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What Is the Best Bible?

What Is the Best Bible? July 16, 2021

People often ask, “What is the best Bible?” There used to be pretty much only one Bible–the famous King James Version (KJV) produced in 1611. The King of England, King James, had commissioned it. When I first began studying the Bible, as a freshman in college, like most of my Christian friends and the church where I attended, I used only the KJV. But beginning in the late 19th century until now, there have been many so-called “modern” translations of the Bible in English. Many people have asked, “Why has this been done? Wasn’t the King James Version good enough?” Not today it isn’t. This is mostly because these modern versions have been translated from a more accurate Greek New Testament than was available to translators of the KJV, in which they used Textus Receptus (Latin for “received text”). It had been compiled by Erasmus and published in 1516. But it was based on only a few, and not very old, Greek manuscripts of New Testament documents compared to the modern 5th edition of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament and the Nestle-Aland’s 28th edition of the Greek New Testament, which now are exactly the same. Those two much more recent Greek New Testaments are based on over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, many of which are older than any of those used by Erasmus in compiling Textus Receptus. When people ask me, What is the best Bible? they mean, “What is the best English translation of the Bible?” That is something that many novice Bible readers don’t know or understand very well. That is, an English Bible is a translation from a Greek text and the Old Testament is a translation from the Masoretic Text, a Hebrew recovery of the Hebrew Bible, and perhaps The Septuagint, which is the 3rd century BCE translation of the Hebrew Bible. My answer to this question is a simple, “Read the preface of each Bible translation.” This answer deals only with, not how we got the Bible, but why such a translation was created in the first place. For, translation committees of English Bibles do not have the same goals or perhaps employ the same methodologies in their translations. But these translation committees (unless the version is a so-called “one-man translation,” such as the Phillips Modern English translation) usually reveal in the preface of their Bible translations why and how they decided to make their translations. My friend Scot McKnight–a New Testament professor at Northern Seminary near Chicago and a prolific author–has a good article today on this subject about Bible versions in his Scot’s Newsletter published at Substack (scotmcknight.substack.com). He relates that Bible scholars and academics generally separate English Bible versions into two categories: (1) formal equivalence and (2) functional or dynamic equivalence. Formal means a “word-for-word translation,” and functional means a “thought-for-thought translation.” Scot informs that in the 1960s, Bible translator Eugene Nida started a movement in Bible translation from the predominantly formal equivalence to a more functional equivalence. It then identifies some of the most prominent, modern English versions and categorizes them in these two groups as follows (and I am adding some to this list): (1) the formal equivalence versions include the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and (2) the functional equivalence versions include the New Living Translation (NLT, which is a revision of Kenneth Taylor’s one-man translation, The Living Bible), New International Versions (NIV), and English Standard Version (ESV). Scot doesn’t say in this article, but I think the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), which has been for decades the preferred English version of scholars and the one I have used mostly in the past thirty years, is a combination of formal and functional equivalence. In writing my books, I use mostly the following five English Bibles, with the NRSV dominating: NRSV, NASB, NIV, ESV, and sometimes the King James Versions (KJV). And regarding only the Old Testament, I also sometimes appeal to the JPS Tanakh. It is an English translation of only the Masoretic Text published by the Jewish Publication Society (JPS). See yesterday’s similar post to this one, “How Did We Get Our Bible?

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