As the 400th year anniversary of the King James Bible was celebrated on 2nd May 2011, all the media and news channels have been reporting on the Bible, as never before. In countries which may be termed ‘free,’ the purchase and ownership of a Christian Holy Bible is the norm, indeed in many countries, multiple Bible ownership is the norm. 92% of households in the USA own at least one copy and of those households which own a Bible, the average number of Bibles, is three. Amazingly this includes not only the homes of practicing or professing Christians, but hundreds of thousands of atheists as well.
Before we look at which type of Bible to buy, let us first see just how the Bible and in particular the KJV (King James Version) has impacted the English language. For example, the following words and phrases owe their ancestry to the KJV:
|Apple of one’s eyes |
By the skin of one’s teeth
Eye for an eye
Fly in the ointment
How the mighty have fallen
My brother’s keeper
No peace for the wicked
Nothing new under the sun
Out of the mouths of babes
|Pour our one’s heart |
Pride goes before a fall
Salt of the earth
Sign of the times
The land of the living
To wash ones hands of something
Turn the other cheek
However, although most Americans appear to own a Bible, actually Bible use varies significantly. In a 2000 poll, 59% of Americans reported that they read the Bible at least occasionally, markedly down from the 73% of the 1980s. Americans who read the Bible at least once a week was 37%, again down from the 40% of 1990. For those who read the Bible regularly in 1997, they spent about 52 minutes per week in the scriptures with 42% of women and 32% of men having read the bible in the past one week. An as of 1997, even in America, those who read the Bible preferred the King James Version to the New International Version by a 5 to 1 margin. Not bad for a 400 year old book.
But the King James Version has not been idle since 1611, in updatings and corrections, being revised in 1613, 1629, 1638, 1653 and 1762 and the revised standard of 1952. From its first year of printing until somewhere between 1986-88, when it was overtaken by the New International Version, the King James Version remained the best selling version worldwide; and until the year 1900, more KJV Bibles were printed each year that all other book prints combined!
Thought the King James Version is based on “old English” and was the collaborative result of a team of a team of 54 scholars, who interestingly, did not use the English of their day, but the older Elizabethan which was falling out of use, even then. Perhaps this is why the King James Version has always had a lyrical feeling to it. But finally, on the King James Version, one cannot forget the ‘father’ of this version, William Tyndale, who on the 6th October, 1535 was bound to a stake, strangled and burnt for translating the Bible into English. 1988 investigations showed that 84% and 75.8% of the New and Old Testaments of the King James Version, were based on Tyndale’s own work.
There are more than 60 English-language version of the bible available today, but they all fall into three broad types:
1) Word-for-word translations
2) Meaning-to-meaning versions
3) Paraphrased Bibles
1) Word-for-word translations:
Word-for-word translations most accurately reflect the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic texts. The King James Version, the New King James Version and the Modern King James Version fall into this category.
How accurate are these versions? In 1974 the older King James Version was compared to the Dead Sea Scrolls and was found to be 98.33% pure in terms of comparison and a comparison with the Greek versions of the Bible, also revealed a greater than 98% match. In other words, these versions can be trusted and the newer King James versions have increased the alignment with the original scriptures as errors are corrected.
For serious bible study and to establish theology, word-for-word translations are recommended, for they do not impart any of the translator’s or editor’s personal bias.
2) Meaning-to-meaning versions:
Meaning-to-meaning versions are important and useful for putting old Scripture into modern day understandable words. A simple comparison demonstrates this intent:
Modern King James Hebrews 3:17-18 “Therefore in all things it behoved him to be made like His brothers, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of His people. For in that He Himself has suffered, having been tempted, He is able to rescue those who are being tempted.”
New International Version Hebrews 3:17-18 “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Easy-to-Read Version Hebrews 2:17-18 “For this reason, Jesus had to be made like us, his brothers and sisters, in every way. He became like people so that he could be their merciful and faithful high priest in service to God. Then he could bring forgiveness for the people’s sins. And now he can help those who are tempted. He is able to help because he himself suffered and was tempted.”
The second two versions more clearly present the intent to today’s readers. If one considers many of the present day colloquial phrases in modern usage, one can see how the meanings change and how, in a matter of a few generations, these phrases will lose these meaning and become forgotten. Try telling a teen about an “8 track cassette” or a ”45” to see how those terms are no longer in use, or even understood, by much of the population today.
Therefore, when the intent of meaning of Scripture is not immediately clear, a modern meaning-to-meaning version can be helpful.
The New International Version, the Revised English Bible, the Good News Bible, the New Living Translation and the Easy-to-Read Version are all typical and popular meaning-to-meaning versions.
The New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) is a further modification to the meaning-to-meaning translations, in that it has been simplified to have both shorter words and shorter sentences. Thus the NIrV Hebrews 2:17-1 reads “So he had to be made like his brothers in every way. Then he could serve God as a kind and faithful high priest. And then he could pay for the sins of the people by dying for them. He himself suffered when he was tempted. Now he is able to help others who are being tempted.”
While meaning-to-meaning versions are up-to-date and readily understandable to most readers, they are not recommended for establishing or discussing theology, as they have been intentionally modified from the original Scriptures.
3) Paraphrased Bibles:
The goal of paraphrased Bibles such as The Message and The Living Bible is to make Scripture even easier to read today. However, in their writing, the authors may take poetic licence with the Scriptural meaning(s) to render their own views, bias or end intent. Typically in Scripture, there are many underlying meanings and sub-texts, to which one may devote one’s life to uncovering and understanding. In a paraphrased Bible, however, only one meaning is typically used, and this may not necessarily be the most commonly supported meaning. Similarly, the subtleties of meanings are lost in favour of the author’s own religious ideas, doctrine, theology and leanings.
The Message Hebrews 2:16-18 “It’s obvious, of course, that he didn’t go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed.”
Paraphrased Bibles may certainly be used to quickly grasp a scriptural idea, but not for bible study or of doctrinal use.
To add to the complication of purchasing a Bible, options are available to us which were not previously so:
1) Red Word Bibles
2) Reference Bibles
3) Font size and Bible size
4) Study Bibles
1) Red Word Bibles:
A ‘Red Word’’ or a ‘Red Letter’ Bible, is a Bibles in which the words spoken by Jesus are coloured red. An example of this from the English Standard Version Mathew 4:4 “But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
In Bible study, there can be great advantages of having the words of Jesus instantly recognisable.
2) Reference Bibles:
Reference Bibles typically have a central page column which references the phrases or words to the same phrases or works in other locations in the Bible. Reference Bibles also typically footnote and explain selected words and phrases, giving a standardised theological and doctrinal interpretations. The Giant Print Center-Column Reference Bible (New King James Version) is an excellent and recommended example of this.
3) Font size and Bible size:
Bibles are available in small, large and extra large font versions, as well as on various thickness of paper. All of these affect the readability, size and weight of the Bible. If a Bible is easy to read, it is more likely to be read. If it is easy to carry or pocketed, it is more likely to be taken out. For most Christians, Bibles are inexpensive and multiple Bible ownership is recommended. Each version and type has a use, if correctly used.
4) Study Bibles:
Study Bibles tend to be large Reference Bibles and provide extensive explanations and understandings. Unfortunately, they also tend to be large and heavy, so are not conducive to carrying around as a student, though teachers tend to have no other choice. Versions like the Serendipity Bible allow teachers or small group leaders to lead study on any part of the Bible, unrehearsed as they provide structured questions for all chapters.
Electronic versions of most Bible version are available for computers and hand-held devices. Also available are audio Bibles where the words can be both read and heard. Audio Bibles such as at bible.com are a great way to learn, for example, the correct pronounciation of the Old Testament names.
All His Kingdom Prophecy authors use Rick Meyer’s E-Sword extensively. E-Sword provides multiple Bible versions in multiple languages, plus concordances and dictionaries which make serious Bible study very easy and enjoyable.
NOTE: Bible ownership is just the first step. Bible readership is the goal and the constant requirement of all Christians. As Second Timothy 3:16 tells us “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfected, thoroughly furnished to every good work.” Amen!