Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Books on Bible Versions

One thing I am always on the lookout for, yes it's sad, are books on Bible translations. Indeed, if it wasn't bad enough that I probably have too many Bibles to begin with, I also have an interest in reading about what other people think about Bible translations. So, whenever I see something new, I tend to pick it up. It could be as simple as the Bible Translations Comparison chart by Rose Publication or something a bit more substantial, like the translation books by Dewey, Metzger, or Comfort. I think one of the things I enjoy most about these books are the perspectives that they bring about a variety of the translating issues that translators face. Issues such as gender accuracy and formal vs. functional, as well as how to translate poetry will continue to be debated as more and more English language Bibles are produced.

Of all these books, the one I have found the most helpful is How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Mark L. Strauss. It is one of the newest to be published, most recently in 2007. So, it includes the ESV and the TNIV in the discussion. Needless to say, this book looks quite favorably on the TNIV, of which both authors served on the translation committee. This is, of course, one of those things you need to look out for when purchasing books like this, since there can be a tendency for them to serve as propaganda for their own translations. (More on that later.) Overall, this book is pretty fair IMHO. Instead of a formal or functional translation, they advocate what they term a "mediating" translation. Of those who fit into this, the book recommends not shockingly the TNIV, but also the NET and NAB translations. They also give high praise to the NRSV, which, for them, is a bit too literal, compared to the mediating translations. I also feel their translation spectrum chart is the best one I have seen. It incorporates many of the recent translations in a way which I think does justice to the translation method each subscribes to.

I would also recommend Philip W. Comfort's Essential Guide to Bible Versions. Even though it is almost ten years old at this point, it does a pretty thorough job, considering it is a one volume work, analyzing many of the most popular versions. Perhaps most helpful is the full chapter devoted to a comparative study of the prologue of John which references many translations, both Catholic and Protestant.

So, how about an updated Catholic Bible translation book? Well, there are various books out there that contain sections devoted to various Catholic Bibles, but it would be nice to have something produced along the lines of Comfort's book. Either way, I definitely recommend picking up one of these books. They have been particularly helpful to me as I have thought about the whole gender inclusiveness issue.

Are there any translation books out there to avoid? Well, I personally would avoid these two:

I would avoid both of them because they both are way too extreme in their advocating for their Bible of choice. Which Bible Should I Choose? is by TAN and advocates the Douay-Rheims. However, I never found the argument completely convincing, particularly since it fails to address the issues of recent teachings on Bible translations by the Church, as well as looking at what the Church has done with the Nova Vulgata. Again, this isn't a rant on the Douay-Rheims, which I have the utmost respect for, but rather a critique of a position which I don't think can be maintained in the 21st Century.

The second book New Age Bible Versions is a real joy to read, simply because it is so over-the-top in its defence of the KJV against all subsequent Protestant and Catholic Bible versions. A good friend of mine found this in a used book sale. He gave it to me knowing that I would get a good laugh at reading not only the KJV-only advocacy but the blatant anti-Catholic chapters. While I must say that reading a book comparing the Catholic Church to Babylon the great is always a fun read, this book's attempt to convince it's readers that the Vatican is Satan's Church due to it being located in Rome on "the seven hills" is a real hoot. Of course, when Revelation 17:9 was written, the Vatican hill wasn't considered one of the main seven hills of ancient Rome. Of course, the seven are the Aventine, Caelian, Esquiline, Quirinal, Viminal, Palatine, and Capitoline. As a matter of fact, the Vatican hill wasn't even located within the ancient city wall. I am always tempted to dump this book, but alas it is fun reading on a rainy day.


Paolo said...

So....since you brought it up, I am curious to know how many Bibles you do have in your collection.

Also, what do you think is the best book introducing regular folks to the Bible? I used to own the idiot's guide to the bible but i loaned it and never got it back...

Anonymous said...

I have to respectfully disagree about Tan's "Which Bible Should You Read". The book brings up many problems with the modern Bible translations that no one has yet responded to. In fact, the 1986 NAB NT and the RSV-2CE have made changes to conform with the Douay Rheims!

Timothy said...


As for my Bible collection, I can't reveal how many are in my secret archive. If I were to reveal that, I would have to send a group of albino monks after you. ;)

As to your other question, I think there are a few good o es out there:




Timothy said...


Thanks for the comment. I would point to what the Vatican typically uses these days for English language Bible translations, which tends to be the RSV, with the NAB on their own website. Hey, would I be up for an English translation of the Nova vulgata in modern English absolutely, but I don't think it will happen.

Anonymous said...

It is not entirely true that the Vatican uses the RSV in it's documents. They use a text that is adapted from the RSV and the NRSV. They do not use direct quotes from either of those translations. Read the credits page of the CCC if you don't believe me.

As for the NAB on the Vatican website, it is most likely used simply because the USCCB owns the copyright, and as such they make royalty money off its use, so the Vatican uses it to give the American bishops a "tip".

Mary Elizabeth Sperry said...

As a matter of fact, the Vatican does not pay to use the NAB on their website. The permission was granted without charge.

Daniel Norman McNamara said...

Dear Paolo,
A great book for "regular folks" is the new "Essential Guide To The Holy Bible" now available from the USCCB publications office (www.usccb.org). Most of its 89pp is given to short descriptions of each biblical book and some major OT & NT figures. It also anticipates many of the normal questions adults tend to ask. At $7., it's a steal! For later on, I recommend that people go to Carol Kloss' annotated guide "Catholic Scripture Study Resources". Just go to the Diocese of Joliet's website (www.dioceseofjoliet.org/reo) and click on "Scripture Study Resources". You can download her work as a 7pp. doc. Lots of other helpful things here too! Carol is working on a new website (scriptureschool.org) which isn't quite finished as yet (July, 2010).
Carol Kloss runs the Biblical Institute of the Diocese of Joliet. Hope this helps! Daniel Norman McNamara, Rockledge, FL

Esteban Vázquez said...

Tim> You ought to pick up a copy of Msgr. Knox's On Englishing the Bible when you have a chance. The name of the American edition is Trials of a Translator, and I was able to pick up a used copy of the latter for a few dollars on Amazon; for some reason, the UK edition is unbelievably expensive.

Sure, you're welcome for the tip--just remember, next time you give away a copy of the Knox translation, make it possible for me to win. :-P