Christmas seems like it’s just around the corner. In these times of financial pressure, surely we all feel the need to make good choices in our gifts this year and not be wasteful. A new Bible for a loved one (or dare I say for yourself?) is certainly an excellent investment. But what Bible? And what format? In this post I will look at a few examples, some of which I can recommend.
At the top of my list would be the ESV Study Bible. The translation is essentially literal and as close to a word-for-word correspondence with the original inspired text as you can get, while still being able to understand it. Its language is more traditional and readers of the King James version will find the adjustment to this one easy, but will also find that it is much easier to understand than the archaic language found in what is, of course, a classic piece of English literature. I commend the Study Bible, as well as other versions of the ESV, very highly. There are several mp3 audio versions available, and if you fiddle with the preferences on ESV.org you can choose between them. My family tends to prefer the Max McLean version, but your taste may be different to ours.
If you live in the UK, you may be struggling to get a copy of the ESV Study Bible. Your best option is Amazon.co.uk, which is usually the cheapest, but is having some problems with fulfilling orders from what I hear. Certainly many editions are out of stock.
You will be glad to know, therefore, that I have been able to negotiate a special discount from a leading Christian online bookstore. 10ofthose.com is a site that helps fund various Christian ministries. They have access to a stock of these study Bibles, and promised me they can deliver for Christmas. A box of ten will be even cheaper than their special offer, and if you enter adrianwarnock.com as the discount code before checkout, in most cases you will see a further drop in the price you are charged. Explore the following links; I am promised that they can immediately dispatch copies of the Study Bible, at least at the moment.
You might be surprised to know that if you have already bought an ESV Bible, I would recommend you to get another Bible version as well. No translation is perfect, so I recommend that you own at least two to maximize your understanding. Bibles exist along a spectrum from the essentially literal, such as the King James, ESV, NASB, and NKJV, to the more dynamic versions which aim to capture the meaning and, in some cases, the emotional impact of the Bible and communicate that in a fresh way for modern readers. In choosing your Bible, it’s vital to consider where on that spectrum the version you are considering lies.
These days I don’t tend to recommend the once ubiquitous NIV or its gender neutral update, the TNIV. That’s because it sits in a slightly awkward place on that spectrum. These two versions are sufficiently close to the ESV to mean that switching from them to the ESV is straightforward. But it also means that reading it doesn’t usually add much to the understanding you would gather from the ESV itself. As a main Bible, the NIV versions have the major disadvantage, in my view, in that while they tend to be fairly accurate in their attempts to render the actual meaning of the text into English, at times they insert a more dynamic interpretation. Therefore, it’s difficult to know with any given phrase whether or not you’re getting a literal translation.
Other more dynamic translations can be useful, provided one realizes that the translations often help you to understand the text rather than translating it in a literal sense. For me, chief among such translations is the New Living Translation. I have enjoyed looking at their new study Bible, which I think will complement the ESV Study Bible nicely by providing another perspective in comments on the text.
The NCV translation is also marketed as the International Children’s Bible and is worthy of special mention. It’s important to introduce children to the Bible from a young age. I find that this translation is very accessible to young children and, as such, have recently given a copy to my 7 year old. She has since developed a voracious appetite for reading it to herself, so I’m very happy. We looked together at the NLT and the ESV, and she explained to me that both of those versions had words in them she could not understand, whereas the NCV/ICB did not. So, as an introductory Bible, I’m obviously quite pleased with it.
I have previously enjoyed paraphrases of the Bible, such as The Message. Providing one understands what one is reading, they can help us feel the emotional impact of the message of the Bible, and at times can function much as a sermon would to help us understand what the Bible really means to us today. I have no hesitation in recommending such works to people, but I think they should only be read in conjunction with a more literal translation as your primary Bible.
Because of my enjoyment of a wide range of translations, I looked forward to getting a copy of The Voice, listed as a brand new translation for a new generation of Bible readers. The website looks nice. The text layout is attractive and modern-looking. The team involved in translation stressed their creative credentials. Clearly a lot of work has gone into engaging with the Bible’s text and making it relevant for us today.
The problem, however, is that I simply cannot bring myself to recommend this translation in any way. If you open it up without reading the introduction (as I did) and value the actual words of the Bible itself, you are in for a big shock. In an effort to make the text more accessible to modern readers who allegedly don’t like looking at footnotes, explanatory comments have been included in the text of the Bible. Many of these comments are put in the mouths of the writers of the Bible, allowing the ignorant to believe they are intended to be part of the Scriptures themselves. Admittedly, the introduction explains that these additions have been made. It also explains that words added to the text are in italics, and that additional material is contained in boxes throughout the text. If only The Voice had worded its explanatory comments as footnotes and kept them out of the text itself, I probably would have welcomed it.
I am all in favor of helpful explanations, but to p
resent commentary as if it was part of the text itself is very unhelpful. It undermines our respect for the Bible. It can mislead us in our understanding of the Bible. It is in direct disobedience to a command that occurs in the final chapter of the Bible not to add to its words! In fact, not all of their additions to the text have been italicized, as is seen in the final example below.
To give you a flavor for just how disconnected with the Scriptures’ original language the italicized sections can become, let me give you a few examples comparing The Voice with the ESV.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him . . . (ESV)
Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. After this fast, he was as you can imagine, hungry. But he was also curiously stronger because of his fast and so he was able to withstand the Devil, the tempter, when he came to Jesus . . . (The Voice)
I find this total fabrication of a scriptural text placed inside the main translation to be shocking, italics or no italics! The appalling ignorance of many believers today about the Bible makes this much more dangerous since many might assume that because a respectable Christian publisher has published this book, the words contained in it will reflect the inspired words of God, not the suppositions of some man.
Let love continue among you. Let it be the air that you take in, that uncurls within you, and extends between you.” (The Voice)
This poetic addition is completely unjustifiable, and again has no roots in the actual Bible that God inspired! Unless we think we dare improve upon God’s Word, what business do we have in producing such drivel and labeling it as a new Bible translation?
I wanted to close this post with a single verse taken from each of several versions to illustrate their differences. You will see that there is a lot of similarity in how most of the translations handle this verse. The ESV text has almost direct word-for-word correspondence with the underlying Greek. Some of the more interpretative or paraphrase translations do replace the phrase “bearing the sword” with some kind of explanation of an expectation of punishment. This could help an English reader who could not understand that concept. But, shockingly, as we can see merely from looking at the length of the paragraph, The Voice adds a lot of material to the text, only one phrase of which is italicized. This is unnecessary, unhelpful, and examining this verse on its own would be enough to make me disinclined to recommend the purchase of this new translation. Each of the other translations listed below have something to contribute to our understanding of this passage.
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.
Those who do right do not have to fear the rulers; only those who do wrong fear them. Do you want to be unafraid of the rulers? Then do what is right, and they will praise you. The ruler is God’s servant to help you. But if you do wrong, then be afraid. He has the power to punish; he is God’s servant to punish those who do wrong.
Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear. Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it.
You see, if you do the right thing, you have nothing to be worried about from the rulers; but if you do what you know is wrong, the rulers will surely make you pay a price. Would you not rather live with a clear conscience than always have to be looking over your shoulder? Then keep doing what you know to be good and right, and they will publicly honor you. Look at it this way: The ruler is a minister of God called to serve and benefit you. But he is also a minister of God executing wrath upon those who practice evil. If you do what is wrong, then you better be afraid because he wields the power of the sword and doesn’t make empty threats.