November 22nd 2009

Which Bible?

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”.

John 1:14 (NIV)

Go into any Christian bookstore – or just a general bookstore in America today – and ask for a Bible. You will be offered a bewildering choice. There are literally dozens of versions to choose from. Which is the best?  

Not all that long ago, there would have been only two or three choices. For most people, a ‘Bible’ still meant the venerable King James Version, dating back to 1611. As the old preacher once said “if the King James Version was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”

Well, the King James is a good translation, but it is old fashioned. About 150 years ago, the Revised Version or RV, updated the King James, and then 100 years ago, the American Standard Version updated that.

More recently, about 50 years ago, the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible was a comprehensive revision of all three of the earlier versions. It still had the flavor of the old King James, but its updated language was much easier to read. It came to be widely accepted and used in many denominations.

But as you might expect, not everyone was enthusiastic. In some quarters, the RSV met with strong denunciation, labeled everything from “questionable” and “biased” to “corrupt” and “a perversion of God’s Word.”  

Well, be that as it may, today we have more than 100 English versions in circulation. These newer versions reflect growth in biblical scholarship, including discoveries of better, more reliable copies of ancient texts, as well as changes in the English language.

So – the question remains – which translation is best?

Actually, if you are looking for perfection, no version measures up. As you probably know, the Bible was originally written in ancient languages, principally Hebrew and Greek. No translation can ever be a perfect rendition of the original. It always involves compromise.  However, with the exception of versions published by some sects, who doctor the text to reflect their particular beliefs, the vast majority of modern translations stand squarely within traditional Christian orthodoxy and accurately preserve the historic doctrines of the faith.

So, what it comes down to is that the use of a particular translation really is a personal choice. The important thing is that we use whatever translations we favour. Or to put it another way, the most effective Bible is one that is open!  

Actually, there is an even better version than that. You see, the Bible is not just a textbook, written to fill you with knowledge.  Jesus scolded the Pharisees for just that — for having a relationship with the written word but not with HIM.  We read about that in John 5:39-40, where Jesus tells the Pharisees, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by THEM you possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about ME, yet you refuse to come to ME to have life.”

The point of the Bible is life with Jesus, the Living Word of God. So even an open Bible is not really much use unless the ONE the Bible testifies to is reflected in the life of the owner. The best, most influential translation is the one you make – by allowing the Word of God to live in you every day, as a light to the world. That’s the most effective and convincing translation of all!  


Father, help me through the Spirit to keep close to Jesus, the Living Word.


Study by Joseph Tkach 

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