How To Choose a Bible

Have you ever been to a bookstore or even a Bible or Christian bookstore and looked at the Bible section?  Talk about overwhelming!  How in the world does a person go about picking out a Bible?  It’s not as difficult as one might think.  There are a few questions you need to ask yourself and from there the decision becomes very manageable.  And depending on your answer to the first question, it could be a very brief process.

Digital or Hardcopy?

Like virtually everything else, the Bible is also available in digital format.  The Bible text is available for smart phones, tablet devices, e-book readers, etc.  There are obviously going to be more considerations and concerns if you are getting a physical Bible rather than a digital format.  The next question applies to both, but after that it’s all questions for hardcopy Bibles.

Which Translation?

This is actually the biggest question in selecting your Bible.  Be sure and give this some thought.  All translations are not the same.  If you would like to read what is behind translations CLICK HERE.  My basic translation recommendation is the English Standard Version.

Which Cover/Binding?

Do you want a hardback or a soft cover?  The most inexpensive ones will be paperback editions, of course.  They are also the least durable.  The most durable cover is genuine leather.  They’re also more expensive.  Stay away from bonded leather.  It looks really nice in the store and is inexpensive, but it breaks down very quickly and begins looking ratty soon.  Another fairly recent alternative is a durable synthetic called “TruTone®” (by Crossway, publishers of the ESV, other publishers have different names).  This seems to be a durable soft cover that also features a wide range of colors and designs, just in case you’d like a more artful cover on your Bible.

What Size?

Bibles do come in all kinds of sizes.  The two things that affect a Bible’s size more than anything else is the letter font size and the paper thickness.  If your eyes are good and can read small print, you can use a pretty small Bible if you want.  If you need larger print to read comfortably, the smaller Bibles just wouldn’t be a good option.

Paper thickness may or may not be an issue for you.  The Bible is a big book.  To cut down on its physical printed size, publishers have traditionally printed Bibles on thin paper.  To make them even smaller–some publishers print a “Thinline” Bible–they have used even thinner paper.  I’ve known people for whom that very thin paper was just too much.  They had trouble turning the pages.

Study Notes?

Study Bibles are very popular.   These Bibles include a lot of information in addition to the Bible text.  There is background and historical information in addition to commentary and explanatory notes.  Study Bibles tend to be large just because of the additional material they contain.  The extra information can be helpful and useful. Some Bibles with notes, though, are explicitly intended to promote one particular theological viewpoint.  Just remember, particularly with commentary and explanatory notes, these are men’s ideas and not God’s word itself.

A man who is credited with the notes in two Old Testament books in the NIV Study Bible tells of the editor’s disagreement with him on a couple of points in the notes he wrote.  This illustrates what you are dealing with in the notes of a Study Bible.  They may or may not be correct.

I’ve also know people who have failed to make the distinction between the text of Scripture and provided study notes.  They thought that if it is found within the cover a book with “Bible” on the front cover, then it was Scripture.  I typically recommend that people shy away from study Bibles.

Selling Bibles is big business.  There are lots of options available and Bible publishers and sellers market their product just like anybody else does.   So, decide what you’re after before you go looking and find what you want.

Do you have any comments or suggestion?  Go to the comments below and share them with us.

God bless,

The Best English Bible Translation (5)

I have heard it said, and I tend to agree, that the best translation is one somebody will actually read.  A person could be in possession of the finest, most accurate Bible translation ever made, but if they never read it, what difference would it make?

It would make about as much sense as a person insisting on carrying an original language Bible–a Hebrew Old Testament and a Greek New Testament–because they wanted the most accurate biblical text to the originals, yet they didn’t know biblical Greek or Hebrew.   They may have the assurance of the text’s accuracy, but would be totally ignorant of its content.

Reading Levels

One of the goals of Bible translation, as we’ve discussed elsewhere (and can be read HERE) is to be readable.  In the effort to achieve greater readability some translations have aimed for lower and lower grade reading levels.  Here is a list of a few translations and their grade reading levels:

King James Version                                 12th

New King James Version                        7-8th

New International Version                     7-8th

New American Standard Bible               11th

English Standard Version                       10th  (though I have seen it listed as low as 8th)

Revised Standard Version                       12th

New Revised Standard Version              11th

Still other translations have aimed for even lower reading levels.

New Century Version                                       3rd

New International Reader’s Version             3rd

New Living Translation                                    6th

The Living Bible                                                 4th

The Message                                                        3rd

I have known people whose reading and comprehension levels were such that if they were to read and understand the Bible they needed something on a very simple reading level.  This was true for some of them by virtue of their young age, for others it was a lack of learning or lack of a capacity to learn.

So, it may be, that in given circumstances a simpler reading translation may be necessary.  But remember that accuracy is what is being sacrificed for readability.  If a person begins with an easy-to-read translation, then as their capacity to comprehend increases, they should move on to a more accurate translation.

One Last Recommendation

Here is one other important recommendation: do comparison readings from a variety of translations.  As you become more serious in your Bible reading and study, referring to others translations can be very helpful.

Quite frankly, some translations do a better job of translating and communicating a given text than do others.  So, don’t get too “married” to one translation.  You may have one that is for your primary use (as the English Standard Version is for me), but then also read a number of others as well.

While we’ve been concerned with the best translation, it might be that you are ready to purchase a Bible.  Maybe you have never had one or you’ve decided it’s time to change translations.  Believe it or not, deciding which translation you want is just the beginning.  Some thoughts on how to choose a Bible can be found HERE.

What are your thoughts?  Why not leave a comment below?

God Bless,

The Best English Bible Translation (4)

Finding the best English translation of the Bible means dealing with a challenging issue: effectively honoring the need for a translation to be accurate as well as understandable.  In case you missed it, the underlying concerns were introduced in the previous post, found HERE.

Translation Philosophy?

So, translation philosophy has to do with where a translation gives its emphasis in the whole readability/accuracy scenario.  Some translations have as a stated purpose to be more readable and some to be more accurate.  You get this idea when you sometimes run across a discussion debating “word-for-word” versus “thought-for-thought” approaches.

How does a person learn each translation’s philosophy?  Virtually every translation gives at least some explanation of their approach to translation.  For instance, to learn the philosophy and approach of the translators of the English Standard Version you can CLICK HERE.

There you will find, in part, these words:

The ESV is an “essentially literal” translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on “word-for-word” correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

In contrast to the ESV, some Bible versions have followed a “thought-for-thought” rather than “word-for-word” translation philosophy, emphasizing “dynamic equivalence” rather than the “essentially literal” meaning of the original. A “thought-for-thought” translation is of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator and the influences of contemporary culture.

How well the ESV fulfills its stated purpose is, of course, open to judgment.  And mine is that they do reasonably well.  That is why I offer this translation as one of my recommendations as one of the best.  (The other, in case you missed it previously, is the New American Standard Bible.)

Why Not The Most Popular?

This is also why I don’t recommend the most popular translation, the New International Version (NIV).  It has a stated intent of using a more “thought-for-thought” approach.  Though this achieves greater “readability” (as its popularity bears out), I believe it to be a step in the wrong direction.  In my personal judgment it has done more interpreting and explaining than it should.

We must remember that the Bible gives its readers and students the responsibility of “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).   While I may be dependent on Bible translators to provide for me a Bible text in my native language, I still have responsibility for understanding and applying God’s word for myself.

I realize my recommendations do “go against the flow” somewhat when it comes to popular opinion on the best Bible translation.  You may have thoughts or comments you would like to share, so please be sure to do that in the comments below.

We still have one more quick consideration to make; one last qualification on this recommendation in the final post of this series.

God bless,

The Best English Bible Translation (3)

Two, sometimes conflicting concerns dominate the translation of Scripture and therefore choosing the best English Bible translation: readability and accuracy.  On the one hand, there is the need for a Bible translation to be understandable, obviously.  On the other, there is a concern for the translation to be as accurate to the original as possible.  Sometimes this difference is described as functional (readable) versus formal (accurate).

Conflicting Ideas

Here’s the problem, these two appear, at times, to be at cross-purposes.  The more readable and understandable a translation is, the more it has been adapted and fitted to the culture into which it’s being translated.  The more adaptation and “fitting” that takes place, the less literal it is.  And the more literal to the original text a translation attempts to be, the more challenging it is to make it readable.

Biblical Principle #1

What’s more, both ideas are actually rooted in biblical principles.  First, regarding readability; God is concerned that people able to understand His word.  God has spoken to man (Heb. 1:1-2) and it is certain that He intends for that communication to be understood.  The message that God wants man to know has to be conveyed in an understandable way.

Jesus said this was God’s intent. “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Matt. 11:25-26).

If Scripture was kept in a language unknown to the reader or even in an archaic or otherwise difficult-to-understand form of a known language, the communication is effectively hindered or even stopped.  What good is it to have a Bible that one cannot read and understand?

Biblical Principle #2

The second principle is concerned for accuracy.  In the process of revealing His will to men and inspiring them to speak and then write that message, God made sure they said and wrote what He actually wanted.  Paul describes this process in 1 Corinthians 2.  God’s Spirit searches the mind of God to know it.  He then takes those spiritual thoughts and combines them with spiritual words and reveals them to selected men.  These words, Paul says, are the ones “we speak.”  The end result being that we have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:6-16).

Notice that Paul says that the process of revelation and inspiration was not one of the writers of Scripture just saying things however they wanted to.  Rather the Spirit so guided and directed them that the very words were inspired (see also 2 Pet. 1:21 and 2 Tim. 3:16).

I believe this speaks directly to the need for accuracy in the translation of Scripture.  What has been gained if a translation achieves very high levels of readability,  yet ends up being only a human interpretation of what God actually said?

Balancing Act

This leads us, then, to the business of translation philosophy.  How does one go about combining these two?  We move on to that in the next post.  Please read on.

Before doing that, do you have any thoughts or observations you want leave in the comments below?  Please be sure and do that.

God bless,

The Best English Bible Translation (2)

In our quest to determine which of the many available translations is best, we are faced with many options (to see the introductory post in this brief series, CLICK HERE).  One of the primary considerations has to do with the original document from which one is going to make a translation.  What is that document and where did it come from?

Translated From What?

What many people don’t realize is that the actual, original documents penned by the writers of the individual books of the Bible–these are referred to as autographs–don’t exist any more.  They are gone.  What we do have, though, are copies of those autographs, and copies of those copies, and so on.  These copies are called manuscripts.  There are literally thousands of them.  They range from little scraps of portions of a single verse to entire books of the Bible, and even entire New or Old Testaments.

Here’s the challenge in all of this.  All of these copies were made by hand.  As you can well imagine, sometimes the copyists made mistakes.  This means there are some variations from manuscript to manuscript.  The mistakes made are the same kind you and I make if we’re writing or even copying something by hand; misspelling, word order, skipping a line, and so on.  These are the vast majority of manuscript variations.  Understand, these copyists were trying very hard to make accurate copies and did a remarkable job of doing so.

There were also times though, when the manuscript being copied had had some notations made in the margins.  These might have been explanatory or supplementary notes.  Apparently, on occasion, the person copying, for whatever reason, incorporated those notes into the text of what he was copying.  Then, later, someone made a copy of what he had copied, unknowingly keeping those additions or changes.

So, we have many original language manuscripts of the Bible.  But there are variations between those manuscripts.  This circumstance has given rise to the scholarly discipline of textual criticism.  This is an effort to essentially recreate an original language text that is as close as possible to what the autograph would have been.  The end result is called a critical text.  From that, then, a translation of the Bible is made.

This discipline is relatively new.   For many centuries translations of the Bible were actually translations of translations.   That is, what they started with was an already translated Bible instead of an original language text.  As you can imagine, that’s not the best scenario.

Which Critical Text?

Not everyone agrees on the process as to how to arrive at a text as close as possible to the original.  Consequently, there are primarily two different original language texts used from which most translations have been made.  One is known as the received text, the other is the critical text.

The idea behind the received text (and this is an oversimplified explanation) is that you simply tally the number of textual variations and whichever variation has the most manuscript support, that’s the best one.  So if five manuscripts said “abcdef” and two said “abgdef” then the reading of the five would be favored.  This is the approach of the textual basis for the King James Version.

The other approach suggests that there are other criteria that give some manuscripts more “weight” than others.  For instance, older manuscripts are thought to be more likely to have fewer changes from the original than are more later manuscripts.  Though there are many more of the recent manuscripts than older manuscripts, the older ones are given more credence in determining the content of the original autograph

So, back to our question of which version is best.  My first recommendation is a translation that is a translation from an original language text (not a translation of a translation).  And then, a translation based on either the United Bible Society’s Greek Text or the Nestle-Aland Text for the New Testament and the Biblia Hebraica for the Old Testament as opposed to the received text. This is true of virtually all modern English translations.

This rules out, in my recommendation, the King James and New King James Versions.  It certainly isn’t that these are bad translations, far from it.  As a matter of fact, I believe them to be better than a number of modern-speech translations because of what we’re going to discuss next, the translation philosophy.

I’m not a King James basher–far from it.  Undoubtedly the King James Version of the Bible is responsible an immeasurable amount of good for the cause of Christ in the English-speaking world.  It is also a piece of literary art.  But, I do believe there are better options for those interested in reading and studying God’s word today.

Next, we’ll turn out attention to the actual translators and their ideas about how best to translate the Bible (CLICK HERE).

What are your thoughts?  Please leave a comment below!

God bless,

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