Which Bible is Best? (Part 2)


. . . contined from yesterday.

I’m mostly concerned with Bibles for study, where a word or phrase might make a real difference. If you just want to read the Bible, almost any of them are good. They all get the major issues right, overall. I say almost, because there are two exceptions: Bibles driven by the theology of an extreme sect, and translations distorted by political agendas.

Unacceptable Bibles

Most of the Bibles that intentionally and materially mistranslate the original manuscripts have such a small readership that you will never hear of them. There are two, however, that are widespread. The “New World Translation”, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, is fairly popular. And, actually, it is a very good translation except for one thing: the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not consider Christ to be God, and they reflect that belief in their New Testament. Without going into a lot of detail, for that reason the NWT is not acceptable for Christians.

Similarly, the newest (2011) NIV translation (and even moreso, the TNIV of 2005, which was so flawed that it has been retracted by the publisher) is driven by liberal political considerations and goes too far in trying to make the Bible gender-neutral and generally not insulting to modern secular sensibilities, to the point that it cannot be considered a translation of the Bible at all.

An Example of Translational Issues

To illustrate the difference between “reading Bibles” (dynamic equivalent translations) and “authoritative Bibles” (literal translations), let’s look at 2 Peter 1:20. First, the King James and ESV, which are more literal interpretations:

“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”
“knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.”

Do you see the ambiguity? You cannot be certain whether Peter is saying a) that the people who wrote the Bible did not base their writing on their private interpretation, or b) an individual’s interpretation of the Bible is not Scripture, i.e., we should not talk about our own interpretation of a passage as if it is the word of God. This ambiguity is part of the Bible. It occurs in the original Greek and, if a person or group is studying the passage, they can and should consider both options — it is good fuel for research, meditation, and group discussion.

Now let’s look at the same passage from two dynamic equivalent translations, the NIV (New International Version 1984) and the ISV (International Standard Version):

“First of all, you must understand this: No prophecy in Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” (ISV)

“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.” (NIV 1984)

Each of these resolves the ambiguity for us — but in opposite ways! The ISV interprets the verse as meaning we should not consider our (or other people’s) interpretations as “prophecy of Scripture”. The NIV, on the other hand, interprets it to mean that the original authors were not writing their “own interpretations”. (And yes, I chose this verse because of the irony. Both the NIV and ISV might be said to be representing their “private interpretation” to be Scripture, which is exactly what 2 Peter 1:20 is telling us not to do.)

Bottom Line

Since I set out to make a recommendation, I’ll go ahead and do it. If you just want a Bible to read, you can pretty well just pick one that you like, although I’d stay away from the New World Translation and any NIV published in 2005 or later. If you want a Bible to study, I’d recommend the King James/Authorised Version (KJV) (although the antiquated language is a minus for many people), the New King James Version (NKJV) (not the 20th Century King James), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), or the English Standard Version (ESV). The ESV is somewhat more readable than the NASB and is my personal main Bible.

You might also consider the wisdom of getting a study edition. Study editions tend to be big and heavy — I have the ESV Study Bible in my lap at this very moment, and at over 2700 pages it is heavy enough to be called a “blunt object” by the police — but they are wonderful resources, especially if you want to dig into a particular passage.

As I have said, I love both the J.B. Phillips New Testament and The Message, but they must be considered paraphrases, not actual Bibles.

If you are Catholic, the New American Bible is also a good choice, and is what you will probably hear read at Mass. There is a Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version, but for my personal taste, it has the drawbacks of the KJV’s difficult language without the authenticity.

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