Bible 101 - differences between versions

Mods: Please feel free to move this to GD or wherever else it may be appropriate. I’m not looking for a debate, just a factual answer, if there is one.

I need to read the Bible for school this year - basically, in an all-discussion philosophy class, as part of the great books program (threadwhere I explain it a bit more). I was raised Jewish, sent to an after-school Hebrew School for about ten years, and spent most of that time getting my rabbis pissed off and hating organized religion more and more. I know the very basics of both Judaism and Christianity, but that’s pretty much it. (I just realized last month that the old testament does, in fact, include more than just the first five books).

So I went out bible-shopping today, and finally settled on the Tanakah (Jewish Bible) and the King James Version. But there are a few more versions out there - could someone give me a summary of the main differences between them? I’m especially intrigued by the existance of a “New King James” version: what’s new about it? Why did they change it but keep the name?

Another random but related topic: What exactly is the Haftorah in Judaism? I realized that six years ago, I freakin’ memorized something from it and chanted it in front of a full synagogue, and have no idea what it is.

Also, while I’m at it (last question for now, I swear): Are bibles often given as gifts to mark special occasions? I noticed that practically all of them have a page in front: “Presented to _______, by ________.” What’s that about?

There are indeed several different versions of the Bible. The book itself is a compilation of writings by many different people over long periods of time, in various languages. Obviously when this is translated into English or some other language, the exact words used will depend on who is doing the translations. Thus the various versions.

My favorites are the King James, for its beautiful language, and the New English Bible, for its easily understandable 20th century prose. The former was written at about the time of Shakespeare and is difficult for many people today to really understand. So which one to choose depends on what you’re looking for.

I can’t answer your questions about the Jewish texts.

Yes, Bibles are often given as gifts, especially on special occasions like a Christian child’s first communion, confirmation, or when he/she officially joins a particular Protestant church. Obviously the occasions and customs vary considerably from one church to another.

The thread Recommend me a Bible was originally posted in IMHO, but it was seeking opinions. In the course of the discussion, of course, the various posters tended to answer your question, so a link to that thread might leave this thread safely in GQ.

A similar thread in Cafe Society was Recommend a good Bible translation for me and a shorter one in Great Debates was Which bible version should I study??, while a request for a translation “untainted” by theology was sought in the CS thread, Academic Bible (the consensus was that there were none).
What are the common or “standard” Bible versions around the world? brought some interesting replies.
about the different versions of the bible suffered some polemical hijacks, but brought forth some interesting information regarding different versions.
Versions/History of the Bible is slightly off-topic to the question, but provides some intersting information with links to more.

After that, I stopped looking, but I was about halfway back to the beginning of the board.

Did a quick web search on that… apparently the makers wanted to blend the ‘majesty and beauty’ of the language in the king james with the accessibility of more recent translations. I also found out more than I wanted to know of what some guy named David Daniels thinks about modern perversions of the word of god. shrugs

Sophmore year at St. John’s, Ninjachick?

Surely you don’t mean the original King James. It’s pretty near unintelligible.

From Chapter 1 of the Book of Ruth, KJV, 1611

It uses words like “thee” and forms like “hath” and “clave” that we don’t use anymore, but that’s hardly unintelligible.

Compare that with the Wycliffe version of the same text, written in the 1330s

Yes indeed. In the beginning…there was “Oh my god, I need to get enabled at the end of this year!”

If that’s what I’m reading (this), then I wouldn’t say it’s near unintelligible. Perhaps not the smoothest, most eloquent read, and a bit heavy on the “thou"s and “goeth” and other archaic conjugations, but it’s definitely readable by a modern audience. (OTOH, it’s possible I’m not looking at the original version.”

tomndebb - Searchy goodness - thanks. I did do a brief search, but things did seem to be a bit bogged down in opinions, which isn’t quite what I want (though I’m going to read through some of that.)

MLS - Would you say (I’m assuming you’ve read at least parts of the versions mentioned) that the differences in translations give a markedly different feel to the text? E.g., would you say that the New English version presents a different “attitude” or what have you than, say, the King James?

(And…yeah, I just did post a question about Judaism on Friday night. :smack: )

Well, if you’re doing this for class discussion do *not *use the King James version. It may not be “unintelligible” but it is a very tough read. Slow to get through, hard to decipher, misleading in many ways, and just not very much fun.

If you really want to know what’s in the Bible, I recommend one of the contemporary translations, and there are many to choose from. You might take a look at They have online just about every translation there is including Bulgarian, Hatian Creole, etc.

I’m in the process of reading the Bible from start to finish, and I have about seven Bibles in my arsenal. I generally read one of the contemporary translations but when something catches my attention, I will look it up in King James just to see how it looks there.

Your mileage may vary as to how readable the King James Version is. For centuries (i.e. from about Shakespeare’s time to the early-to-mid 20th century), it was THE Bible used in the English-speaking world, at least by Protestants. Because of its age, it’s not the most accurate or reliable translation, both because more recent versions take advantage of later Biblical scholarship and because some of the words themselves have different meanings than in King James’s day. But quite a few people love it for the beauty of its language.

If you really want to get fancy, there exist “parallel” Bibles that print the words of more than one version side by side.

I don’t know that it’s a different attitude. But definitely a different feel. Here’s the same passage from Ruth that Captain Amazing quoted from the KJV, this time from the New English Bible:

It tells the same basic tale, although it does not sound as grand and imposing. It’s an easier text to give a person who hasn’t read the Bible before, since you can read many parts of it as you would any other story.

When I was in college, I was assigned the KJV in literature classes because it was the version every writer referred to for centuries, and the NRSV for ancient history classes because it was considered the most accurate translation. So I think it depend on why exactly you’re reading the Bible.

If I remember, the KJV was translated directly from the Latin Vulgate, while the NRSV was based on older Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts. Their may well have been a more definitive version made since then, though.

Not really. The KJV was translated from the Hebrew and the Greek. The issue with the Vulgate is that the Vulgate was used to fill in some gaps where the Greek was unclear. The other issue with the Greek is that it was based on the Textus Receptus which was an effort to reconcile variation in texts in the Byzantine version of the New Testament (that was, itself, derived from earlier Antiochan texts). There are some minor discrepancies between the Antiochan/Byzantine versions and the Alexandrian and Jerusalem versions and modern scholarship attempts to make a good faith effort to discover which has priority whenever there is a conflict. The translators of the KJV would probably have done the same thing, (after all, they tried reconciling the various versions of the Textus Receptus on which their translation was based), but they simply had no Alexandrian or Jerusalem texts to review.

I am not sure (and don’t have time to look it up at the moment) whether the Hebrew translation was taken from the Masoretic recensions or some other source. I am also not sure how much they may have used the Septuagint (the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures to Greek by Jewish scholars in the 2d Century B.C.E.) to help reconcile difficult passages in the Hebrew.

The KJV was translated from the Textus Receptus, which was a collation of the majority of available manuscripts compiled in Renaissance times. Modern scholarship tends to put more reliance in the oldest manuscripts, particularly the Uncial codices and the Dead Sea and Oxyrhynchus material, and less reliance in the majority of manuscripts, which are generally the later miniscule-script material with a common ancestor in one of several possible readings. Accordingly, there are variant readings in KJV and its descendents (NKJV, etc.) that do not match what the majority of Bible scholars believe to be the more accurate reading. In particular, it’s worth noting that two significant probable scribal glosses are considered part of the canonical KJV text but not of the modern readings: the story of the woman taken in adultery in John, and the “three witnesses in Heaven” passage in, I believe, the First Epistle of John that is the sole reference to the Trinity as a unit in the Bible.

It’s also worth noting that there are numerous canons – i.e., which books are considered part of the Bible. The Tanakh is equivalent to the Protestant Old Testament. Most Protestants consider it and the standard New Testament (4 gospels, Acts, 12 letters attributed to Paul, 7 other letters, and Revelation) as the sole canon of Scripture.

Catholics add to this the deuterocanon: 12 books found in the Septuagint and the Vulgate as finalized but not in the Tanakh. Eastern Orthodox have never formalized a canon but de facto go with the Septuagint, which includes those 12 books and three others; Anglicans and Methodists accept the 15-book deuterocanon as “Apocrypha” – a sort of second-class Scripture suitable for reading, including “Bible readings” in church, but not for founding doctrine on. Most Oriental Orthodox (Jacobites, Armenians, and Egyptian Copts) concur in the Septuagint canon, but the Ethiopian Copts have a much larger canon than anyone else. And of course the Latter Day Saints add three other collections to the Protestant canon: Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants. I believe there is also an alternate translation preferred by LDS theologians and leaders. It’s also worth noting that some groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular, use translations that are, in a word, slanted to support their particular doctrines.

New Revised Standard and New International Versions are considered excellent renderings of the original, with minimal “special pleading.” The New Jerusalem Bible takes a quite different approach to the original texts but is also exceptionally well done from a scholarship standpoint, and has the virtue of providing footnotes with alternate readings whenever there was a disputed passage.

Should have been:

The issue with the Vulgate is that the Vulgate was used to fill in some gaps where the Hebrew or the Greek was unclear.

I love the King James Bible. Parts of it are heart-breakingly beautiful.

If I recall from my days at St. John’s, the tutors can get pretty fanatical about translations. Generally they go by the most accurate, not by the most readable. I think this is a shame with the KJV, which is a great book in it’s own right, IMO, and should not be unreadable to someone who’s already gone through a year at SJC.

As others have pointed out, you can’t really go wrong with the NRSV. But tutors do tend to have their own sometimes idiosyncratic ideas about what translations are good or bad. In my day there was a bit of controversy about the Jerusalem Bible. Maybe you should ask your tutor.

The KJV used the Masoretic text, but an argument can be made that some of the translations do seem to have been influenced by the Septuagint.

The haftarah is the second, or concluding, reading every week of services. While the regular reading, the parshah, is always from Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy), the haftarah is a reading from the prophets (Isaiah, Kings, Malachi, Hosea, Obadiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Judges, Amos, Samuel, Joshua, Micah, and… and anyone else I forgot).

I was taught that this practice came about in ancient times, when the Jews were forbidden by whoever was in power at the time from reading Torah, so the Rabbis substituted the prophets’ words. When the Torah restriction was removed, the practice of reading the prophets’ words was retained.

If you’ll look at a typical chumash, you’ll find each week’s parshah reading, followed by the appropriate haftorah reading.

<semi-hijack>Some tutors are crazy about translations, moreso for certain works. Others, though, embrace having as many translations as possible in the seminar, as the differences can occasional be truly enlightening about what the original author was really trying to get on. I don’t know who’s seminar I’m going to be in, so that’s a crapshoot right now, but I’m figuring that if I start out with the KJV, I’ll be able to handle picking up another version at this point (and, I’m reading the Tanakah concurrently, so I’ve got that.)</semi-hijack>

Bricker - ah. Thank you. (Er, what’s a chumash?)

FYI, the KJV is one of the worst versions you could choose for any serious study. Not only is it poor translation, it’s based on some seriously flawed manuscript sources. Get an Oxford Annotated. That’s the standard academic version.