I have accumulated a lot of Bibles and books of scripture (little “s”) over the years, and I thought it might be a nice break from the death and destruction of Judges (which I’m currently writing about) or 1&2 Samuel (which I’ve just finished reading) if I could take a few minutes to talk about the Bibles I treasure and the ones I actually use for daily study.
You know…something light and fun to discuss instead of rapes and wars and human sacrifices and betrayals and idolatry. Yeah, I needed a happy break–ha ha. So here it is: Amy’s Bibles and Why She Has Them and Which Ones She Studies With.
1.) I have a King James (KJV) Bible from my Baptist childhood that my stepmother gave me in elementary school. It has a burgundy leather cover with my name embossed on it in gold letters. I know it cost a lot of money, even way back in the 1980’s, and I will always treasure it. Both of my stepparents were fully “parental” to me and treated me as their own offspring. My stepmother bought me my first “big girl Bible,” and she still buys most of my shoes…I know. She is the best.
Why I Don’t Study in my KJV
Now, I love the King James Version of the Bible. I grew up with it and I admire the history of it. There are verses and passages and entire psalms that simply aren’t as beautiful in any other English translation. So don’t misunderstand me when I say that I never study in my KJV. It’s not because I don’t love it or find value in it. There are two reasons I don’t study daily in a KJV Bible. First, it’s difficult to read, and I prefer doing study in a more modern translation of English. Second, the King James Bible was commissioned in 1604 and the one we use today was an 18th-century revision of the original. We have older, more accurate source material for several books of Scripture today that were not available to the KJV translation team. The King James Bible was a monumental achievement and gift to the world. Modern translations are, too…and I prefer the modern ones.
2.) I have the missal from my Catholic childhood (pictured at the top) containing the Latin Mass, daily prayers, the litanies, and all of the Scripture recited from the pulpit throughout the liturgical year. I also have a Catholic Bible with devotionals in it for women, which contains the deuterocanonical books in addition to the accepted 66-book canon Protestants are more familiar with.
Why I don’t Study in my Catholic Bible
My personal belief about the canon status of the deuterocanonical books is still undecided. I have no ideological stake in it either way. What it boils down to is that I don’t enjoy the NRSV translation. My thoughts on the canonicity of Tobit and the Maccabees, et al is fodder for another post on another day.
3.) Sometime in 2013 or 2014, I acquired a paperback outreach copy of the English Standard (ESV) Bible from my brother’s church when I forgot to pack my own Bible for our visit. Through having that outreach copy, I discovered that I prefer the ESV to the KJV as a formal translation. I’ll talk more about that in a minute, but the reason I keep this paperback copy is my brother gave it to me and so I cannot bear to part with it. I keep everything my brother gives me for some reason, including a packet of pocket tissues he handed me one time when I had a sniffle. /shrug
4.) One of my most treasured Bibles is a very old hardcover Life Application Study Bible that I bought in the 1990’s. It is a New Living Translation (NLT), and I used it off and on and carried it with me whenever we moved and traveled until 2016.
Why I No Longer Use my Life Application Study Bible
Well, I studied in it for 20-ish years, and I came to really desire a Bible with wide margins I could write my notes in. I didn’t care for separate notebooks or Bible journals, so I got a Bible with margins in it and retired this older one. I miss the maps and the timelines and the information at the start of each book, though. One big reason I kept this Bible instead of donating it is that I find myself referring back to it pretty frequently for those reference tools. If I could fashion the “perfect Bible” for myself, it would have ruled margins, book introductions, maps, timelines, and harmonies.
5.) And then, there are the various bibles that my husband brought into our marriage from his own previous life. The largest of these is a beautiful black leather New Revised Standard Bible (NRSV) that he was given when confirmed as an Anglican/Episcopalian in his teen years.
I don’t use any of these Bibles for daily study, and I haven’t for a long time. I keep them because I cannot part with them, but I have three other Bibles that I use in my everyday reading. Each of the three is much loved and much used.
The Inspire Bible by Tyndale (NLT) – with “imitation leather” cover
Let’s start with my absolute favorite. There are pictures of this Bible and the notes I’ve taken in the margins all over this blog, and there will continue to be new ones as I go through it with you. Like my old study Bible, this one is a New Living Translation. It is not to be confused with the Living Bible from the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Living Bible was viewed much like the Message Bible is viewed today, as sort of a hippy-dippy lightweight or watered down version. The Living Bible was a paraphrase translation, and I require a little more formality in the translated language for my personal study habits and goals. I think paraphrased bibles have their own uses and niches, but my personal preference is something sturdier and more rigidly conforming to the source text.
The New Living Translation is not a paraphrase. Like many of the post-Qumran 20th-century translations, it is a literal thought-for-thought translation of the original texts, made with readability for native anglophones (English speakers) in mind. More specifically, it was written with the goal of making the text easily understood when read aloud. It was translated by a team of scholars (which should be a requirement for anyone choosing a new Bible translation in my opinion) using the Masoretic Text (the Hebrew Old Testament) and then compared with the Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint (Greek), Vulgate (Latin), Samaritan Torah, and other ancient Scripture sources for accuracy and continuity. It is a total translation accomplished by a team of scholars and thoroughly peer-reviewed. And…it’s extremely easy to read and study. I just love it.
My copy is the Inspire Bible by Tyndale (all NLT Bibles are published by Tyndale), and I bought it because it has margins in it for taking notes. It also has line art in it for coloring, and though I didn’t imagine I would ever use that part, I have discovered a real joy in coloring through it. Who knew? Amy likes to color. Anyway, it serves my purposes beautifully, and I am slowly but surely filling every page of this Bible with scribbled thoughts and questions and notes.
This is my daily Bible, and I carry it everywhere with me, read it every day, write in it every day, and color in it regularly. If you have difficulty with the KJV, ESV, or other more formal translations, give the NLT a try. It might be just the thing you were looking for. Images from the inside pages below.
The Single-Column Journaling Bible by Crossway (ESV) – “classic marbled” hardcover
This Bible is my newest purchase, and for the moment, I use it only when I wish to compare a passage in the NLT to the more formal English Standard Version.
The ESV is much more formal than the NLT. The translation team for ESV started with the Revised Standard Version (RSV), which was a famously controversial 20th-century translation done for the purpose of replacing the KJV with something easier for modern anglophones to read. It was a marvel of scholarship but the literal translations of Hebrew words like “young woman” instead of the KJV’s choice of “virgin” had many pastors and congregations screaming “heresy” and worse. There was also a great deal of controversy and uproar over gender pronouns and the removal of English words that were not present in the source text. Copies of the RSV were publicly burned, y’all, by Christians. It was mass hysteria. You have to understand that the RSV was not by any means incorrect in any of its translation choices, but the KJV bias is strong. King James has been the standard English translation in the Americas and most of Europe for more than 400 years, so when you try to come in with something new? You have to be careful about treading on fundamentalist toes.
So, here in the 21st century, the ESV team started with the same goal that the original RSV team had. They wanted a translation that modern English speakers could read with ease, and they wanted a translation with the same authority attached to it that people attach to the KJV. This time, however, they wanted to learn from the lessons of the RSV translation and avoid those pitfalls. They have gone back to the original text and worked through the translation to make it a literal, formal, word-for-word translation that was easier to read than the KJV and more palatable to American evangelicals than the RSV. I get it. They don’t want pastors burning their Bibles, and we are talking about the difference between “virgin” and “young woman” here, so it really is about semantics and splitting hairs.
I enjoy having this ESV Bible on hand because any time I have a question or wish to make a word-for-word comparison against my thought-for-thought NLT, it gets that job done for me. This edition I have purchased is a hardcover with large margins in it just like my NLT Inspire Bible. One day, when I have filled all the margins of my NLT and need to retire it in favor of a new Bible with fresh pages to write in, I will be able to start my studies in this ESV copy and experience daily study in a new translation, which always shakes things up. I have included a picture of an interior page (the one with my favorite Bible verse in it – Lev 17:11) above so that you can see the cream-colored paper stock and the wide, ruled margins. The text is quite small, so keep that in mind if you have vision difficulties when reading.
The Jewish Study Bible by Oxford University Press (JPS Tanakh) – hardcover
I bought this Bible after hearing it recommended by two different bible teachers in podcasts and sermons. It contains only the Old Testament, of course (that’s what Tanakh means), but I have found it indispensable for the thorough Hebrew scholars’ commentary throughout. It is a Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation of the Masoretic Text, which is considered the standard amongst English-speaking Jewish scholars. The slight differences between the Masoretic and Septuagint/Vulgate sources make for interesting word studies and comparisons, but it also brings tremendous comfort and confidence to see that the kinds of differences you find are nuances rather than significant departures in meaning. Scripture has not changed over the millennia and it has not been degraded or watered down. Not at all. That is a statistical miracle all by itself, and it should be something that all Christians and Jews take comfort in and reinforce their faith by. I love having this Bible for assistance with Old Testament study. I have included a photo of a page below that is very typical throughout this Bible. You can see examples of commentary and maps with the generously sized font in the actual Scripture. It’s well worth the purchase price.
It’s very important for every one of us in the English-speaking world to acknowledge and appreciate the simple FACT that any translation of holy Scripture into English will be problematic.
There is no perfect translation of Ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek text into English. It has never happened, and it will never happen. It’s an impossibility. Blame the folks from Ancient Babel, if you must, but it is how it is.
We don’t all have to go out and learn three ancient languages to adequately understand Scripture, but we do have to bring humility and critical thought the text. Read it. Ask what it says–and look closely because I promise you that every word was agonized over by the translation team for a reason. Ask what these words meant to the author who wrote it. Ask who that author believed he was addressing at the time he wrote it. It matters. Avoid trying to apply anything to your own life and situations until you’ve thoroughly studied it in its own context. Understanding must come before application, and don’t be afraid to use commentaries or podcasts from bible teachers to assist your understanding.
The best English version of the Bible is the one you will actually read, so find that one and go with it. They’re all good.