So many translations, so little time...

So i was reading through some of the threads on religion, Christianity, and all that jazz, and sez to myself “Hey, I should actually read the bible”.

So I thought I’d put the question to the Internet Enhanced Teeming Millions: which is your preferred translation / edition of the bible? (testaments Old and New please)

Ideally I’d like a modern translation taken from the original texts. Something that was readable as literature, but had plenty of footnotes on the translation, and some maps and appendices and timelines wouldn’t hurt. From what I saw NIV, NASB, and New Jerusalem looked good, and Amplified seemed interesting too.

Also, whats a good companion book? I should probably mention here that I’m an agnostic, so I’m looking for something scholarly that talks about the bible as history and literature. Kind of like Kenneth C. Davis’ Don’t Know Much About The Bible, but more thorough.

Thanks much,

Might I suggest Anton LeVay’s edition?

Yer pal,

IMHO, much of the Old Testament reads better in the King James, especially the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and the more ‘poetic’ books. I find a more modern translation easier for the New Testament.

If you want to retain a fair amount of the beauty of the language from the KJV without having to struggle too much, I would suggest one of the New American Standard translations.

The NIV translation is not difficult to read. I have a “Parallel Bible,” with the KJ and NIV texts both included in a split-page format.

Some versions such as The Living Bible are actually paraphrases, not translations. Paraphrased Bibles are not translated from original texts and they can sound pretty funky, at least to me. Others enjoy them very much.

This link has lots of good information. You can get the original Hebrew for the OT (transliterated into Latin characters), with the meanings of the various words:

I like the NIV myself, although I’ve had pastors and Sunday school teachers that used several different versions including KJV, New KJ, and Amplified.

My desk NIV has a preface that addresses the translation, footnotes, a small concordance, and maps. It was fairly inexpensive. You might also be interested in a parallel Bible that contains different versions printed side by side for easy comparisons.

You might try browsing through several translations at a Christian bookstore or a library to find exactly what you want before you make a purchase. I hope you will enjoy your studies.

I musta read an abridged version of it, cause I don’t remember any of what they said in sunday school in LaVey’s bible. :wink:


For the Old Testament only, I’d recommend Artscroll’s translated Hebrew Torah (the Five Books of Moses only, but more depth) and Tanach (the entire Old Testament).

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

For beautiful literary style, but requiring as much work to understand as Shakespeare, nothing beats the King James.

For easy reading in a graceful style, and insights that one misses in the English-language-tradition series, the New Jerusalem cannot be beat, IMHO.

Good News purports to be easy-reading, and I’ve heard others recommend it, but I don’t find it any simpler to follow than NIV, RSV, NASB, or any of the other “traditional modern” translations.

Satan: Betcha like Rushdie’s work, too!! :wink:

From what I understand, the New International Version is the most recent translation from the oldest existing texts. This is different from some other versions out there which are ‘modern language’ versions of the King James Version and not new translations of their own. Also, the NIV claims to have been a multi-denominational effort to help keep it from bias towards any one faith (though all the denominations are Protestant branches).

Personally, I prefer the NIV mainly because it’s easy reading and about as accurate as I’m going to get without learning ancient Greek or something. I also own a copy of the Apocrypha in the Revised Standard Version format (no NIV translation exists) and a few copies of pseudepigrapha texts (non Biblical scripture).

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

If you have never read the Bible, I would suggest you start with a Living Bible or a New Living Bible. These are paraphrases, but they might be a lot easier for you to wade through than actual translations.

Then, once you’re familiar with what’s in there, I would suggest an NIV, which is translated from the oldest extant sources, and is a pretty good one. If you want access to the so-called “apocryphal” books not found in Protestant Bibles, go get a copy of the New American Bible (put out by Catholic Book Publishing Co.), preferably the St. Joseph edition for the study notes. I would only suggest reading this, again, after you’ve got a good grounding of what’s actually in the Bible. (I.e., read the Living first.)

One of the best companion volumes you can get is called The Bible Almanac, by J.I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney, and William White, Jr., provided it’s still in print. Try looking for it, put out by Thomas Nelson Publishers. This has a lot of historical and sociological background that can be very helpful, and it’s well-illustrated.
I would recommend avoiding commentaries for the time being; there are 900 million of them on the market, and not one of them agrees with any of the others. The only way you’ll get a commentary that’s any good is to read all the original sources yourself and write your own.

And finally, since nobody else has suggested it, may I offer a few pointers that may be helpful? If you’re going to start with the Old Testament, read Genesis, and you can go on with Exodus, but only read up to Chapter 25. (Chapters 1-24 deal with Moses and Pharaoh and getting the Jews out of Egypt—everything you saw in “The 10 Commandments”.) Skip the rest, along with all of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The reason why is that the second half of Exodus and the following three books all deal (in incredibly dense detail), with the laws for sacrifices in the Jewish temple ceremonies. Right down to how many cubits the altar shall be, types of material it can be made of, times and seasons for certain offerings (animal offerings, cereal offerings, “wave” offerings, etc.) and so on. There’s nothing wrong with all of this stuff, it’s just that it gets INCREDIBLY boring after about three chapters, and it has discouraged many a would-be Bible reader. Remember that this is not a book you can sit down and read from page one straight through the way you would a Stephen King novel.

Read your way through Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings (good stuff there about Samson and Delilah, Saul, King David, Solomon, etc.), and 1 & 2 Chronicles. I would omit Chapters 1 to 9 and 22 to 28 in 1 Chronicles, mostly since they deal with geneologies and population lists of the Jewish nation, tribe by tribe, clan by clan-----again, okay stuff, but damned boring for a novice…or anybody else, for that matter. Skip Job. Read it much later when you’re better grounded and you have a handle on the deeper theology in some of this stuff. Job is pretty dense and tough to read.

Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon: read them; there’s some good stuff in there, if you like poetry and advice. Song of Solomon is sort of racy, in a way, since it deals with Solomon and the hots he has for his girlfriend. :slight_smile:

As for the rest of the Old Testament from this point, I would skip it the first time through; I really would. There is a lot in there, but you have to sort through all of these prophecies, and it can get to be pretty tough slogging. I would advise coming back to it later, and maybe reading it in small chunks. Daniel can be pretty good, what with the lion’s den, and the hand writing on the wall, and King Nebuchanezzar turning into a werewolf, and all that, but be advised that there’s a lot of mystical stuff in the back that’s pretty confusing (the beasts with symbolic horns, and “2,300 evenings and mornings” and “a times, times, and a half-time”, and all that jazz). Jonah is a good read, what with being swallowed by the whale, and all that. Ezra and Nehemiah are easy to read, but chronologically they take place after everything else in the Old Testamant, and you might want to wait to read them so you have the history straight in your head.

The New Testament: absolutely read the four Gospels, and the book of Acts. Read those first. Some people suggest reading John first, others Mark; I say start at Matthew and read straight through. After this, you can read the Epistles, but take 'em slow, and don’t get discouraged if they seem a little dense, especially books like Hebrews which are full of heavy theology. Revelation: read it if you want, but remember it’s another one of these apocalyptic books like Daniel, and it’s full of some pretty wild symbolism. Don’t expect to understand it; nobody does.

You might want to stick with the books I’ve mentioned for several readings. Don’t be in a hurry. Re-read them as much as you want, until you have a good grip on them. After you do, then you can go back and slog through all those Old Testament prophets, and glean some pretty good stuff, but you won’t be able to retain a thing if you’ve never read any of this before and you try to start cold.

After you get all this down, contact me in about 5 to 10 years, and we’ll discuss reading pseudepigraphal books, Gnostic books, extra-canonical works like the Didache, and the writings of the early Church fathers. :wink: Have fun!

I’d disagree with Pickman on the Prophets. I will admit that, without a good study reference, they often lack a context if you haven’t grown up with them. But there are beautiful passages in their (and some of the best invective you’ve heard since the last time you really angered your wife).


Wow, thanks for all the responses. Makes me think maybe I should just go read Ulysses or something :wink:

Actually, it sounds like the NIV is what I’m looking for. Or maybe a parallel one. Aargh, so many decisions.

Another question tho: was the KJV translated from original sources, or the Latin Vulgate?


IIRC, the KJV was translated from the Hebrew Masora, the Greek Septuagint, and the Latin Vulgate, or in other words, the best original sources that were available at the time. In spite of that, the KJV, while being a beautiful, poetically-flowing translation to read, is loaded with language errors. But even so, if you feel down or scared or unhappy, it can be really uplifting to just read out loud from the KJV; something about those old Elizabethan English phraseologic styles is very reassuring, somehow. :wink: Case in point: Linus reading Luke Chapter 2 in Charlie Brown’s Christmas; now I ask you, where would Christmas be without that?

And might I suggest that, no matter what version of the Bible you read, you use Asimov’s Guide to the Old Testament and Asimov’s Guide to the New Testament as guides.

Member posted 09-23-1999 09:25 AM

Hasn’t LeVay gone off to “check the validity of his claims?”

I agree that the KJV it is poetic and it does sound like special religious language. However, it is just the plain language of several hundred years ago. This makes it harder to understand as far as it being a translation. Also, the standard of scholarship for the KJV is also several hundred years old. Modern translations are better translations. Period.

The NIV, as good as it is, is not the latest translation. The revised Jerusalem Bible, the New Revised Standard Version are newer (and better, IMO). Go with the NRSV with Apocrypha (it is the modern KJV).

As far as scholarly guides for the lay person:

The Bible, Now I Get It! by Gerhard Lohfink, Doubleday, 1979, ISBN 0-385-13432-0.

Reading the Old Testament by Lawrence Boadt, Paulist Press, 1984, ISBN 0-8091-2631-1

Reading the New Testament by Pheme Perkins, Paulist Press, 1978, ISBN 0-8091-9635-6

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary Prentice Hall, 1990, ISBN 0-13-614934-0


Ack! Asimov’s guide to the Bible is like Stalin’s guide to the Constitution.

You want a commentary, not a rebuttal.


You want commentary on a book by someone who isn’t a “true believer”. Thus you avoid such twistings as turning the Song of Solomon into an alligory about the people’s love of Jesus!
This was something I found in several copies of the Bible that had been annodated by so-called true believers.
Asimov put years of study into his book, and they are well-regarded by many denominations.

Did LeVay ever make any public statements on his expectations for an after-life? If he was sincere, he must have believed in both Heaven and Hell. Obviously, he wasn’t booking any reservations in Heaven. So did he figure he’d get preferential treatment in Hell or did he figure being damned for eternity was a fair price for the supposed advantages he gained while alive?

It’s spelled “LaVay.”
And I’m pretty sure he was just a troll.