For those who follow Jesus, the Bible is obviously their most important book. But, as you may have discovered, the Bible isn’t always the easiest book to read or understand. It was written a long time ago, spanning over a thousand years, and in languages that are definitely foreign to most of its current readers.
But, one of the greatest blessings in the 21st Century are the numerous resources and aids to help people understand the Bible better than ever before. (See the Recommended Reading page for Bible study aids if you are interested in learning more about the Bible). If you’ve ever been to a bookstore that sells Bibles you have probably noticed that there are a lot of Bible translations to choose from. This can be confusing for some people. So, how do you choose?
First, decide on whether or not you want a Bible that includes study notes. Study Bibles are great because they include notes from commentators which can help to explain the text. You’ll usually find the notes at the bottom of the page. Unfortunately, there are a lot of study Bibles and they are often expensive. Some study Bibles are more exhaustive than others. Some just offer brief descriptions about the book you’re reading, while others have lots of information on every page. I personally recommend the Life Application Study Bible. The commentators are well respected and they try to do their best not to force their own theological opinion on the reader. I also recommend it because you can get the Life Application Bible in different translations—which is the second thing you have to consider when choosing a Bible. What translation do you get?
All English Bibles are translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts. (Some Bibles are paraphrased versions. This generally means they are restated from another English translation such as the King James Versions. The Living Bible is an example of a paraphrased version.). When it comes to translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English, there are basically two different approaches. Some translations try to stay “word for word” with the Hebrew and Greek text. This means they are primarily focused on translating the words of the ancient text rather than the meaning of the words.
The problem with this approach is that it can make the translation more difficult to understand and it can create rather awkward sentences. Translations like the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New International Version (NIV), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), are examples of this. If you desire to do some serious Bible study these are the best translations for that purpose. These versions are usually translated at a seventh to tenth grade reading level.
Other translations attempt to provide more of the meaning of the Scripture. These translations focus more on making the Bible understandable and readable. Bibles like the New Living Translation (NLT); or Contemporary English Version (CEV) and The Message (which is a very contemporary reading) fit this style of translating. These translations are usually translated at a fifth to eighth grade reading level.
(By the way, a great translation for small children is the iNIV. It is specifically designed for grade-school readers.)
At North Hills, Jim typically uses the NLT because of it’s readability and clarity. If you want to get more information about this translation visit newlivingtranslation.com. The NLT website also has a good article on how Bible translations are performed.
A great website to view translations and compare them to one another is biblegateway.com. This site allows you to search for certain words in the Bible, as well as, books and verses. It’s cool.
What About The KJV?
A word about the King James Version. The KJV obviously set the standard for English translations. It was, and still is, a translation masterpiece. However, it was translated in 1611, which is a long time ago, and words and their meanings have changed greatly since. The KJV was developed for the same reason that our modern day versions have been developed, so that the people in the 1600’s could have a Bible they could understand. Back then, most Bibles were in Latin which made it very difficult for the English speaking people to understand.
So, church leaders in England decided it was time to translate the Bible into modern day English. King James of England, who was the political leader at the time, commissioned a scholarly team to put together an English Bible translation. They formed the Authorized King James Version. The reason it’s referred to as the “Authorized Version” is because it was authorized by King James, not the Pope or any other church council, but a political leader (imagine that happening today).
There were other English translations floating around England at the time, but King James wasn’t particularily fond of the them. Primarily because some of those versions had study notes contained within them, and in those notes they encouraged people to disobey leaders if the leader was acting in a manner that conflicted with God’s will—like the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel chapter two. Kings don’t like rebellions, or anyone suggesting it might be okay, even if it’s biblical.
I don’t usually recommend the KJV to people because it’s far more difficult to understand than modern day translations. I also don’t recommend it because scholarship has changed greatly over the years and we know so much more about the first century than the KJV translators did in 1611. We have a much better understanding of Hebrew and Greek words and culture, therefore much better translations. If you want to read a great book on the formation of the KJV, check out Alister McGrath’s, In The Beginning.
In America, there is often a great deal of mystique concerning the King James Bible. You may know someone who believes it’s the only “true translation” there is. This view is unfortunate because our hope is not in the translation of the Bible but in the person of the Bible which is Jesus Christ.