Best Bible Translation and the Apocrypha

Based on the “Bible as authoritative source” debate:

  1. What is the best Bible translation into the English language in terms of accuracy, ease of reading, literary value, etc.?
  2. Should the Apocrypha be counted as part of the Old Testament?

The Book of Mozilla

Regarding question one, I’m reminded of the response to an order for software development: “You said you wanted it quickly, cheap, and reliable. Please choose two.”

The KJV is unquesionably a literary jewel - whatever you may think of its r4eadability to a modern reader or its scholarship, it is one of the great literary accomplishments of all time. The New English Version is touted as a modern ‘literary’ version, but I do not myself see that.

For ease of reading, the New American (Catholic), Good News Version, and New Revised Standard Version are probably the best ‘reading’ Bibles. Do, however, beware of ‘dynamic equivalence’ translations that are actually paraphrases, and avoid paraphrase versions like the ‘Living Bible’.

For study purposes the Oxford Annotated (NRSV with notes) and the New Jerusalem Bible are exceptional. I find the latter to be the best combo of ease of reading and scholarly, with the occasional excellent turn of phrase, so it’s my preferred Bible.

With regard to the deuterocanonical books (AKA “The Apocrypha”), all I can do is point you to the history of Bible usage. From its earliest days the Church, at first Greek-speaking, used the Septuagint. Some books, of course, saw more public use than others – you could go a lifetime as a loyal Christian who attended services reguilarly and took one’s faith seriously but didn’t happen to read the Bible straight through. and never run into Lamentations, Haggai, or Obadiah. By and large the deutrocanonical books were in the rarely-used category – they were present in complete codices and scroll collections but other than the longer version of Daniel and bits of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) were not often quoted in services.

The Masoretic Jewish canon corresponding to the ‘Protestant Old Testament’ was set as canon after Christianity was well established and at least half the New Testament had already been written. And the New Testament quotes the Septuagint over the Hebrew text more often than not where there is a difference in content.

So up until AD 1500 Bibles in both East and West included the deuterocanonical books, and they were used sparingly. Most but not all of the Reformers went with the Masoretic canon for the Old Testament, rejecting the deuterocanon or relegating it to a quasi-Scripture Apocrypha.

Note that the Catholic Council of Trent did not accept the complete deuiterocanon, leaving out I and II Esdras, the Prayer of Manasseh, and Psalm 151.

LOL Cat Bible
Ha. Okay, seriously, I’ve only known the New American Bible, as far as the Apocrypha, but since I’m Catholic (well, lapsed), we DO consider it part of the NT. I think the Orthodox have additional books, but I’ll have to defer to someone else’s expertise.

Unless we’re fundamentalists, we presumably agree that the Old Testament is not useful as a word-for-word accurate rendering of messages from God, but rather its usefulness is in understand the history of the Jewish people, the theological background that set the stage for the arrival of Jewish, and for some passages of incredible beauty and emotional depth. With that understood it seems to me that the obvious answer to your question is ‘yes’. The Apocrypha fills in blanks in the historical portions of the Old Testament, makes the theology more complete, and includes many worthwhile passages, especially in Sirach. The bottom line is that there’s no reason to not include the Apocryhpa, save if the publisher is trying to limit the length.

I read through the New American Bible, which is the Roman Catholic Church’s translation. (It must have been the third edition.) I am and was Protestant, but I was reading with a Catholic friend, so he preferred this translation. Also, it included the Apocrypha, which he considered part of the Bible, and most Protestant translations don’t.

It was very, very good. It was easy to read, and the footnotes and front matter to each book were all very helpful. It’s pretty ridiculous to read the prophets, for example, without any historical context, as they are from various centuries. Also, there were many times where the footnotes presented alternate translations (often with further explanation), and they definitely translated all the Hebrew puns.

Really, it doesn’t matter. If you are going to read the Bible, (and if not, who cares what a good translation is?) then read the Apocrypha. But do it knowing that (a) it was considered part of the Bible for most of early Christianity, (b) isn’t considered part of the Tanach, and © is now rejected by most Protestants, but accepted by Catholics.

Many of these things are contradictory. Ease of reading usually conflicts directly with accuracy; a freer translation is easier to understand but less precise.

The KJV is such a lovely work of art that some people claim that William Shakespeare had a hand in its composition*. It’s not a particularly scholarly work, though; there was a lot of controversy during its translation over exactly whose particular biases would be reflected in the final product. It may have been easy to read to a scholar in the 17th century, but it’s often difficult to those who aren’t used to it.

The New International Version is popular and relatively accessible. It’s probably not the most accurate, though.

As to the Apocrypha; gee, I don’t know. They’re of great interest to historians, because they’re quite long and seem to be fairly accurate. They’re also much more recent than the Canonical OT. Should religious people count them as sacred texts? There’s no hard, dividing line about that other than what the early Church fathers agreed on, but they were pretty arbitrary too.

I usually use the New Revised Standard Version for study; it’s what I was introduced to in college and I’m most familiar with it. The Oxford Annotated is really comprehensive, though the footnotes can be daunting (some pages have more footnotes than text!)

*I think this claim is sensational and bad scholarship, but it’s out there.

Regarding the King James Bible, here is a site that has that version in digital form:

Including a version that shows how the original book looked like!

I’d be okay with a bible that includes Lilith, just because Collier’s painting is hawt.

I have found The New Jerusalem Bible, and the Jewish Study Bible to the the most scholarly. Both have extensive footnotes and essays. The New American Standard Bible, which I have also read, is considered to be the most literal translation. The King James Bible is beautiful, but one should read at least one modern translation first to make it easier to understand.

On the issue of the Orthodox church, yes, they have different books, different Orthodox churches have different Bibles from each other and the Catholics and Protestants, including books like I Enoch, Jasher, Jubilees, that sort of thing.

I believe the KJV originally included the Apocrypha between the two proper Testaments, which would make sense as some of those books are chronologically intertestamental. They don’t tend to be included in modern versions, though.

There are two basic ways to understand and study the bible. There is the traditional or the Fundamentalist way. Then there is what is called “the higher criticism.”

According to the Fundamentalist understanding Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. These are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Jews call these the Torah. In the New Testament, they are referred to as “the Law.”

Also, Joshua wrote the book of Joshua. Most of the Psalms were written by David. Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs, and the Song of Solomon. Isaiah wrote the book of Isiah. The gospels of Matthew and John were written by the apostles by that name. St John also wrote Revelation.

A good explanation of this perspective is Halley’s Bible Handbook, by Henry H. Halley. The New American Standard Bible is usually included with Ryrie study notes. These are written from a Fundamentalist standpoint, as as are the notes included with the Scofield Reference Bible, which is an edition of the King James Bible.

The higher criticism holds that the Torah was written by at least four people, one of whom may have been a woman. It holds that Isaiah was written by at least two people, and that the St. Matthew and St. John may have contributed to the writing of the gospels traditionally attributed to them, but that the gospels in the finished form were written by others.

The belief that Moses did not write the Torah is explained in Who Wrote the Bible, by Richard Elliott Friedman.

The study notes that go with The New Jerusalem Bible and the Jewish Study Bible are written from a higher criticism perspective.

A good explanation of the higher criticism can be found in Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, by Isaac Asimov.

The King James translation of the Apocrypha is difficult to find, but worth reading. You can probably order it from or a large book store.