( Cross-posted at Times&Seasons, where there are more comments.) We’re 80% of the way through our Old Testament, and the time has come to start looking forward. As I did for the Old, so I will do for the New. This time, I’ll break it up into a few posts, probably a few weeks apart. (Part 2 is now posted.)
As before, the absolute best and easiest thing you can do to increase the quality and frequency of your Bible study is to replace/supplement your KJV with a different translation. You can do it with a free app or website, or go old school and buy hardcover. I do both. Below are some recommendations on Bibles.
- New Revised Standard Version or NRSV
- This is a descendant of the KJV, widely used by scholars across a variety of religious commitments. Available in many versions, including with notes as the Harper-Collins Study Bible or New Oxford Annotated Bible.
- English Standard Version or ESV
- A newer revision of the NRSV’s predecessor the RSV. I have very strong feelings about the ESV Study Bible: avoid it.
- New English Translation or NET Bible
- While you can buy one in print, it’s great advantage is the thousands and thousands of comments explaining the translation. It would be long if complete in print, but their study website is quite useful.
- There are many many other translations out there which I probably wouldn’t recommend, but I’m going to single out the NIV. Don’t read it. (I used to. See pic.)
- Why? Well, it’s pretty flawed, and especially when we come to Paul, Evangelical bias is clear.
- See Kevin Barney’s blogpost.
- Also N.T. Wright’s view, from his book Justification.
I must register one strong protest against one particular translation. When the New International Version was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses. This contrasted so strongly with the then popular New English Bible, and promised such an advance over the then rather dated Revised Standard Version, that I recommended it to students and members of the congregation I was then serving. Disillusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one: to make sure that Paul should say what the broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said…. I do know that if a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about. This is a large claim, and I have made it good, line by line, in relation to Romans in my big commentary, which prints the NIV and the NRSV and then comments on the Greek in relation to both of them. Yes, the NRSV sometimes lets you down, too, but nowhere near as frequently or as badly as the NIV.
- Jewish Annotated New Testament
- This is the NRSV with commentary from a Jewish perspective, the same Jewish scholars who produced the Jewish Study Bible I refer to so often in my posts. It’s insightful but can be challenging, and some of it I disagree with.
- Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saints, by Kevin Barney, John Gee, and others.
- Available in hardcover, or free pdf. It’s the KJV with footnotes, like an LDS Study Bible, basically. This was originally to be published in hardcover by Covenant years ago, but they underwent a change in direction and backed out. Now it’s free.
These tend to be a little quirkier since they are produced by individuals, but no less interesting.
- N.T. Wright, Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation which is extracted from his very accessible New Testament for Everyone commentary (sample of translation and commentary).
- I’m a fan of Wright. You’ll see more mention of him. His translation is very modern, (British!) colloquial, and catchy, and his commentary practical, non-technical, and short.
- David Stern, Complete Jewish Bible and accompanying Jewish New Testament Commentary (sample of translation and commentary)
- Stern is a Messianic Jew residing in Israel. Among other things, his translation changes names and terms back to their Hebrew versions, so that John becomes Yochanan, Jesus Christ becomes Yeshua the Messiah. His commentary differs notably from the JANT above in several ways: single author vs. committee; believer in Jesus vs. uh, non-messianic Jews; less specialized vs. more specialized (that is, Stern has deep study, teaching, and a MA +graduate work, but his PhD is in Econ. The JANT authors are all PhDs in Religion, NT, Judaism, etc.)
- J.B. Phillips- A colloquial translation that captures some of the feeling, particularly in Paul’s letters, which were meant to be read out loud. NT only.
If you want to understand the Greek textual/manuscript basis for differences in translations, these are your two resource.
- Philip Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (See samples at Logos link below.)
- Comfort also authored a technical study of the earliest Greek manuscripts, with images of the papyri so you can check the Greek yourselves. Also available in Logos.
- Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.
- Metzger was huge in Greek NT Studies. Published by the United Bible Society, this is similar but a bit more technical and Greek than the Comfort volume above. He authored other notable books, including The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions, and The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (coauthored with Bart Ehrman, who was Metzger’s student).
- Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: the Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture.
- This is a fun, easy read.
- Royal Skousen, “Through a Glass Darkly: Trying to Understand the Scriptures” (BYU Studies PDF)
- A linguistics prof at BYU, Skousen looks at several ways the KJV is confusing or ambiguous.
- Me, “Why Bible Translations Differ: A Guide for the Perplexed” Religious Educator 15:1 (2014): 31-65.
- An article looking at four categories of reason why Bible translations differ, extensive study suggestions, and discussion of the relevance of the JST and Book of Mormon text on our understanding of the Biblical text.
- Lincoln Blumell (a notable upcoming BYU scholar with a Brill publication)- “A Text-Critical Comparison of the King James New Testament with Certain Modern Translations” in Studies in the Bible and Antiquity
- A 2-page handout on the KJV and translations by me. This summarizes part of my paper above.
- Grant Hardy, “The King James Bible and the Future of Missionary Work” (Dialogue version), (earlier version from BCC)
- Hardy is a history/religion professor on the east coast and a member of his stake presidency. He’s published some very good stuff in Meridian Magazine, but also published several relevant books, including Oxford Press’ Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (review) and The Book of Mormon- A Reader’s Edition.
- See several reviews as well as Q&A with Hardy at Times&Seasons, intro, review 1, review 2, 12 questions part 1, part 2.
- How the Bible Became Holy
- Robert Alter, Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible
- Alter is a professor of literature and Hebrew at UV-Berkeley, and does great work. I’ve recommended many of his books before and will again.
- Philip Barlow, Mormons and the Bible (Oxford)
- Barlow wrote his dissertation at Harvard on the place of the Bible in LDS tradition, starting with Joseph Smith and working down through the 20th century. It was recently updated. Barlow is now at Utah State, and has also authored (of interest here) an article tracing how the KJV became the official English Bible translation, “Why the King James Version?: From the Common to the Official Bible of Mormonism” in Dialogue
- Responding in some ways to Barlow and Hardy is Ronan Head, “Unity and the King James Bible” also in Dialogue.
- David Norton, The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today
- That title is self-explanatory. Norton does much more heavy lifting in his fairly technical A Textual History of the King James Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2005).
- The King James Bible After 400 Years: Literary, Linguistic, and Cultural Influences.
- I include this collection of essays largely because of two particular ones. First is “The King James Steamroller” which is just a fantastic title. The second is by Paul Gutjahr, non-LDS author of the Book of Mormon: A Biography, who writes on “the dethroning of the King James Bible in the United States.”
- BYU’s Religious Studies Center has put many of its books online, including one on The King James Bible and the Restoration. It includes some very good articles on Bibles, translation, usage, etc.
Part 2 to follow in a few weeks.