Translated, Transmitted, Treasured
An overload of coffee brand choices made Robin Williams, a Russian defector in the 1984 movie Moscow on the Hudson, faint right there in the grocery store. Imagine William Tyndale’s response if he could view the Bible section in Alpha and Omega’s Parable Book Store!
By the 1530’s Tyndale had translated the New Testament and fourteen books of the Old Testament from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. He was executed for his efforts in 1536, when it was worth your life to even possess a Bible. Because of Jerome, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Coverdale, Rogers, and others, we have many choices when it comes to buying a Bible. How do you pick the Bible that is just right for you?
“The first question to ask is, ‘Who is the Bible for?’” said Bruce Anderson, owner of Alpha and Omega Parable Book Store. Perhaps the shopper is just beginning a spiritual walk and has never opened a Bible. Another customer may be a theological student who is searching for an additional study Bible or book of Biblical commentary. Is the Bible for a child? Grandparents often want to buy a Bible for their grandchildren that will not gather dust on a shelf. The Adventure Bible or Veggie Tales Bible for Children are just two available choices that would appeal to youngsters.
“The next question is, ‘How will the Bible be used?’” Anderson continued. If you want a Bible for your church’s Bible study or service, the translation your church uses would probably be your best choice. Perhaps you are interested in a Bible as a historical book. There is a chronological Bible which places the scriptural events in order of occurrence. For example, the Books of Samuel will include those Psalms penned by King David that relate to what was happening in his life at the time. You may want a Bible with commentary or a Bible without commentary. Once you decide the type of Bible you want, how do you select the best edition?
A little background about how the Bible in today’s bookstore evolved from manuscripts over 2000 years old may guide your choice. Early translations were from the Greek and Hebrew texts available at the time. However, they were few and inferior compared to the ancient manuscripts discovered much later in the 19th century. Additionally, our current knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew languages is far superior to that of the middle ages. Although one would think the oldest Bible would be best, the opposite is true. The Bible has actually gotten better over the centuries. Editions have evolved in order to make the Bible readily understandable with reading levels ranging from grades 6 to 12.
There are over 100 English translations of the Bible and two processes in translating, Bruce Anderson explained. Open one edition, say the King James Version (KJV), and compare any verse with the New International Version (NIV). You will notice that word choice and syntax are different, but the message is the same. That is because the KJV is a literal, word for word translation from the Hebrew and Greek text into an older English style, while the NIV is a newer, dynamic equivalent, thought for thought, translation. At the far end of the dynamic equivalent version is the paraphrase translation, which offers a far simpler, 21st century way of saying the same thing. The New International Version (NIV) is one of the most popular translations in America while The Messenger, a paraphrase translation, would appeal to teens or those looking for the message written in today’s idiom.
Finally, the translator’s purpose may decide which of several ways an ancient word could be correctly translated, so there may be a doctrinal bias affecting word choice. A survey of over 700 Protestant ministers done by Ellison Research, Phoenix, Arizona demonstrated some preferences among denominations. While the serious Biblical scholar may prefer the more literal translation, personal word choice preferences such as gender neutral, a more poetic narrative, or order of syntax, may determine the Bible that speaks to you.
From the King James Version to the latest in paraphrase, the Bible has been inspired by God, faithfully translated and reverently transmitted over the centuries. Bruce’s advice is to find a translation you understand and read it.