Friday, November 10, 2006

A new Bible

I just got a new Bible. It is an edition of the English Standard Version [picture on the left].

My first personal Bible was a Revised Standard Version [RSV], given to me at my promotion from Miss Burdick's Sabbath School class. That was the year I learned that the quick way to find Psalms was to open the Bible in the middle. I also learned that if I found the middle of the back half I would be brought to the beginning of the New Testament. The RSV was the version used as pulpit Bible in our church and the responsive readings in the hymnbook came from that version too. So I was introduced to the Scriptures by the revision [several generations removed] of the great Authorized, or King James Version. When we memorized Scripture, though, we sometimes still learned the KJV - that is how I learned the 23rd Psalm, the 100th Psalm, and the Lord's Prayer.

While I was in high school the Living Bible was published. It wasn't a new translation, but a paraphrase. It was enormously popular with the Christians I knew in youth group and at camp. It was written in colloquial English and very easy to understand. Soon after came the Good News Bible, from the American Bible Society - another contemporary English version, this time a translation but with a very simplified vocabulary. These efforts did a lot of good, I'm sure, but I wasn't satisfied. I liked the eloquence and rhythms of the KJV tradition. If I was going to read a modern translation, I wanted it to have some of those qualities.

I became a Lord of the Rings fanatic in high school. When I learned that J.R.R. Tolkien had been involved in the production of the English edition of The Jerusalem Bible [1966], that was enough to persuade me to get one. I liked it a lot and still read it with pleasure. Later when evangelical scholars translated the New International Version [NIV], everyone I knew I used it, and so did I. My scholarly friends informed me that it was very accurate and it is very readable. But, unlike the RSV and the Jerusalem Bible, its language didn't strike me as distinguished. It was great for Bible study, but not especially good for public worship.

Which brings me to the Bible I have been using the most for the last few years - the
English Standard Version [ESV]. It is based on the original Revised Standard Version, and retains its dignity. It works well in worship, and I'm told it is reliable. It certainly reads well. It seems to me that it retains the virtues of the older English translations and none of their difficulties.

There are many people better equipped than I to recommend a version of the Bible - more consistent Bible students and actual scholars. And of the making of translations there will, seemingly, be no end. But I like this version, perhaps because I have come full circle, back to a version very like the one I first read.

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