This is the third installment of my series “Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s.” Pastorally, these kinds of questions arise frequently, but I think Christians are often a bit embarrassed to ask them. So you know, you are not the only one who wonders about these things… There are many others who do too.
Anyway, here is a couple more Bible translation Q’s and a couple more simple A’s.
1) What is the best Bible translation today?
This is a hard question to answer… for a few reasons. First, assuming you are interested in an English translation, there are several good ones to choose from. Each has distinctive features that contribute to the overall value of the translation. It is hard to say that one is ‘better’ than another, simply because they each aim at different targets. While every faithful translation is the most valuable book you could own, they are not all the same, nor do they seek to be.
Second, your own personal perspective is going to have an impact on the Bible translation that suits you best. If you grew up with the King James Version (KJV), and you memorized passages and familiarized yourself with your Bible, then you may find it a bit frustrating to move away from that translation. On the other hand, if you are new to Christianity, and you are not familiar with the Old English dialect, then the KJV could be a barrier to growth in understanding. Your life experience, your education level, your willingness to learn, and your spiritual maturity may all factor into the answer I might pastorally give for which Bible translation is best for you.
Third, new material, better scholarship, and even higher levels of technological advance are major reasons for the explosion of Bible translation in the 20th and 21st centuries. This means that there are advances in Bible translation being made at warp speed (comparatively speaking). Many pastors, theologians, and average Christians are finding that multiple translations and digital forms of textual comparison and critical analysis are a great way to dive deeply into the biblical text.
I like the English Standard Version (ESV) for personal reading, memorization, and preaching. I find it to be a faithful and accessible translation. I think the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is a great translation for study, but it can sometimes be not-so-smooth in its readability. A newer Bible on the scene is the NET Bible. I like this one for higher levels of study and sermon preparation because it includes a plethora of translator’s notes beneath the Scripture. This way, the reader can not only see what the translators believe is an accurate translation, the reader can also get a quick defense of the rationale behind the text.
2) What is a Study Bible? And, aren’t they all the same?
In short, a Study Bible is a book containing both the biblical text and some interpretive commentary, definitions, and even articles. The best Study Bibles include book introductions that answer basic questions of authorship, dating, audience, purpose, genre, structure, and specific theological features. Additionally, Study Bibles will sometimes insert a brief article on an especially foundational or complex or lofty idea. All of this can be a great help to the reader.
Of particular interest to many Study Bible readers is the commentary on the bottom of each page. Numerous scholars have contributed to or personally compiled notes for use in a Study Bible. With ease, the reader can find the footnote number beside a difficult-to-understand word or passage and match it with the interpretive note below. It is like having a Bible scholar beside you as you read the Bible, except you don’t have to feed him or listen to him ramble on and on and on… about the stuff you are less interested in learning about at the moment.
Study Bibles are not all the same, and this is my first of two cautions regarding Study Bibles. Only the word of God is inerrant and completely trustworthy, so you must place your trust in Bible teachers carefully. Furthermore, keep in mind that even the best Bible teachers have areas of greater and lesser familiarity. Not only should you be thoughtful about the teachers you trust, you should also know that whoever you trust (even if he or she is awesome) is not going to get everything perfect. Most of the recently published Study Bibles, aware of this reality, have included notes from many contributors – each an expert in a different field of study. I like the ESV Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible, and the Gospel Transformation Bible (each having different strengths).
My second caution to those who treasure Study Bibles (as I do) is to always remember that Scripture stops when the notes begin. I have met and talked with many Christians who have diligently read their Study Bibles and greatly benefitted from the interpretive notes. However, some of those have proved themselves unable to accept any counter-interpretation to the one they read on the bottom of their Study Bible page.
It may well be that the contributor to your Study Bible is a wonderful exegete, and he or she may have marvelous insight, and the interpretation you see there may sound quite convincing to you, but it is (at best) an educated interpretation of holy Scripture. Faithful Bible students will do well to humbly submit themselves to quality Bible teaching, and they will do better still to humbly submit themselves to the word of God itself. Only Scripture, God’s holy word, is capable of perfection on every count.
I hope that these brief answers have been a help to you. As I mentioned above, this is the third post in a series. Be sure to check out “Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s” and “More Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s.”
Also, let me know about your Bible Translation Q in the comments below. I’d be glad to try and help.
Thanks for reading.