"So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading." (Nehemiah 8:8)The next step in effectively studying the Bible, after prayer, is to read the Bible. This might seem obvious — how can we understand the Word of God if we do not read it? — but it is amazing how many Christians will read just about anything but the Bible in an effort to understand its meaning.
Many outstanding tools and resources exist that can be extremely helpful in better understanding the Bible (we will look at some of these later in this series), but we must be certain that we are not substituting these resources for the Bible itself. There was a time in my life when I dedicated a great deal of time to reading various books about the Bible, yet I was not spending very much time actually reading the Bible. I was relying almost exclusively on the writings of others in my effort to learn what the Word of God was all about. No amount of time spent reading Christian books, listening to Gospel music, or even hearing great sermons can ever take the place of opening the Bible and reading it for ourselves.
Which Version Of The Bible To Use?
So once we have determined to read the Bible and study it, which Bible version do we use? Selecting a Bible version, or “translation“, can be a difficult and overwhelming decision, especially for a new believer or anyone unfamiliar with Scripture. How do we wade through the aisles and aisles of various volumes filling the shelves of our local Bible bookstore and determine which one is best?
Although there are a myriad of different translations available, with new versions being published all the time, every one of them can be categorized into one of three groups. Depending on the approach used in translating the original text into English, a Bible version is considered either a “word-for-word” (formal equivalence), a “thought-for-thought” (dynamic equivalence), or a combination of the two. The translator(s) has either attempted to transcribe each word individually, selecting the closest English approximation, or they have tried to capture the meaning behind each verse, sometimes paraphrasing or employing modern English colloquialisms in an effort to give the reader a similar experience to what the original audience would have had.
There are benefits and drawbacks to each approach. A “word-for-word” translation adheres more closely to the original language, but a too stringent method of maintaining formal equivalence can result in a dry, choppy, hard-to-read, syntactical mess. Conversely, a “thought-for-thought” translation is better able to use familiar literary devices in the text, creating a more fluent and readable narrative. Some dynamic equivalent versions almost read like a novel. The danger in this, obviously, is that we are left with less of what the Spirit of God has authored and more of what the translator(s) has interpreted. It becomes very easy for the original meaning of a verse to become blurred by the “meaning” the translation committee has decided upon.
When A “Though-For-Thought” Version Is Useful
The very first version of the Bible I ever read from cover to cover was a “One Year” copy I had been given of the Living Bible. The Living Bible is considered a paraphrase rather than a true translation because, rather than basing the text on original language manuscripts, the source used was another English version, the American Standard Version of 1901 (a “word-for-word” translation).Highly readable, the Living Bible, like a lot of dynamic equivalences, flows very smoothly and is arranged more like a paperback novel than a traditional Bible. Common, everyday English is used rather than unfamiliar, antiquated formal speech, creating a much more “user-friendly” experience for the average reader. For this reason, “thought-for-thought” translations and even paraphrases can be beneficial for people who might not otherwise ever read the Bible in its entirety.
The Best Choice For Serious Study
Nevertheless, the best Bible versions, unquestionably, for serious Bible study are,”word-for-word” translations. Ideally, the most reliable manuscripts in the original languages would be the very best copies of Scripture for in-depth study, but since this is impractical for most of us, we should attempt to find the next best thing. If we are interested in having a translation that most closely reflects the exact words that the human writers of Scripture first recorded, then a “word-for-word” version is absolutely invaluable.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (2 Timothy 3:16)
If we truly believe that the Spirit of God is the Author of Scripture, that the Bible is a “God-breathed” document, then it follows that not just the ideas and thoughts recorded in Scripture are inspired, but the very words themselves. Theologians refer to this as the “plenary inspiration of Scripture”: that the Holy Spirit moved upon the hearts of the Bible writers to choose the exact words that they wrote. In light of this, it seems imperative to use a Bible version that gives the closest English approximation of those inspired words during our in-depth study of the Bible. Commentary and editorializing can be beneficial, but the most effective study must include examining God’s Message to us in a form with the least alterations.
A Literal Translation?
There are some Bible translations that have gone a step further in their pursuit for a pure “word-for-word” version. In 1862, Robert Young, author of the excellent “Young’s Analytical Concordance“, published a Literal translation of the Bible. As the name suggests, no attention or priority was given to the natural flow of the text or the book’s readability; rather each word in the original was transcribed into English using the most exact and literal term possible. Other more recent literal translations have also been compiled by other translators.
While reading one of these literal versions straight through will definitely not provide the most enjoyable and absorbing reading experience (I wouldn’t recommend making Young’s Literal your primary Bible!), they can prove excellent resources for better understanding the text in the same manner the native speakers to whom the Scriptures were addressed understood it. Nuances and distinctions in the original tongues, otherwise lost in translation, are often better preserved when we see the specific intended meaning of the term used. For all of us who are not experts in Greek and Hebrew, literal translations can be a wonderful Bible study tool.
My Case For The KJVFinally, let me state that I personally prefer the Authorized, King James Version and allow me to explain why:
1.) It Is A Faithful, “Word-For-Word” Translation
Using the most reliable original language manuscripts available, the KJV is based on the “Textus Receptus“, the preferred source documents used for nearly all of the Bible translations coming from the Reformation era. Among the oldest known and most complete manuscripts, the Textus Receptus is well-respected and trusted by many scholars.
Although the poetic and often beautiful Elizabethan language of the KJV might lead us to believe otherwise, no distortion of the original was made in an effort to increase fluency. Nothing was added, nothing was left out.
The work of some 47 scholars, the King James Version was translated without the doctrinal and theological bias present in some Bible versions compiled by a few or even a single individual. This is another advantage of “word-for-word” translations in that they disallow the flexibility to corrupt the text with personal interpretation. Especially when nearly four dozen different scholars comprise the translation committee, it becomes nearly impossible to interject one’s own personal beliefs and interpretations — an all too easy temptation reflected in many of the versions put out by one person or one denomination.
2.) It’s Language Is Elegant
“The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,” (Acts 1:1) “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,” (Hebrews 1:1)
Maybe it’s my affinity for the works of Shakespeare, maybe it’s my penchant for the poetic, but verses like these just seem to roll off the tongue in such an elegant fashion. OK, I realize that we don’t use words like treatise and sundry anymore (although these terms would be a most welcome reintegration into an English language that has been progressively mutilated by a world bereft of any interest in proper diction or diverse vocabulary), but isn’t this a much more captivating and interesting manner to express these ideas compared with the more mundane terminology of many of the modern translations?
Some people complain of the difficulty in fully understanding some of the archaic and extinct terminology found in the KJV, but to me, this is actually an advantage. It forces us to read the narrative slowly, thoughtfully, consulting dictionaries and other references when perusing the Word of God, whereas a translation that employs only language we are overly familiar with can lead to that sort of detached skimming conducive to wandering and inattentive thoughts; a condition that all of us have experienced when we attempt to read our favorite fiction writers right before bedtime.Additionally, reading the KJV forces me to more carefully consider which words in each verse are stressed above others, a determination already made by many modern translators and subsequently spoon-fed to the reader. I have read verses in other translations that are written in such a manner that, to me, it does not really say the same thing at all. Even though the words might be very similar, the changes in focus seem to alter the message.
3.) It Is Familiar
This reason is, admittedly, a biased and subjective one, but I prefer the KJV because it is the version I grew up with. My Grandfather preached from the KJV, my ancestors all read the KJV, all Bible verses quoted to me as a child and young man were from the KJV. The KJV is the Bible version I am most familiar with, the version I know best. I like some of the more recent translations, but they just don’t sound the same to me.
For much of the past four centuries, the King James Version has been the Bible used by most English-speaking Protestants. When I read the works of the great minds of Evangelical tradition, from Spurgeon to Moody, I know that they used the KJV and it was the KJV to which they referred in their sermons and writings.
4.) It Is Public Domain
I use the KJV almost exclusively on this website because it is a “Public Domain” document, free from copyright restrictions. The Word of God was given to all people, for use by all people. There are some very good translations out there, but it just feels strange to me to be compelled to put copyright warnings on the Word of God! I understand the reasons why various Bible publishers must protect the integrity of their works, but to limit a person’s access to Scripture through copyright restrictions seems weird. I know that, by the time I finish going through the entire Bible on this website, Lord willing, I will have included far more than the standard number of quoted verses allowed by most copyright permissions. I need a public domain version from which to quote freely.
I do not believe that the King James Version is a “perfect” translation of the Holy Bible, but it is my personally preferred one. I am by no means “King James Only”, I believe that there are other fine versions available and I recognize that, for whatever reasons, there are those who find those translations more accessible. I have not read the version in its entirety, but from what I have seen of the English Standard Version (ESV), I believe it to be an extraordinary translation. Using the same approach and translation philosophy as the KJV, the ESV is a faithful, “word-for-word” that appears true to the original. I think that the translators also captured a great deal of the majesty and beauty of Scripture without sacrificing accuracy.
Other versions such as the NASB, the CEV, and the NKJV are all excellent Bible translations. I also like the Amplified Bible because it gives the reader a more thorough insight into all the possible nuances of meaning present in many of the original language terms.
Whatever version you select for personal or group Bible study, I would recommend that you use one with the greatest degree of accuracy and reliability first and foremost, and then consider which version has the greatest readability for you personally. When studying the Bible, we are attempting to break down the text into its various parts, put them “under the microscope” for examination, and walk away from our study time with a better understanding of our Lord’s Message to us. A Bible version that seeks to just give us the gist of the verses will certainly not suffice for serious study.
Fortunately, there are also very many valuable extra-Biblical resources available which make Bible study much more rewarding. Lord willing, we will look at some of those next time.Until then, may the Lord bless you in your own investigations of His wonderful Word! To God goes all glory. In service to Him,Loren