Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Guest Post: Emily Kirchner on Choosing a Bible

Emily Kirchner is a freelance writer for Discount Catholic Products, an online retailer of Bibles, scapulars, First communion gifts, and many more. The family’s Bible—passed down from several generations—is one of the most precious gifts her mother has given her. I would like to thank Emily for providing this short article.

Tips in Choosing the Best Bible Translation

Buying a Bible can be more complex than you might think. There are rows upon rows of Bibles at the bookstore, each copy having its own special features. More importantly, numerous translations of the scripture exist, with texts transcribed from the original Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. Every translation is different, as words can be interpreted differently by each new translator.

Aside from the different language translations, there are also a variety of biblical translations in English, of which the major ones are as follows:

• Literal Versions: These versions give priority to accuracy. Included in this classification are the King James Version, New King James Version, New American Standard Bible, Revised Standard Version, and English Standard Version. One could also include in this list the New American Bible Revised Edition.

• Free (Dynamic) Versions: Readability is given focus in the writing of these translations, the most common of which is the New International Version.

• Paraphrase Versions: These aren’t translations in the strict sense but are written in such a way as to increase readability and gives attention to relating the Bible with culture. The Living Bible and New Living Translation fall in this category.

While we can say that the reference is one same original book, these translations can differ in accuracy and readability. Translation, after all, is a difficult process because the translator must represent what is written without adding personal interpretation. As you veer away from literal translations of the Bible, there is more room for error because of the increased possibility of misinterpretations or wrong analyses.

Which brings us to the question: “which translation is best?” Perhaps the more apt term to use is not the “best translation,” but the “most suitable.” When choosing a Bible, be clear about your purpose or needs are for buying one. While literal versions are said to be the most accurate, they’re better suited for academic, detailed study rather than for personal use. Such versions, for example, are difficult to read because they still use the olden time suffixes like –est or words like “thy.”

If you’re buying one for daily mediation, then a literal version may only bring you words that seem like gobbledygook, making God’s words difficult to ponder upon. Free versions are generally more readable and easier to understand for personal use.

To fulfill my family’s biblical needs, I have two versions in our home: a literal one and a free one. If you have younger kids, it also helps to have an illustrated children’s book. This way, you can always cross-reference when unsure of one version’s contents.

Whatever version you have, it’s important that you read the Bible with family or friends to be able to discuss its meaning. You can always ask someone to help you out when you encounter verses that are unclear, be it a family member or the parish priest. After putting down the Bible, the only thing left to do is to put its words into practice.


owen swain said...

Nice work Emily. Sounds pretty much like the kind of advise I used to give when helping a customer in the Catholic book store I once worked in. I loved nothing more than to see a person walk out with a Bible they would actually use.

My own departure from your advice comes in three ways--perhaps these come from being a convert clergy--

(1) I would discuss but not recommend Protestant translations/editions of the Bible unless a person was already solid in their faith as a Catholic and wanting to expand their reading.

(2) I would say *the* most important way to read the Bible (not to take away from reading with friends and family, is to read with the mind of the Church, that is, read not coming to my own conclusions and interpretation but in concert with the authoritative teaching of the Church. This is easily done by combining reading of the Bible with a daily reading plan of the Catechism (available for free online) and with trustworthy commentaries whether in separate volumes or in a Study Bible of the kind mentioned on this blog.

(3) Unless the person is strong I would not recommend any Paraphrase such as those you include and The Message for instance. Why? They are far more subjective in their interpretation and, to this point, entirely Protestant driven and thus any of those versions that come with notes will entirely reflect Protestant theology which only serves to confuse.

God bless you in your work.

Diakonos said...

I question if the New Living Translation (NLT) is a paraphrase. Certainly The Living Bible, from which it descended, was moreso but the NLT had a real change in composition with an international team of scholars on its board if memory sevres me well. It is definitely a dynamic equivalence work but I wouldn't go so far as tolabel it a paraphrase.

owen swain said...

The NLT hailed as an "extensive revision of Ken Taylor's" Living Bible was updated by a relatively small team of actual translators to which were added reviewers (who did not make substantial changes to the material though the distinction between these is not made in the Table of Translators but may be found distinguished online) and is thus, technically, a translation.

However the NLT is heavily based upon the original not only in form but in the actual wording of Taylor's paraphrase. Reading the two side by side shows very little in substance has changed.

Beyond that, as with its predecessor it reflects an thoroughly Evangelical Protestant theology, which is natural as that is it genus. The seven O.T. books not originally included--the Deuterocanonical Books--but done some years later for a "Catholic Reference Edition"--the only Catholic Edition available to my knowledge--show only three names, none of them Catholic and none of them necessarily were actual translators but may have been only reviewers.

That last fact brings highlights what I find to be the main weakness in Emily's recommendations, at least as presented above, namely, while the nature of various translations is discussed there is no sense that a Catholic is being strongly directed to read Catholic editions, i.e. a complete Bible.

In my experience in retail and in serving cradle Catholics in a parish, unless told, many a Catholic would read the above simply get an incomplete edition of the Bible in one of the several entirely Protestant editions noted.

Chrysostom said...

The NLT is no doubt a paraphrase. Not as much as The Message, but only marginally better. This can be confirmed by checking the introduction (or back cover) to the Comprehensive New Testament, which lists correspondence rates not just between NA27 and the text, but between the original language and what comes out in English. The graph, in graph form, has been transcribed to the "Talk" page of the Wikipedia article on the ESV, with commentary by myself.

However much I preach for the purity of the Word, I do see great truth in the adage, "The best Bible is one that you shall read". If a feminist is offended by the RSV, by all means hand her an NRSV, for the soul of a feminist is still a soul: "whoever makes one of this little children stumble...". Not everyone can handle Early Modern English: there's no point in getting them to try, and adding a stumbling-block: give them a modern English translation, an ESV or an NASB. Not everyone can handle the complex sentence structures of some translations like the ESV: give them an NIV or NABRE. Some people don't like "Biblish": hand them a Jerusalem Bible. The length and breadth of Scripture (singular) is by and large far more important than poor or incorrect renderings of several scriptures (plural) contained therein, unless those renderings are so that they destroy the gospel message (the NWT, etc.).

The only exception to this comes in study of Scripture: for any even attempted, low-grade study, one must absolutely use a literal translation, such as the DRC, KJV, RV 1881, ASV 1901, NKJV, NASB, and to a lesser degree ESV, NETS, RSV, OSB, Alter's Psalms, etc., if one can not read the original language(s).