Some Versions are No Good
Any Bible Version
Any is the wrong word because there are too many English versions to pick from today. That is certainly better than when I was a child and there was only one, the King James Version. Somewhere between
just vanilla and 300 flavors there must be a world that has choices and lacks confusion.
I'm not confused. Knowing a little Greek and Hebrew makes it easy to parse a couple of favorite passages right there in the book store. It makes a nice hobby for men waiting in the mall for their wives. But not everybody has so much fun with a new version, nor can they afford to buy a copy of every one available. And, while most new versions are okay and sometimes excellent, there are a few real stinkers.
This page is for Christians, not because I am forgetting my other friends, but because Christianity is the major creator and confuser of versions–and stinkers. Substitute the words
English speakers for the word
Christians and the word
Christianity in the last sentence and the word
stinkers is still true.
- The best editions of the texts in their original languages are the standard, criterion, and control for all versions.
- Keep several versions, especially if you don't have a critical text at hand. Here is list in order of importance:
- A readable version with good English usage to clarify meaning.
- A version meant to be read aloud in church, clearly pronounceable, usually the one your church uses most often.
- A literal, word for word, machine–like translation.
- Several paraphrases or commentaries to supply various points of view and interpretations.
- Versions from other traditions, including the Jewish tradition.
- Beautiful literary versions, usually of individual books like the Psalms.
- A version for children which is easier to read but does not cover up the blood or the evil in with the good and comforting.
- If you must, a coffee table version, meant to be seen and not read.
- Get advice from a pastor/priest, rabbi, or skeptic (or all three) whom you trust.
- Ignore the advice of booksellers and university or seminary professors.
- Assume that all versions are slanted.
- Determine the direction and the degree of bias. There are not just two.
- Balance different directions of bias in your library.
- See to it that you recognize your own bias.
- Keep your bias as long as you can because it protects you from fads and crackpots.
- Prepare to be convinced you were wrong.
- The Bible is not a novel. An easy read is probably a false reading.
- The version should take you back into those times, not bring those people up to your times.
- If you don't like the Bible, read something else. Don't keep hunting for your ideology in a Bible suit.
- Give up a poor version before you grow to like it.
- Illustrations, especially oil paintings, are almost always misleading. They are only good to have in that coffee table Bible you never open.
That leaves a lot of good choices. All that remains is a brief complaint about political tracts pretending to be translations of the Bible.
While the general principles of human life are permanent to our species, there is nothing eternal about the fads and fancies of the day. Evolution or creationism, capitalism or socialism, euthanasia or abortion, democracy or constitution, and a whole host of modern issues, are not even remotely a part of the world of two and three thousand years ago. If you find a version which proves that the Supreme Being has taken sides on some Supreme Court case, even on your side, burn it.
People of faith should be encouraged to speak out on the issues of the day, as did the saints who wrote our literature in their day. This is how our God speaks, not by twisting some obscure passage in another language in another culture in another age into a election slogan.
The Book is the Book, leave it alone. It is better to disagree with what we read in our literature than to twist and edit the documents into what we wish they were. This is the business that drives skeptics nuts, and scholars and clergy of all faiths join the skeptics, that some hold the Word of God inerrant even as they force their goofy ideas into an idiosyncratic reading of the text. Our literature is real, human, and historical. These words, in these languages, set down by these men and women, edited by these others, with these flaws and filth and errors, with this glory and beauty and truth. The Book is what the Book is, not what we wish it was.