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Wed, 25 May 2005
So what kind of Bible do you purchase anyway? With the myriad of offerings available today it can be confusing. It is important enough that you really should take some time beforehand and consider.
Lets start with the version of the text. If you need a Bible to quote from, or perhaps to memorize verses, you would do well with a KJV (King James Version). Beautiful as it is, I find the KJV difficult to sit down and read. Verily, methinks thou speaketh awkwardly. For pure front to back reading I like the NIV (New International Version). It just flows along without interrupting you. I have to admit though, that it seems kind of loosie goosy in places, and I found myself wondering sometimes: is that really what the Bible says.
I can’t imagine some of the even looser translations, like the GNB (Good News Bible). You can stretch this readability over accuracy too much I think. If you get one of those, you should supplement it with another Bible that is more literal. Something to refer to and make sure you are getting the real meaning. Especially when you go into Paul’s epistles. Paul was a very deep thinker, (he had been a Pharisee after all) and to understand him you need something pretty accurate. Perhaps the NKJV (New King James Version), which is just the KJV with the Elizabethan taken out.
Of course if you are Catholic you will want a Bible with all the so called Apocrypha in there, something like the JB (Jerusalem Bible) or a NAB (New American Bible). I understand the Greek and Russian Orthodox have some different Apocrypha, so you need to be careful. The New Revised Standard version (NRSV) has an addition with all that in there, but not in the same sequence as a Catholic might expect.
I like the NRSV translation , which is an update of the older RSV, because it strikes a good balance between readability and accuracy. One criticism you may have is that it has “corrected” some of the language to be more inclusive. So “brothers” is changed to “brothers and sisters”. The rational is that we know Paul was referring to both men and women in the churches he was writing to, but in English there just isn’t a sex neutral noun to use. If you can live with it, fine, if not, you might try the RSV.
Then there is the Amplified Bible, which tries to include every nuance (shade of meaning, variant wording) in parenthesis within each verse. It may help in understanding some of the more dense theological discourses in Romans, or 1 John, but it can get distracting (annoying, irritating).
Another note on version - keep in mind the internet. Every English translation can be found on the web somewhere, so perhaps you can use your internet access as a place to check the wording of other version, when your paper and ink Bible is confusing.
OK, so let us assume that you have decided on a version, now what?
Well do you want notes. You know, footnotes and inter-column references, dictionary and concordance, diagrams and charts and like that. Notes are really great for providing context and interpretation, perhaps some background. A separate Bible commentary could perhaps do a better job, but I like notes because they are there right near the Bible text to which they refer - answering questions as the come up, or perhaps before you even knew you had a question. All the research and learning of great theologians is available in context, right where and when you need it.
As with anything else, there is a down side. If you are like me and feel compelled to to read all the footnotes and follow all the references every time, it can get a little tiring. Fascinating perhaps, but tiring. You start to study when you might only have wanted to read. One solution is to have two Bibles. The Bible you use for reading or worship has no notes and the one you use for study has notes. Problem solved.
You have to be careful about notes. While the Bible text is inspired, the notes come from man, and usually come out of a particular religious point of view. So for example, a Scofield Bible will have great notes - but they will support a pre-tribulation dispensationalist point of view. Which, if that is you, is fine, but if it isn’t, you may not want Scofield’s notes. Other Bibles, like the Oxford Annotated have extensive notes, but from a more modern text criticism point of view. If you are fan of text criticism and higher criticism and all that, then go for it - if you are more literal minded, and scripture is scripture is scripture, text criticism will just aggravate you. Some notes are styled for a specific audience, teenagers, or divorced men, or recovering substance abusers. Be sure the notes are relevant to you. Your Bible is talking directly to you; the notes should as well.
Now, on to the style. What kind of physical book do you want. A large hardcover book may be nice for study at home, but do you want to lug it to church or Bible study? Most of the Bibles also have a paperback edition. I don’t really like paperback however. The word of God should not have the look and feel of Ken Follett, or, shudder, Danielle Steel. Those black leather ones look nice, and feel wonderful, with their gold gilt edges, soft leather covers and delicate pages. But if you are the type that writes in your Bible, or perhaps underlines or highlights, you may feel funny marking such a pretty book. On the other hand, perhaps their attractive look and feel will get you to actually read it more often. (Always a plus.)
A nice large illustrated “family” type Bible is nice too, but are you going to use it? Its kind of too large to prop up as you lie in bed reading, but may look nice on the mantle, or to keep family pictures in. Folks used to keep family births and deaths written inside the cover, but I don’t know if anyone does that any more.
They have lots of little pocket Bibles, in every translation, some of them with the entire Bible, some with only the New Testament and Psalms. Good for reading while riding in the car or waiting in the ticket line at the airport. And handy for witnessing. You have to be careful of the print size on some of them however, even with glasses they can be a strain.
If you are looking for a Bible to take camping and fishing I would advise getting a five dollar Bible at Wal-Mart, something you would not be upset about losing, or spilling coffee or water on. Cheap Bibles will feel cheap - which can put you in the wrong mood when you want to read or worship. But for temporary use when camping, or to keep in the car, they are fine.
There are lots of Bible accessories available. You can get a slip cover for your Bible, to keep it clean and looking nice. Many of these covers have a pouch where you can put church bulletins, or small writing tablet to take notes, and even a loop to hold your pen or pencil. Some have a strap, so you can sling it like a small pack, over your shoulder, and others are full fledged organizers, with places for all kinds of papers and notes. You can get covers in a variety of materials, from full grained leather to canvas, to cordura nylon, and in all kinds of colors, with different insignia or just plain.
There are several advantages to using a Bible cover. As mentioned it protects your Bible from wear, both outside and inside. It also is useful when reading in public places, like airports and buses; face it, there are times when you just are not interested in everyone knowing you are reading a Bible, and the cover makes it less obvious. For all they know you might be reading Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings.
There are other accessories you might be interested in. Bible tabs are useful, especially for the Bible you take to church or use to follow along with radio sermons. Sometimes it can take a few moments to find a particular book, especially the lesser profits in the old testament - lets see, is Joel before Obediah or after Micah. And sometimes the pastor does not wait for you to catch up.
There are some hand sized magnifiers, special highlighters and markers, and even a little card with extra ribbons attached that you slip down the inside of the spine.
How to balance all these options. You want have a Bible that you are comfortable with - one that meets your religious needs, speaks to you, and is also attractive and comfortable to hold. A Bible that you will pick up and read. Because in the end its not about the type of book, the translation or even the text itself. Its about a relationship with Jesus Christ.