Which Bible?

We are really blessed in the English-speaking world. While many people have no Bible in their own language, or at best just a few books of the Bible, we have more versions and translations than we can ever hope to keep up with.

So how do we go about choosing the right Bible?

First we need to understand the differences between all those translations.

The Bible was originally written in two languages- Old Testament in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek.

If you have ever studied another language you will know that when you are translating from one language to another, you can't just go word by word. (For one thing, languages differ in the way they put the words together in a sentence) What you are trying to do is convey the same meaning in a different language. Each word carries different shades of meaning, so you have to find a word that carries the different range of meanings in English to the Hebrew or Greek word. If each word in the original language has just two equivalents in English (and many words have many more than two equivalents), then there are literally millions upon millions of possible translations of the whole Bible that could be made.

Translators make a choice of approach. Some aim for quite a literal approach so that as far as possible they deliver as close as possible an "exact" replica of the original. The New American Standard Bible is one of these, as is the Revised Standard Version. The trouble with these is that often we find it hard to make the words fit into our own background. Another problem is that in Greek it was quite workable to have very long and convoluted sentences, but in English we find it hard to follow any sentence with more that two or three clauses.

Some translators aim to give us the "spirit" of what is said more than the exact text. So you get versions like "The Message" and "The Living Bible" which try to give us the feel of what was said but in a colloquial form.

In between the two extremes, are two very good versions which I recommend. The first is the Bible Society's Contemporary English Version (CEV) which basically tries to give us the same feeling and information that the writers intended to have. They keep it simple, because the Bible was written in simple "common" language of people. They adapt styles to more closely reflect our styles and what we are used to. For example Hebrew poetry is repetitive, whereas English poetry is concise, so in translating the poetic sections they cut out the repetition.

The New International Version (NIV) is more "classic" in style than the CEV. They aim for a more literal translation while trying to be easily read. The NIV is certainly very popular and widely read. It can at times be difficult to follow and for people who are not good readers it has its limitations.

There are also very many "Study Bibles" available with notes and articles which aim to make the Bible easier to follow. These notes contain background information, references to similar passages, and brief commentaries on the meaning of the text. These Study Bibles are valuable, but remember it is the text of the Bible that is inspired and not the footnotes. We need to read the Bible and ask God what He is saying to us, not what He might have said to some other person.

What Bible should you use? Whatever is right for you! Really I don't care which Bible you read, as long as you read it and then put it into practice!