in common language, keeping the spirit of the thought but not necessarily every phrase. The most popular current paraphrase is The Message, written by Eugene Peterson.

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!
Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work;
Then I can start this day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.

See how it states itself in such plain language? I love to read a paraphrase along with a more complete translation, because sometimes I have read the NIV so many times I get caught in the cadence of the words and forget that it means something. The Message scrambles up the thoughts and occasionally spits out words that startle me into realizing their meaning.

But which one to choose?

If I could only have one Bible, or if I were just starting out with my first, I am traditional enough to say that I would choose the New International Version. When I read the words of that translation, I sense the familiarity of the cadence and it reassures me.

But here is the miracle of modern technology: as long as I have internet, I don't have to choose! YouVersion offers 17 English versions right on my computer or smart phone, and I can switch back and forth between them on the fly.

The only problem is that it doesn't have a pretty red leather cover and gilt edges.

What version of the Bible do you read?

Next week we will discuss Lunch related topics, the Tools and Background Information we can use to support us as we Unlock the Bible for ourselves.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Krista, 'Have to admit, when I saw that stack of Bibles, my heart kind of fluttered. I love Bibles. I use Blue Letter Bible online some for when I'm researching and comparing versions and accessing concordance and commentaries...but, girl, I love the feel of real live paper under my hands as I smooth open my Bible to sit with God.

    I'm at that place where I'm about to drop Ephesians out on the floor...a sure sign that it's time to purchase a new Bible. Last time I waited until hunks of the NT and Psalms were rolled up and tucked in where I could find them. Not this time though. It's tough to move on to another Bible and leave all the beautiful underlined, highlighted passages, to say good-bye to the tear wrinkled pages that tell a tale of a Father who held me through the hard times and lifted my heart again and again.

    So I've been looking at various versions and haven't found the right Bible yet (I am not getting them as gifts--do count yourself a blessed woman!) I've read some passages in the NKJ I've really liked. I keep coming back to the NIV. I also like a good cover (I'm not a Bible carrier-type.) Waiting for all the new Bibles to come out.

    My last WAS a gift from my roomies on my 30th birthday...I won't say how many years ago that was! I'll stop back and see what you have to share as you continue your series.


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