Building the Christian library: Bibles – our starting point

A couple of good Bibles are essential for the study of God’s word. Whether or not one reads the Greek or Hebrew text, a couple of English translations can help clarify the meaning. But one needs to know the advantages and limitations of each translation.

The King James or Authorised Version (AV, 1611) may be the Bible that our parents grew up with, but today it is usually found to be hard to follow in its seventeenth century English. It is also less accurate than modern translations. Since 1611, we have made numerous discoveries of more ancient copies of the texts of Scripture, and progressed in the discipline of textual criticism.

The biggest competition today is between the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New International Version (NIV).

Preference is generally being given to the NIV because of its more consistent use of modern English and its concern for simplification of language. (The RSV, in contrast, uses Authorised Version language for the words of Jesus and sticks with words like propitiation—the NIV uses “atoning sacrifice”).

The Good News Bible or Today’s English Version (TEV) is a useful tool for work with young children, because of its simple language and its format (maps, pictures, explanation of words). The translation work is open to some criticism but generally conveys the meaning adequately enough.

For the greatest degree of accuracy with an English text there are two versions available. The first is the Revised Version of 1885 (RV). The translators were determined to let the text speak for itself. At points where the text is ambiguous, so is the translation. English words added to make sense are set in italics, and where there is some uncertainty, an alternative translation is given in the margin. Furthermore, exhaustive specific cross references make the RV a very useful study Bible. Unfortunately, the language is stilted and awkward, rendering it unsuitable for public reading.

The second very accurate version is the New American Standard Bible (NASB, 1963). This has many of the features of the RV (perhaps a little less accurate in parts) but is more readable. It has the added advantage of having spread the text across the full width of the page.

Eloquence and poetic turn of phrase are the chief attributes of versions like the Jerusalem Bible (JB), the New English Bible (NEB) and the J. B. Phillips version. The Living Bible (LB) is quite good at bringing the text up to date, but there is also quite a lot that is lost for ever in the translation.

Our Bible translations are the foundation stones of our library. We must know their strengths and weaknesses in order to get down to the best possible understanding of the words themselves.

Summary of Recommended Usage:

  • General: NIV, RSV
  • Translation check: RV
  • Eloquence: JB, NEB
  • Children: TEV
  • Historical Interest: AV, LB

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