Which version of the Bible do you read and follow?

Hashim writes from the Middle East with the question, 'Which version of the Bible do you read and follow?'

My basic principle is to read a version of the Bible that you understand. We believe it is the message of the Bible that is inspired, not each individual word. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with a little in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek. The most accurate thing to do, then, would be to read it in the original language. However, if I only use that language to read the Bible, I may not understand it too well. Therefore it is better to rely on the work of biblical scholars who have carefully translated it into my own language.

Once I have decided to read the Bible in my own language, I may still find a variety of translations to choose from. In English there are over 200. I would suggest the following criteria for choosing a good Bible.

1. Use one that is translated by a team rather than an individual. It is preferable if that team is made up from a broad cross-section of religious tradition rather than from one denomination.

2. Use a translation rather than a paraphrase. A translation is aiming to give you in your language the closest possible meaning of what is being said in the original. A paraphrase is taking the general flow of the original and aiming to get that meaning. However, that is far more open to interpretation and is therefore less accurate. I would use a Bible like this for devotional reading, but would be hesitant to use it for serious study. The Good News Bible, the Message and the Living Bible are examples of these.

3. Make a choice between dynamic and literal translations. Bibles such as the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New King James Version (NKJV) will try to keep as close to the original text as possible. This is called a literal translation. Bibles such as the New International Version (NIV) will stay close to the text but will try and interpret cultural or historical nuances in the language to make them more understandable for today. The choice is between literal accuracy and dynamic accuracy.

4. Use a more modern version. Language changes over the years, and archaeologists discover more and older biblical fragments for the scholars to use in ensuring the accuracy of translations. Thus, a more modern version is likely both to be more understandable and to be translated from manuscripts that are nearer to the originals.

Which Bible do I use? I confess that I have a shelf full and use them all. With my children (and often on the radio) I will use the Good News Bible, as it is simple, with a 3000-word vocabulary. It is excellent if you want to read in English but English is your second language.

For my personal study I most frequently use the NIV but I will frequently compare it with other translations – or, if I need a deeper understanding, will refer to the Greek or Hebrew using books that are available to help in this area. Strong's Analytical Concordance is very good for this.

On the radio you will note that we use a mixture. For Bible answers we generally use the NIV, but our thought for the day is often quoted from The Message Bible. I like it because it makes some thoughts of Scripture just jump out at me in new and refreshing ways.



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