January 25, 2022 – Which Version of the Bible Should I Read?

I wanted to take time to answer a question that I’ve been asked before we turn back to Mark.  I spent some time unpacking this question for the first few minutes of my sermon this past Sunday as well.  

One of the questions I get asked a lot is, “Andy which version of the Bible should I read?”  My short answer is whichever one you feel most comfortable with.  

My long answer is a little more complicated. First, let’s talk about how we got the Bible. The Bible was originally written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament).  The Old Testament was then translated into Greek, which was called the Septuagint. This Greek Old Testament and New Testament were then translated into Latin, called the Latin Vulgate. This Latin text would be the foundation for the Bible for the next hundreds of years. The Latin Vulgate was then, in 1611, translated into English as the King James Bible (KJV).  

In more recent years there came a lot of modern translations with the adjective “New” attached such as the New King James Version (NKJV), New Revised Bible (NRSV), New International Bible (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT), along with other modern translations such as the English Standard Version (ESV), the Common English Bible (CEB) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) among many different translations. These modern translations do not start with the Latin Vulgate as the basis of translation, but they go back to the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. 

There are two words to understand with these original documents. First is “autograph.”  This would be Paul’s actual letter to the Corinthians or Matthew’s actual Gospel. We don’t have any autographs.  The other word is “manuscript.”  This would be a copy of that original autograph.  We have tens of thousands of manuscripts (more than 50,000).  There is NO book, religious or otherwise, from that time period with as many manuscripts as Scripture.  

These modern translations start with those manuscripts and translate them into English. So, why do different translations sound different?  Two main reasons. Translation is more of an art than a science.  

First is the method of translation. What that means is this, do they translate “word for word” or “thought  for thought.”  What this looks like is this.  Let’s look at the phrase “the love of God.”  Does that phrase mean my love for God?  Or God’s love for me?  It can mean either.  The context clues give us that meaning. A thought for through translation will translate the text with the meaning of the phrase given. That means it will be translated more smoothly and not as choppy when reading. The NIV is a translation that does that.  A word for word translates as it sounds.  It translates word for word and lets you do the work of figuring out the meaning. The NRSV and ESV are translated that way, and they do read more choppy. 

Now, neither method is right or wrong, it is simply two different methods. 

The second reason translations sound different is the intent of the translation. Certain translations such as the NLT or CEB seek to translate the text into a more modern version of English.  They desire the translation to feel like something you would read in any a modern book you may read. Other translations such as the NKJV, NRSV, or ESV are not as concerned about the modern English or how it sounds.  

Now, which version do I read?  Well, I preach from the NRSV.  The reason why is because when I move to a church, I try to preach from the text that is the most commonly used Bible in the church.  How do I figure that out?  I find out what the pew Bible of that church is.  So, here at St. Matthew’s, Ripley FUMC, Boyle, Linn, and Litton UMCs, I preached from the NSRV.  Asbury did not have a pew Bible, so I preached from the ESV, NIV, and the NLT during my time there. Coy used the NIV.  So, I’ve preached from them all. 

In my personal reading, I use primarily the NRSV, I just like the way it sounds and I like the way that it is translated.  I grew up with the King James, and when I quote the Bible off the top of my head, it will be the KJV that comes out.  To me, the NRSV “feels” like the KJV in how it sounds. 

But this is all preference.  For you, I’d encourage a variety of scriptures.  If you’d like to take one for a test drive, let me know. I’ve probably got a copy of one you could try.  Or check out the YouVersion app on your phone or tablet (https://www.youversion.com/products) or you can try the BibleGateway (https://www.biblegateway.com) on your computer. Both of these have EVERY version you’d ever want to read.  Try a variety of translations and see what works for you. 

As I mentioned my favorites are the NRSV, KJV, ESV and I like an old version that’s hard to find nowadays the New American Standard (NASB).  The first youth group I ever served (Concord Baptist Church in Pelahatchie, MS) gave me a copy of that version with a neat Hebrew/Greek tool in the back. I keep it on my desk to this day. 

Finally, let me tell you one more tool I like, the NET Bible (New English Translation) website (https://netbible.org/bible).  It is the BEST tool for understanding the Hebrew and Greek of the original text I’ve ever used and I love their study notes.  

I hope this is helpful to you.  Please reach out with any questions you have. And tomorrow is back to Mark! 

If you’d like to get each day’s daily scripture reading sent to your phone along with this reading guide, text @39110 to 81010 to sign up!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s