You decide to buy yourself or someone else a Bible, so you run down to the nearest bookstore—but they have so many different translations, you don’t know where to begin. Here is something that might help: a list of modern translations that you are likely to find in a bookstore, with a description of their major advantages and disadvantages.
- Highly Recommended
- This translation contains a recommended New Testament and uses a new translation of the Septuagint as its Old Testament. The Septuagint was the Jewish Bible in the first-century Diaspora. When the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, it is quoting the Septuagint.
- Recommended Translation
- The translators don’t seem to have an agenda. It appears that they just want to give you an accurate translation. Any flaws appear to be honest mistakes caused by human error, by limitations in their resources, or by enthusiasm to be relevant.
- Not Recommended
- The Bibles in this category are paraphrases, not translations. As such, they are inherently misleading, regardless of the paraphrasers’ intentions. The paraphrasers might not be properly qualified, or they might be so zealous to be relevant to modern times that they misrepresent the ancient context.
Remember, this is just my opinion. The recommendations are also mine.
- Authorised Version
- English Standard Version
- Good News Bible
- Holman Christian Standard Bible
- J B Phillips New Testament
- King James Version
- New American Bible
- New American Standard Bible
- New International Version
- (New) Jerusalem Bible
- New King James Bible
- New Living Translation
- (New) Revised Standard Version
- Today’s English Version
- Today’s New International Version
- Common English Bible Not Recommended
- The Jefferson Bible For Historical Studies Only
- The Living Bible Not Recommended for Any Purpose
- The Message Not Recommended
Questions and Issues
- What exactly is a “standard” Bible?
- Which translation does Ken use?
- The disadvantage of inclusive-language expressions
You can read about how to develop a good Bible reading plan .
The Common English Bible
The Common English Bible poses as a translation but it is really a paraphrase. It is supposed to reflect changes in our culture, language, and worship. From reading their material, I get the impression that the translators essentially crowd-sourced the final wording. It gives more weight to what modern people want to hear than to what the biblical writers wanted to say. I’m going into greater detail here, because Cokesbury switched their Word Alive bulletin inserts to the CEB without warning and without giving subscribers an alternative. Cokesbury has received a number of complaints and cancellations from clergy. Many people are going to encounter this “translation” for the first time not in a bookstore, but in church, which is an environment that confers more accuracy and authority on it than it actually has. For that reason, I have to write in stronger terms.
- Disadvantages of the Common English Bible
The Common English Bible is sold as a translation, when in reality, it is a paraphrase.
The Common English Bible de-emphasizes the legal, cultural, social, political, and economic context of the Bible in favor of our contemporary values and settings. It’s like someone took bits and scraps from our contemporary culture and pasted it together into something that resembles the Bible.
The Common English Bible often broadens the meaning of the text to fit a contemporary context, even when the contemporary context is quite different from the biblical context. Here’s a somewhat lengthy example.
In the ancient world, there was no way to know that a man could be sterile. If a woman was barren, they always assumed that it was the woman who had the problem. The ancient world was filled with fertility cults. (The cult of Artemis in Ephesus mentioned in Acts 19 is one of them.) Their temples were filled with priests and priestesses who had sex with the worshippers as a religious rite. A barren woman might go to the fertility cult’s temple, have sex with a male prostitute-priest, and give birth to a child because her husband was sterile, but the priest was not. That appeared to be a miracle and it appeared to validate the cult. People were also in the habit of using the fertility cults for recreation, and since pagan religions did not teach any kind of morality, no one saw a problem with that.
Christianity and Judaism were the only religions in the ancient world that combined spirituality and morality, but because Jews and Christians were a small minority, they didn’t have much impact on society other than to intrigue intellectuals with this idea.
Because Corinth was on an isthmus and had two ports, one on either side of the city, people of all ethnicities passed through, so Corinth was up to the ears in pagan temples to various gods. A major problem of the ancient church was getting catechumens to understand the novel idea of combining morality and religion and to stop using the “services” of the pagan temples. This problem was particularly acute in Corinth. This is the topic of 1 Corinthians 6. The Greek text of 1 Corinthians 6:16 uses the word “πορνη,” which the Septuagint uses for a pagan prostitute-priest. Since the ancient church used the Septuagint as its Old Testament and had problems stemming from cult prostitutes, πορνη most likely had the same meaning in the New Testament and the first-century church. (See the review of the Orthodox Study Bible for a discussion about the Septuagint.) Why would there be prostitutes of the modern type, when it was easy enough to get a job at a pagan temple? The New Revised Standard Version and other responsible translations broaden the meaning of “πορνη” a little and render it in English as “prostitute” because it is a one-word translation and because it is possible that "πορνη" had acquired a broader meaning by that time. Using the word “prostitute” does not undermine Bible instructors who want to teach their class about the religious environment that surrounded the Corinthian church and the religious temptations that beset its members.
Now you understand why it is irresponsible for the Common English Bible to paraphrase “πορνη” as “someone who sleeps around.” It does not tell us about the ancient world in contemporary terms; instead, it completely removes the ancient world and replaces it with the contemporary world. I think that Paul would agree with this paraphrase, but it’s not what he said and it’s not the issue he was addressing, and readers of the Common English Bible will never be able to detect it. This sort of editorializing makes it much harder to learn about the first-century context of the New Testament, because if people don’t see it, they won’t be moved to study it.
The Common English Bible also avoids the vocabulary of the church! For example, instead of saying that John baptized people for repentance, it says he was “calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives.” Even though that’s pretty long-winded, it is an accurate explanation of John’s baptism—but it’s still an explanation, not a translation. The word “repentance,” which is a very important term in historic Christian theology and worship, is entirely missing, creating a disconnect between the Common English Bible and what we say in worship. Misrepresenting a paraphrase as a translation is dishonest, it makes 2,000 years of Christian legacy and history inaccessible to us, and it makes most reference books unnecessarily inscrutable.
- Advantages of the Common English Bible
- The Common English Bible is an easy read, if you don’t mind pretending that Biblical events took place last week and you don’t need to know the meanings of the words in Christian history or the modern church. It's also very good for people who want everything in the Bible to deal with their own issues and sensitivities. Not much of an advantage at all.
The English Standard Version
The English Standard Version uses the same scholarship, texts, and techniques as most other modern translations. It was translated by a group of scholars representing a diverse group of denominations, most of which are conservative on social and political issues. It is published by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, which is not affiliated with any denomination or Bible society. This translation has an enthusiastic following among some of the readers of my website, but I don’t find it particularly compelling. (The term standard in the name can give you the wrong impression.)
The English Standard Version is appropriately called a standard version. The translators got permission from the National Council of Churches to make a revision of the 1971 edition of the Revised Standard Version, which itself is an authorized revision of the King James Version, which was the standard version for the Church of England.
- Disadvantages of the English Standard Version
- The English Standard Version uses archaic constructions to produce a text that sounds more literal than it really is. For example, Hosea 9:1 in the English Standard Version reads, “Rejoice not, O Israel” where the equally conservative Holman Christian Standard Bible reads, “Israel, do not rejoice.” The translations are equally literal. Perhaps I should say, “Write not archaic language, O translators!” So this translation only makes it halfway into modern English. Genesis 12:1 reads, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house,” which seems more literal that the same passage in the New International Version, which says, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household”; however in this case, the NIV is actually more literal, because no one seems to have “kindred” these days, and in modern usage, “leaving your father’s house” implies that you are living in your father’s spare bedroom or basement, which is not what the ancient text means. Most Bible translations cannot resist finding their viewpoints on contemporary social issues in the ancient text. The ESV is not an exception. It is just as circumspect of conservative sensitivities as the New Revised Standard Version is of feminist concerns. In other words, I find as much to dislike in the ESV as in the NRSV, but for opposite reasons.
- Advantages of the English Standard Version
- The translators use the best texts, scholarship, and techniques that are available to modern translators. They attempted to be as literal as possible, while still producing a clear English text. They do not render Greek gender-specific words as generic or plural English words, which means that passages such as Hebrews 2 have the same meaning for the modern reader as they do for the ancient reader. The text sounds dignified and biblical. If you consider yourself socially conservative, nothing in this Bible will cause offense.
The Good News Bible
The Good News Bible is a project of the American Bible Society to render the Bible in a form that unchurched people can understand. It is also called Today’s English Version.
- Disadvantages of the Good News Bible
- For people who attend church regularly and are familiar with the Bible, the fact that the Good News Bible does not use traditional religious vocabulary is a disadvantage. Since clarity is the overriding goal of this translation, it often seems to be inaccurate when compared to other translations, but it is in fact an accurate translation.
- Advantages of the Good News Bible
- The Good News Bible is written at a very low grade level and is consequently very easy to understand. It is excellent as story book. In fact, you can read the Old Testament from Genesis to 2 Kings as if it were a novel.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible
Since all Bible translations that contain the New Testament are Christian by definition, the odd inclusion of the word “Christian” in this translation’s name seems either to be redundant or to imply that the other translations aren’t truly Christian! However, the name does make sense if you know that Holman Bible Publishers is indirectly owned by the Southern Baptist Convention. Modern fundamentalists refer to themselves as evangelicals and often use the word Christian as an exclusive term to refer to themselves. However, this is not a Southern Baptist translation, or even a fundamentalist translation. The translators represent a large number of denominations. They used the latest technology, the best methods, and the best of contemporary textual criticism in their work. I think their respect for the biblical text keeps them on the straight-and-narrow, making this a solid translation for all Christians. (The term standard in the name can give you the wrong impression.)
- Disadvantages of the Holman Christian Standard Bible
- I haven’t found any significant disadvantages to this translation yet, but if and when I do, I’ll add them here. However, one does bear mentioning. Most modern Bible translations avoid capitalizing pronouns that appear to refer to the deity to avoid forcing an interpretation on the reader. Despite that, this translation follows the traditional practice of capitalizing third-person pronouns that refer to the deity—but they go beyond that and capitalize first- and second-person pronouns too, which doesn’t seem to add anything but visual clutter.
- Advantages of the Holman Christian Standard Bible
- On the whole, this is an excellent translation suitable for casual Bible reading, serious study, and for use in public worship. The translators stayed in the middle ground between word-for-word (‘literal’) and thought-for-thought (‘dynamic equivalent’) translation techniques. While they do not use masculine terms where the Greek is gender-inclusive, they also do not change Greek gender-specific terms into English generic terms, nor do they pluralize singular forms. This means that passages whose meanings are often distorted in ‘inclusive-language’ paraphrastic expressions, such as Hebrews 2, still have their original meaning. (See Slavery and Sonship for more in-depth information on how inclusive language can go awry.)
The Jefferson Bible
—For Historical Studies Only—
Thomas Jefferson was a governor of Virginia and later a president of the United States. He wrote the American Declaration of Independence and Virginia’s Statute of Religious Liberty, which became the model for the religious provisions in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Almost everyone knows that, but few people know that he issued his own version of the New Testament gospels. It is currently in print and is available in the gift shop at Monticello, his residence—which is where I got my copy.
- Disadvantages of the Jefferson Bible
The “Jefferson Bible” is not a complete Bible. It only contains a redacted harmony of the gospels. It is not usable for study or devotion, but it gives interesting insights into the religious convictions of the American Founding Fathers.
Thomas Jefferson, like Benjamin Franklin, was a Deist. His contemporaries often denounced him as an infidel (non-believer) or an atheist. Jefferson created the Jefferson Bible to demonstrate that removing the miracles and claims of Jesus’ divinity from the New Testament would produce a coherent document on morals and ethics. He did not use it to attack anyone’s beliefs or to start a sect.
Deism was an 18th century school of thought that believed in a god who created the universe, but took no interest in it afterwards. Hence Deists did not believe in divine intervention, miracles, or supernatural revelation, the divinity of Christ, or the Holy Trinity. When Franklin said, “God helps those who help themselves,” he meant that if you want miracles, you have to make your own. The founding documents of the United States refer to God frequently, but only as creator. They say that God gave us inalienable rights when we were created, but do not describe the American Revolution as the result of divine intervention.
Thus the Jefferson Bible is a harmony of the gospels, but all miracles have been removed as well as any passages that refer to Jesus’ divinity.
- Advantages of the Jefferson Bible
- The Jefferson Bible gives insight into Thomas Jefferson’s religious convictions as well as the intellectual climate of the 18th century in which the American Revolution occurred.
J. B. Phillips
J. B. Phillips, an Anglican clergyman, first began paraphrasing the epistles of the New Testament into modern English for his church’s youth group, which met in bomb shelters during air raids in World War II. He eventually completed the entire New Testament, and later revised it into a true translation. Consequently, this version contains only the New Testament.
- Disadvantages of the J. B. Phillips New Testament
- Many editions of the J. B. Phillips New Testament lack verse numbers. The wording is significantly different from other translations. Earlier editions are too British for Americans—for example, the phrase, “the whole assembly was at sixes and sevens” in Acts 19 is a puzzle to Americans.
- Advantages of the J. B. Phillips New Testament
- The J. B. Phillips New Testament gives unique and accurate insights into the New Testament.
The King James Version (Authorised Version)
The King James Version was an academic tour-de-force in 1611, at which time it was a hotly denounced modern translation. In some quarters today it is the only acceptable translation, even though the translators in 1611 explicitly stated that they looked forward to future scholarship to correct whatever errors they may have made.
The King James Version originated when a group of Puritans presented King James with a petition requesting reforms in the Church of England. Since the petition had a thousand signatures, it was called the Millenary Petition. This led to the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 during which one of the Puritan leaders proposed a new translation of the Bible, with the rationale that most of the existing English Bibles had serious imperfections. The king readily agreed and assembled the brightest and best Bible scholars in England to undertake the project. They were dismayed at first when the king announced he would personally manage the project, but they were pleasantly surprised when it turned out that he had an excellent background in the subject. The resulting translation was made mandatory for the Church of England over many protests from the clergy. Because books were extremely expensive in those days, well out of the reach of the common person, the law also required every church to keep a copy on display 24 hours a day, so that ordinary people could come in and read the Bible at any time. The Bibles were generally chained to the reading desks to prevent them from being stolen when no one was around. The cost of replacing a stolen Bible in those days could easily bankrupt a local parish.
It isn’t generally known that the translators continued to issue corrections to the King James Version for several decades after 1611. Outside of the United Kingdom, the King James Version is in the public domain, so there is no standard text. Different printers standardize on different versions. Of course, the printers revise the spelling, punctuation, and capitalization to conform more or less to modern standards, because otherwise you would not be able to read it.
- Disadvantages of the King James Version
- The King James Version is almost incomprehensible to anyone who has not been brought up on it. For example, the word comfort means strengthen, suffer means let, let means prevent, and prevent means precede. Changes in the English language over the last 400 years have made some verses completely incomprehensible or misleading; for example, Psalm 5:6, 1 Kings 11:1, and Ezekiel 27:25. The textual scholarship underlying the King James Version has been superseded in the last two centuries. Most US editions do not include the Apocrypha, the translator’s footnotes, or the translator’s preface, all of which were part of the original edition. Many US editions contain the epistle dedicatory, which was the translators’ cover letter presenting it to the king.
- Advantages of the King James Version
- In current printings, publishers have updated the spelling and punctuation, which makes the text readable by people today. For people who were brought up on it, this is an excellent translation. For newcomers to the Bible, it is a puzzle. It is suitable for study as long as you are familiar with the language. It is widely known and available, and very inexpensive. The copyright is still valid in the United Kingdom, but in the United States and elsewhere it is in the public domain. The King James Version makes a distinction between the second person singular (thou, thee, thy, thine) and the second person plural (ye, you, your, yours) which is not easy in modern English. If you think that ‘thou’ and ‘you’ are synonyms, or get ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ mixed up, or don’t understand the difference between ‘ye’ and ‘you,’ this is not an advantage.
The Living Bible
—Not Recommended for Any Purpose Whatsoever—
The Living Bible is the work of Kenneth N. Taylor, who in 1954 began paraphrasing the King James Version for use in family devotions. The first complete Living Bible appeared in 1970. It has been revised many times and appears in many different versions.
- Disadvantages of the Living Bible
The Living Bible mixes the author’s interpretations with text, making objective study impossible unless you agree with Kenneth N. Taylor’s views. It is strongly tendentious, as the author often inserts wording that has no basis whatsoever in the original text in order to conform it to fundamentalist viewpoints on end-times, sexuality, politics, and social policy. (For example, compare Jude 7 in the Living Bible with Jude 7 in the King James Version and notice how much extra text he inserted.) Depending on your views, you may see the Living Bible as clarifying the meaning that is already present in the text or as imputing meaning into the text that is not there. Essentially, the Living Bible does the interpreting for you. Even some fundamentalists find it controversial.
I had a classmate in seminary who innocently brought the Living Bible into the Old Testament class. The professor exploded.
- Advantages of the Living Bible
- The Living Bible is easy to read and it makes a good story book. Many editions explain the nature and purpose of the paraphrase. It's also good for propping up wobbly tables.
The Message, like the Living Bible , is a paraphrase rather than a translation. The difference is that The Message is very recent and that Eugene Peterson, the paraphraser, worked from the original languages. Eugene Peterson has taught biblical languages on the post-graduate level and is a respected theologian with pastoral experience. Like J. B. Phillips, he is well qualified to undertake a paraphrase, though whether he did a good job of it is up for discussion.
- Disadvantages of The Message
- The Message is not suited for serious Bible study since a paraphrase, by nature, obscures terminology and some implications of the text. The wording is a bit repetitious. (I get the impression that “moreover” is Mr. Peterson’s favorite word!) There is some controversy about the implied theology. Some of the wording is, to be charitable, very unfortunate. Peterson’s version of the Lord’s Prayer contains the phrase, “as above, so below.” The literal meaning of the words is correct, but that exact phrase is used in witchcraft abd astrology, neither of which belongs in this context. The reader might even take it as an endorsement of those practices. Many of the parables, phrases, and word choices are overly contemporary, thus not true to their historical context.
- Advantages of The Message
- The Message is easy to read and understand, though the reader might be “understanding” things that are not really in the New Testament. It might be an easy way to introduce someone to the Bible who’s never read it before, but I wouldn’t let them read it more than once. If you use a true translation for serious study, reflection, and devotion, you might get so engrossed in the details that you can’t see the glorious panorama. The Message might be a way of standing back to take in the whole panorama, as long as your serious studies prevent you from slipping into error.
The New American Bible
The New American Bible is principally a lay-oriented Roman Catholic Bible translation, although some non-Catholic scholars were involved. It is primarily the outgrowth of an encyclical by Pope Pius XII (Divino afflante Spiritu) which encouraged Bible-reading among Roman Catholics.
- Disadvantages of the New American Bible
- The New American Bible is not as good as the Jerusalem Bible for serious study. The notes have a distinct Roman Catholic flavor, which can be a disadvantage for people who are not Roman Catholics.
- Advantages of the New American Bible
- This is a very good Bible for the lay Catholic. The notes have a distinct Roman Catholic flavor, which can be an advantage for Roman Catholics or for people who are not Roman Catholics themselves, but wish to inform themselves about the position of the Roman Catholic church on specific passages.
The New American Standard Bible
The New American Standard Bible was the project of the Lockman Foundation, which sought to produce an accurate, readable translation. The translators came from a wide variety of evangelical backgrounds. (The term standard in the name can give you the wrong impression.)
- Disadvantages of the New American Standard Bible
- The New American Standard Bible does not lend itself well to reading out loud to an audience. The drive for accuracy led to some peculiarities in the renderings. There is occasional emphasis on relatively minor grammatical points.
- Advantages of the New American Standard Bible
- Excellent for serious study, very accurate. The current edition that you find in bookstores has been updated for improved readability.
The New International Version
Early vesrions: Good Translation
Later versions: with inclusive-language paraphrastic expressions
The New International Version is the product of evangelical scholars from a wide variety of church backgrounds under the auspices of the New York Bible Society International.
- Disadvantages of the New International Version
- The New International Version has a slight premillennial tinge. For example, the Greek word θλιψις is only translated as tribulation in contexts that fit premillennialism. However, that is not much of an obstacle. A Lutheran publishing house even issued a study Bible based on the New International Version, even though for the last 400 years Lutherans have considered any form of millennialism to be a heresy. The New International Version has a number of innovative renderings here and there. For example, a single Hebrew word is rendered valley, gorge, river, ravine, or brook in different passages.
- Advantages of the New International Version
- The New International Version is an excellent translation into very good contemporary English, very suitable for study and reading out loud. It is a good translation for scholarly study, because it is one of the two translations in the most scholarly Bible commentary, The Interpreter’s Bible. The word international in the name means that the translators took pains to make sure that their work would be usable in any English-speaking country on the globe, although it appears in versions with American and British spelling. The Psalms are rendered poetically.
The (New) Jerusalem Bible
The (New) Jerusalem Bible is the product of the best Bible scholarship in the Roman Catholic Church.
- Disadvantages of the (New) Jerusalem Bible
- The (New) Jerusalem Bible’s wording is often clumsy and opaque to non-scholars. This is a matter of English style rather than accuracy in translation. The notes have a distinct Roman Catholic flavor, which can be an advantage for Roman Catholics and for people who are not Roman Catholics themselves, but wish to inform themselves about the position of the Roman Catholic church on specific passages.
- Advantages of the (New) Jerusalem Bible
- The (New) Jerusalem Bible is an excellent scholarly work for serious students of the Bible, especially Roman Catholics. The notes have a distinct Roman Catholic flavor, which can be a disadvantage for people who are not Roman Catholics.
The New King James Bible
There is no real connection between the King James Version and the New King James Bible except for the name, the textual basis of the New Testament, and some similarity in the language. It was the brainchild of Sam Moore. He purchased his son a brand-new leather-bound King James Bible embossed with his name, but the boy couldn’t understand it and asked his father if he could make a Bible that he could understand. After prayer and market research, he assembled 130 scholars to undertake the translation. Sam Moore was the CEO of Thomas Nelson, the publisher of the New King James Bible.
The New Testament of the New King James Bible also appears in the Orthodox Study Bible .
- Disadvantages of the New King James Bible
- The New King James Bible sounds like a modernized King James Version, because it isn’t completely modern English. Its New Testament is based on the Greek text called the Textus Receptus, or “Received Text,” rather than the modern critical text that most modern translators use. (The Textus Receptus also underlies the New Testament of the King James Version.) If you live outside the United States, please note that King James Version is the American name for the Authorised Version.
- Advantages of the New King James Bible
- Although the New King James Bible, like all other translations, is not perfect, it is a more accurate rendering of the Greek of the Textus Receptus than the original King James Version. Since the English has been updated, it is less likely to puzzle the reader. This is an especially good translation for people with a Wesleyan or Eastern Orthodox background, or who are skeptical of modern textual criticism. The New Testament of this version was included in the Eastern Orthodox Study Bible.
The New Living Translation
The New Living Translation is a revision of the Living Bible to transform it from a paraphrase to a true translation.
- Disadvantages of the New Living Translation
- The New Living Translation still interpolates text in places that address or seem to address modern issues, but is not as excessive as the Living Bible. It is still mildly tendentious in favor of distinctively fundamentalist teachings.
- Advantages of the New Living Translation
- The New Living Translation is easy to read and it makes a good story book. It is a huge improvement over the Living Bible and it can even be used for casual study, if you supplement it with another Bible.
The (New) Revised Standard Version
RSV: Good Translation
NRSV: adds inclusive-language paraphrastic expressions
The NRSV is anathema for Eastern Orthodox Christians
The (New) Revised Standard Version is the direct descendant of the King James Version. (The term standard in the name can give you the wrong impression.)
- Disadvantages of the (New) Revised Standard Version
The initial editions of the Revised Standard Version were controversial and were too liberal for many evangelicals, but questionable renderings have been repaired in recent editions. The New Revised Standard Version still has clumsy English syntax in places and some poor word choices. For example, it uses “weep” to mean “cry” and “cry” to mean “shout.” The Psalms are not metrical and thus don’t lend themselves well to responsive or unison reading.
The translators wanted to make a universal Bible that all major Christian bodies could use by including all the Old Testament books that are canonical in the various eastern Orthodox churches, even if they are not canonical in the west. Ironically, because their attempts to be gender-inclusive lead to occasional misleading translations, the Eastern Orthodox churches have placed it under anathema. If you are Eastern Orthodox, do not use this translation.
- Advantages of the (New) Revised Standard Version
- The (New) Revised Standard Version is pretty much the standard in seminaries, and it is one of the two translations in the most scholarly Bible commentary, The Interpreter’s Bible. The New Revised Standard Version has attempted to remove spurious gender bias, but has damaged the meaning in some places. It has fewer controversial renderings than before and has excellent scholarship. It is available in an edition that contains every book that is considered canonical by any major Christian group.
The Orthodox Study Bible
The Orthodox Study Bible is unique among all the translations on this page, because its Old Testament comes from the Septuagint , not the Hebrew text. The Orthodox Study Bible contains the first translation of the Septuagint into English since the nineteenth century.
In biblical times, the city of Alexandria, in Egypt, was famous for its voluminous library, its schools, and its intellectuals. It also had the largest Jewish community in the Diaspora, that is, anywhere other than Judea. When Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to Egypt, this is most likely where they settled, so Jesus’ early education took place in the Alexandrian school system, which was the best in the Roman Empire at the time.
Since Alexandrian Jews spoke Greek, they undertook a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures about two centuries before Christ. It is called the ‘Septuagint’ because there were about seventy translators. The Septuagint was well entrenched as normative Scripture for Greek-speaking Jews by the time of the events in the New Testament. Since Galilee was a Greek-speaking territory, the Septuagint was normative Scripture in Galilean synagogues and for Jesus and His disciples. We know that because the New Testament quotes the Septuagint, not the Hebrew scriptures that we have today.
The Septuagint is more messianic than the Hebrew text, which meant that early Christians could easily mine it for proof texts to make converts. They were so effective that the rabbis standardized on the Hebrew text for the synagogue scrolls, and the Septuagint fell out of use among Jews. Many lay Christians accused the Jews of editing the Hebrew text to make it less messianic. (See Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, chapters 71-73.) This is hardly possible, because the Jews have too much respect for the text to do such a thing. The motive for this accusation was mainly emotional: Christians were under persecution because the rabbis had disowned the church as a Jewish sect, making it an illegal religion; therefore, Christians were quick to accuse the Jews. Since the switch took place in reaction to Christian use of the Septuagint, my guess is that there was more than one Hebrew text to choose from and that the rabbis chose an accurate text whose phrasing was less conducive to Christianity than the Hebrew text underlying the Septuagint.
Here is how it happened:
- the Temple in Jerusalem sent Hebrew scrolls containing the Scriptures to Jewish scholars in Alexandria.
- The Jewish scholars translated the Scriptures into Greek.
- The Septuagint became authoritative Scripture among Jews in the Diaspora. It was considered divinely inspired. Many of Jesus’ arguments presuppose the wording of the Septuagint. (John 10:34) When people checked up on Paul in the Scriptures, they were in Greek, otherwise they would not have been able to read them. (Acts 17:11)
- The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the library of Alexandria was burned down. The Hebrew scrolls in both places were destroyed.
- The rabbis gathered Hebrew scrolls from other locations to produce a new standard Hebrew text. The current Hebrew text is younger than the Septuagint and the scrolls on which it was based.
- The rabbis discontinued the use of the Septuagint in the synagogues and started using only the new Hebrew text.
The Septuagint was the canonical Old Testament of the ancient church, and has remained so in Orthodox churches to this day, which explains its presence here in the Orthodox Study Bible.
In the early fifth century, Jerome translated the Bible into Latin for western use. He switched to the Hebrew text for the Old Testament. His translation, called the Vulgate, became the standard Bible of the Roman Catholic Church until well after the Protestant Reformation. Therefore, under Jerome’s influence, Catholics and Protestants use the Hebrew Scriptures for their Old Testament. However, Jesus, the apostles, the New Testament, and the ancient Church all used the Septuagint as their Old Testament. The Septuagint is older than the Hebrew scriptures we have today.
Jerome rejected the books of the Apocrypha because he found no Hebrew sources for it. The bishop of Rome added the old Latin translation of the Apocrypha to Jerome's translation, and the result is called the Vulgate.
Even though this is a study Bible, I have included it in this list because it contains the only modern translation of the Septuagint, which is not available separately.
- Disadvantages of the Orthodox Study Bible
- The Old Testament in the Orthodox Study Bible does not match the Old Testament in any other Bible, because this is the only English-language Bible in existence that uses the Septuagint as its Old Testament. The footnotes do not represent the findings and opinions of modern western scholars, but the historical use of the texts in eastern Christian theology. If you are a seminary student, your professors may object to using it in Old Testament studies, because it is not the Hebrew text, and because the footnotes Christianize and allegorize the Old Testament text. Within the bounds of academic study, they do have a good point.
- Advantages of the The Orthodox Study Bible
- The Old Testament in the Orthodox Study Bible gives better insight into the New Testament, because it is the version that the New Testament writers read, used, and quoted. It can give depth and context to the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament and in the theology and interpretive techniques of ancient Christianity and contemporary Orthodoxy. Since Jesus, the apostles, the New Testament, and the early Church Fathers all used the Septuagint as their Old Testament, one could make the argument that the Septuagint is the canonical Old Testament for Christians.
Today’s New International Version
with inclusive-language paraphrastic expressions
This is a completely new translation that follows in the footsteps of its parent, the New International Version. It contains minor revisions and changes that all seem to be improvements, with the exceptions I’ve noted below.
- Disadvantages of Today’s New International Version
- While I am all in favor of the English translation being as gender-inclusive as the Greek (for instance, the most accurate translation of αδελφοι is ‘brothers and sisters’), most ‘inclusive-language’ versions go too far, changing gender-specific Greek words into generic or plural English words, which changes the meanings of passages such as Hebrews 2. This translation is not an exception. (See Slavery and Sonship for more in-depth information on how inclusive language can go awry.)
- Advantages of Today’s New International Version
- The text of the TNIV is eminently readable, just like its parent translation. In essence, this is an inclusive-language version of the New International Version. It has the same advantages.
Which Bible Will I Find in the Pew Rack?
It is interesting to see how the various translations are distributed among Christian bodies. There are exceptions, but the following are general tendencies in the United States.
- Roman Catholic churches use the New American Bible in worship and in instruction.
- Protestant congregations that belong to the big-name historic denominations, or whose pastors have attended big-name mainstream seminaries, generally tend to use the New Revised Standard Version.
- Protestant churches that belong to smaller denominations, or that have more conservative theological, social, or political views, generally tend to use the New International Version.
Those are the big three. Some others are as follows:
- The New King James Version is popular in Methodist, Wesleyan, and Orthodox churches.
- The New American Standard Bible is popular in independent churches that are heavily into Bible study during worship.
- Today’s English Version occasionally appears in the pew racks of churches, often those with moderate to liberal theological, social, or political views.
- The Authorised Version (the King James Version in the United States) is still the preferred Bible in some congregations. Generally they are independent or they belong to loosely organized denominations.
What Exactly Is a “Standard” Bible?
There are organizations that set the official standards for such things as weights and measures, electrical equipment, and other such things. For example, electrical devices in the United States must meet the standards of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and must be approved by Underwriters Laboratories. However, there is no organization that issues standards or tests the accuracy of Bible translations. So that brings up the question of what the word “standard” could possibly mean in the name of a Bible translation.
What we in America call the “King James Version” was authorized by the English Parliament for use in churches, which made it the “Authorised Version” and the standard for the Church of England. For that historical reason, the direct descendants of this translation have the word “standard” in their names, such as the Revised Standard Version, the English Standard Version, or the New Revised Standard Version.
The inclusion of the word “standard” in the names of the New American Standard Bible, and the Holman Christian Standard Version only means that the translators would like churches to adopt it as their standard, or it indicates that they see themselves as a better alternative to the (New) Revised Standard Version.
The word “standard” in the name of a Bible translation does not mean that the translation passed the scrutiny of some sort of Underwriters Laboratories for Bible translations, or that they are better or worse than translations without the word “standard” in their names. There is no standard Bible in the sense that there is a standard wrench. The word “standard” indicates either the history of the translation or the aspiration of the translators, nothing more.
There is a “Standard Bible Society,” but it is not a standards body that certifies translations. Rather, it is an organization that distributes and promotes the English Standard Version.
Which Translation Does Ken Use?
Occasionally I consult the New International Version, and I use the Orthodox Study Bible in sermon preparation. I use the New Revised Standard Version during worship and for Bible studies, but I supplement it with other sources when I’m studying, because it obscures a lot of distinctions in the text. I like to read the Old Testament narratives and the proverbs in the Good News Bible, but I don’t like its version of the Psalms or the Gospels. I own all of these translations and many more, and I use and recommend all of them, each for a different purpose. The only exception is the Living Bible, which I only use as an example of a Bible not to own.
If you are shopping for a Bible, this might give you an idea for how you might want to kick the tires before you buy.
The Disadvantage of Inclusive-Language Expressions
Though inclusive language is becoming more common in the most recent Bible translations, I do not recommend using an inclusive-language Bible for serious study, unless you supplement it with another Bible that does not use it. Since the original writers did not use our form of inclusive language, any inclusive expression in the translation is necessarily a paraphrase. You might misunderstand theological metaphors in the text, and you might even get the impression that the original is less inclusive than it actually is.