(Cross-posted at Benjamin the Scribe) 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, Part 3 are here.)
As before, the absolute best and easiest thing you can do to increase the quality and frequency of your Bible study is to 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. (If the idea of reading a non-KJV application bothers you, see my Religious Educator article at the bottom, which includes Apostolic examples of non-KJV Bible use in The Ensign and General Conference.)
- 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. I prefer the notes in the Harper.
- 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, as the notes are selectively biased. The translation without extensive notes is fine, however.
- 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, as evidenced by the picture of my shelf.)
- 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 translation 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. )
- If you want to know why the NRSV says one thing and the KJV reads differently, this is the resource to turn to.
- 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).
Things on the KJV, How We Got the (English) Bible, LDS and the Bible
- 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.
May be relevant to mention that the “Gospel Library” collection is officially produced by the Church, and is free for downloading in a number of formats. It contains the King James Version of the Bible. Inspired revisions from Joseph Smith are included.
If you’re worried about the Church’s view about other translations, go look at the General Authority statements and positive usages (quoting other translations in General Conference and the Ensign) here.
Also, when I taught Honors New Testament at BYU, I and other professors required students to read a different translation, and the BYU bookstore put in a bulk order of non-KJV translations for the class.
The KJV is our official Bible, but it need not be our only Bible.
Another good volume that is online from the Religious Studies Center is “How the New Testament Came to Be,” which covers textual criticism, translation history, and other topics covered above.
Ben, I loved your OT list year and appreciate this NT list.
I was hoping for (maybe I missed it) for some books that might give historical, cultural, and socio-political background for the times of the NT.
Also, I’ve loved Kugel’s and Brettler’s How to Read the Bible (which covered sections almost like the LDS OT manual). Are you aware of any books like those for the NT?
JMS, thanks for the link!
WPME- I’ve got a whole list of those, coming in the next post. I think we’ll end up with 3 posts total. The closest thing to BRettler for the New Testament I’m aware of is McKenzie’s How to Read the Bible, which includes the New Testament. McKenzie is a bit more cynical than I like, but I’m simply not aware of anything else that quite covers the area. My New Testament bibliographic-fu is not as strong as my Old Testament-fu.
Not discounting the interest of alternative texts. Just wanting to be clear about the context. With the Church publications available to me, including scriptures, magazines, and Conference talks, I could keep busy studying for many years.
The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations.
Doctrinal “accuracy” (which is a moving target) is not the goal here. Rather, many people would actually like to understand what they read in the Bible, which means learning ancient languages ( fun, but quite difficult), mastering a mixed archaic dialect of English (also quite difficult) or using a translation that is not 600 years old (easy). In my lengthy teaching experience, LDS who begin using a different translation discover a love for the Bible and study it much more, increasing their total time studying instead of distracting from studying other things. It’s not a zero-sum game, and there are few downsides.
Moreover, knowing the Bible and its contents well are a major way of building bridges or doing missionary work with others who know the Bible well. Using the KJV alone inhibits that.
I’m going to put in a plug for the New Jerusalem Bible, which I use as my standard NT. Outside of the US it’s the most commonly used English version among Catholics, and one can access it online (though I’m one of those old codgers who insists on holding a book). My preference is mostly aesthetic rather than theological — I appreciate the beauty of its language which remains in a high register without being incomprehensible.
Ben S., I’d love your thoughts if you have any experience with this translation.
Great stuff. And I was wondering what David Stern has been doing with himself since retiring as NBA Commissioner…
James- I own a copy (well, several) in Bibleworks, but have not used it much and can offer no opinion. Provided that it’s now based upon the actual Greek and Hebrew texts instead of the Vulgate like it used to be, I have no objections to it in particular. I’m not trying to convince people to abandon the KJV for Version X as much as begin consulting multiple, and understanding what’s behind the text. Ideally, I don’t want anyone wedded to any single version.
Also, it’s easier to order off a smaller menu than a huge one, so I limit my suggestions. It’s not so much that I’ve evaluated all 500 English versions to focus on these 2 or 3 as much as these are good, so I’m limiting my suggestions there. As Elder Carmack said (paraphrasing), any translation responsibly made can serve our purposes.
Ben….just wanted to say Thanks for doing this. Appreciate you sharing your talents, skills, and craft with us. I’m extremely grateful to you.
As I’ve noted in previous comments, I thoroughly enjoyed Dale Martin’s “New Testament History and Literature,” which is part of the Open Yale Courses series: http://www.amazon.com/Testament-History-Literature-Open-Courses/dp/0300180853/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413124334&sr=1-8&keywords=yale+course+series
It provides an excellent overview of the origins of the New Testament. It’s a nice place to start if you are new to the field.
I think whatever Bible one uses…the important thing is to remember to pull the gospel out of the text…and not just the text off of the page.
Then we see the Bible as a gracious message for sinners…and not an instruction manual for a holy life.
Any thoughts on the NKJV?
It may be a necessary transitional Bible for some. But I think it captures the worst of both worlds. It changes the archaic things that are easiest to master (archaic pronouns), but otherwise is still based on very late manuscripts, and translated into a language that is 600 years old.
Joshua- Thanks for the feedback, it’s much appreciated.
OldAdam- Indeed. Exegesis never converted anyone.
Ben. Your shelf looks a lot like mine (for Bible translations). I have also found the Revised English Bible (1989–jointly published by Oxford and Cambridge) to be very helpful as well. As for translations, I presume that you’re not including those of the Anchor Bible or Hermeneia (among others) as well as those in the BYU New Testament Commentary. In a future part, I imagine that commentaries (including those containing translations) will be included.
Those are just my paper Bibles, Terry! I have access to many many others via Bibleworks. And yes, I’ll be talking about commentaries a bit in an upcoming post.
Ben – Do you have any recommendations on apps?
JT- For actual computers, the big 3 are Bibleworks, Logos, and Accordance. I wrote a BW vs. Logos post a few years ago, and the generalities about each program still hold.
Both Logos and Accordance have smartphone apps, but I’ve only used Logos.
I believe the NET Bible has an app, as does the Faithlife Study Bible (which is part of Logos)… but I haven’t used either. Afraid I can’t be much more help.
The NET bible is on half price today for use with the free Olive Tree app.
The NETBible uses an app called “Lumina.” It’s a little clunky to get around in, but if you can handle clicking through a small handful of screens (book, then chapter, then verse), it seems to work really well.