Recommend me a Bible

Specifically, I would like to know which translations of the Bible (the Christian scriptures, not just the Hebrew Bible) are generally regarded as the best, as I’m not very familiar with such matters. Also, issues of whether the text is reasonably readable or not are important - while the KJV has many examples of beautiful writing, there’s also passages that are ambiguous or even hard to decipher to someone not particularly literate in Early Modern English. I’d also like something that’s not tied too heavily to any particular denomination - for instance, it appears to me that the NIV was probably written by Evangelical Protestants, and I’d rather have one that’s accepted by a variety of belief systems. I’d - ideally, at least - like one with the deuterocanonical scriptures. And hopefully one that’s available online, as I’m too lazy and poor to go to a bookstore (though I’ll do it if it’s necessary.)

I post this here with trepidation because I’m not certain how much argument there will be over which translations are good and which aren’t, but (though of course this goes without saying) please, mods, move it to whichever forum you feel is best, if you think so.

The curreny Catholic version is pretty good. It’s done away with the outdated Olde English (Early Modern English – whatever) vocabulary, and includes the books that the Protestant versions exclude.

I’m told that most serious bible scholars don’t care much for the King James Version. Aside from the old-fashioned language, they consider the more modern versions to be superior translations.

So I’ve been told.

What’s the name of this particular translation you discuss?

I highly recommend the New Oxford Annotated Bible. It includes quite a bit of valuable suplementary material, prefaces giving a run-down on what’s known historically about each book (this is a ecumenical study bible also used in secular “World-Religion” type courses, so they’re a bit more detailed then “God wrote it!”), and it also provides copious annotations on translation difficulties, cross-references, etc.

It’s the bible to get, IMHO.

Well, you got a lot of options. Actually I think the best option is to go to a Christian bookshop, sit down and have a read. Choose a passage that you are maybe a bit familiar with and look at it in several translations. Or even better, choose a handful of passages – including a historical passage, a psalm, a bit from the gospels and a passage from one of the NT letters. Often you can find a pamphlet or guide in the shop that will give you some extra help.

You can look at bibles on a sort of a spectrum. At the one end you have very literal translations. These tend to take a word by word approach to translating and are often a bit awkward to read. At the extreme of these are interlinears which show the original lingo with each word translated into english and no attempt to alter the word order. Down that end of the spectrum you find New American Standard, New King James, King James among others.
At the other end of teh spectrum are paraphrases. One of the more popular ones at the moment is “The Message”. These take a concept by concept appraoch to “translating” (I use the term loosely.) Everything gets expressed in English idiom. They are easy and fun to read and a great way to get familiar with the stories of the bible. But for serious study, forget it. The Living Bible is another paraphrase that was popular a few years ago. The Amplified is another.
In the middle are bibles that are translated using the principle of dynamic equivalence. Or, if you like, a phrase by phrase approach to translation. These read pretty well and don’t get you bogged down too much, but still tend to be pretty literal. I guess the NIV is one of the more popular here. It has had wide acceptance from many different denomenations. Unfortunately, it does contain a number of unfortunate mistranslations. Not enough to throw you out of the water if you are getting started, but enough to make it unsuitable for any serious theological study. Other bibles in the middle bracket are: Contemporary English Version (CEV), New Living, Jerusalem Bible, and probably a stack of others. Recently published is what is called “The New International Version” TNIV. I haven’t had a close look at it, but it seems rather good. It was put together by the same organisation that did the NIV. It flows rather well and appears to have addressed most of the translational glitches.

Other things to look for are linguistic styles. If you don’t like the Old English, then avoid NKJ and any other older translations. Some use really flowery language, and some stick to a rather small vocabulary. There is one around called the New Century Version (marketed as the International Children’s Bible) that deliberately uses a small vocab and short sentences. At the same time it stays fairly close to the literal end of teh spectrum.
Sentence length is an issue. Paul in particular wrote with great heavy and lengthy sentences that tied together a stream of interconnected thoughts that might continue for half a page or more. (Ephesians Ch 1 is classic for this.) Some of the connections are lost or obscured when translators make the sentences short. OTOH, division into smaller sentences makes it a whole lot easier to read.
You also want to look at different parts of the bible. Something like 15% of the bible is written poetically while the rest is in prose. It is helpful to have these typeset differently. Poetry is designed to appeal to the emotions while prose appeals to the intellect. For obvious reasons these should be approached a litttle differently when reading and studying.

As for accuracy in translation, well, people will always argue, but the truth is that you won’t notice a whole lot of practical difference between different versions. The modern trend is for translations to be done over a period of several years by teams of a hundred or more translators. So, more recent versions tend to be a bit more scholorly and probably more reliable.

Finally, you may wish to ask yourself how much help you want in reading the bible. There are a whole lot of editions around with a variety of study notes of different kinds. You get maps and concordances and cross references and notes of explanation and book introductions and “how to apply this” style notes and you name it. Personally, I find most of these distracting, but they can be useful if you are trying to piece things together.

In summary, the best idea is to take an hour or so and do your own browsing. You will quickly figure out what suits you.

jsum_1: the trouble is that I don’t know any passages in the Bible well enough to compare different wordings and decide amongst them. I’m an atheist, and I’m doing this basically for scholarly reasons, not religious ones. It’s hard to evaluate the scholarly reliability of a translation based on its appearance.

Metacom: thanks for the advice. I’ll consider it, but I’m not sure I feel like spending the money on it just now. I was hoping one of the translations available online would work.

Are you looking for translational accuracy or poetry? I like my Revised Standard Edition, which retains much of the poetry of the King James Version, while correcting some of the mistranslations.

Regarding translations- my favorite for general reading is The New King James Version- retains the flow & rhythm, but it much more understandable & accurate
(btw, for its time, the original KJV was the best going). The English Standard Version is essentially the original Revised Standard, but with “virgin” restored in Isaiah 7:14 & a few similar changes. The New Revised Standard is good, just don’t get the Gender-Inclusive editions (I’m not sure if those are just lectionaries or if they’ve come out with a whole NRS Bible G-I style yet). Among modern Catholic editions, while the preferred is the New American Bible (not to be confused with the Protty NA Standard B), I like the New Jerusalem Bible much better.

For study purposes, make sure to get one with lots of maps, and cross-references. The Oxford Annotated & Harper Collins Study Bibles are good, but the comments skew liberal/critical.

Here’s another idea.

Download your own for free. These are mostly slightly older versions – there are copyright issues with newer translations. Or if you like I can snail mail you a CD of this with a dozen or so translations that you can browse side by side. (It’s a largish download if you are using dialup.) Just drop me an email.

If you don’t mind me asking, was there anything specific that you wanted to find out? When you do get a bible you might need someone to point you in the right direction. It’s three quarters of a million words and no immediately obvious order to the uninitiated. Again, drop me an email if you wish.

I’d vote for the New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha. Despite FriarTed’s reservations regarding gender usage, the overwhelming number of “gender neutral” references actually more closely match the original text. Even with that “handicap,” (there are a couple of places where the gender neutral stuff is more an interpretation than a translation), the NRSV is still the most accurate translation to English. As far as I know, there is no on-line version of either the NRSV or its RSV predecessor. (Copyright issues)

The (American) Catholic New American Bible does read well (and is on-line), but its translation is not quite as faithful as the NRSV. (I am not sure which English translations are approved for use by the Catholic churches in Canada, the UK, Australia, or other places.)
The (Catholic) Jerusalem Bible is an excellent study bible with a nice flowing translation and notes to indicate where glosses or interpolations have been inserted. (After a recent complaint I saw lodged against it, I re-read the passage in question and I believe the person lodging the complaint misunderstood the nature of the “offending” comment. The notes are unabashedly Catholic in content, but it is clear from context when they are applying later theology or explaining the thoughts of the original authors or redactors.)

I will also put in another vote for the Oxford Annotated (with a concurrent warning to avoid any contact with the Scofield Reference Bible which is extremely tilted to a particular Fundamentalist presentation of Scripture).

The Bible Gateway site provides numerous bible translations in numerous languages with search functions (both by verse or by keyword) on-line. (The keyword search is translation-specific, of course. If you search for “shield” and some translator came up with “target” or “buckler” you will not find the verse in that translation.)

For on-line reading of the Apocrypha/Deutero-Canonical works (along with the apocryphal Christian works and much (all?) of the Patrisitics, try the Wesley Center for Applied Theology. Note that among the Old Testament Apocrypha they include both the stuff that the Catholics and Protestants wrangle over and those works that the Orthodox have maintained in Scripture when the Catholics dropped them.

When I studied the Bible in college, we used the New Oxford Annotated Bible (which has already been recommended) because (in the professors’ view) it was the most accurate translation.

Thanks for all the erudite answers.

By the way, does The Amplified Bible go up to eleven?

I got the New English Bible when it came out circa 1973 because it was touted as going back to the oldest and most reliable texts for its sources. The traditional bibles, the King James and the Douay, went through intermediate texts. Even the newer Catholic New Jerusalem Bible came to English by way of French.

But I have to admit that I haven’t klept up withy translations.

Certainly Greek and Hebrew scholarship have come a long way, but there is something to be said for reading the King James version merely because of its immense influence as literature.

Another vote for the Revised Standard Version for the best mix of scholarship and poetry. The Jerusalem Bible is very scholarly, and very Catholic, in its footnotes and descriptions. The Bible Gateway link has a literal translation which is useful, depending on how much you know about Greek and Hebrew.


Point of clarification: the “New Oxford Annotated Bible” isn’t its own translation; it’s an edition of an otherwise available translation (New Revised Standard Version, at least for one, though it may come in other flavors) with added annotations, introductory articles, etc.

I know you specified a Bible that includes the Christian scriptures, but if you have any interest at all in seeing a translation of the Old Testament from the Jewsish perspective, I’d highly recommend The Living Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (and volumes on the scriptures other than the Five Books of Moses, called The Living Nach by successors of Rabbi Kaplan). The Stone Edition of Tanach published by Artscroll is also excellent.

The bible I use is labeled “Fireside Study Edition,” but it sounds like it’s a Jerusalem Bible. My parochial highschool made us buy it for religion class. The footnotes help alot, and I really like that bible.

Oh. Then I’ll have to take a gander at mine (it’s in my office) and see which one it is.

I’m pretty sure that the Fireside is an annotated version of the New American Bible. The notes may be perfectly wonderful; I am simply not familiar with it.

I had a friend in college who was studying to become a pastor. His view (from the 1980’s) was that the New International Version was an excellent all around Bible, but it is a Protestant bible, so the so-called Apochrypha are not included. He suggested to me that ether the New Jerusalem version would do well for my use.