Thursday, March 16, 2017

Recommended English Bible Versions to Consult and Compare

I’ve previously reported (2011) my thoughts on English Bible versions that I think are useful to consult, but it’s time for an update. Apparently there is an Italian phrase, “Traduttore, Traditore,” a wordplay that basically means the translator is a traitor. There is no perfect English Bible translation. The multitude of versions is indicative not necessarily of dissatisfaction with other versions but is a recognition that translations are intended for specific contexts. Is it for study or more casual reading? What is the age group? Is it designed to be spoken out loud and heard? Does it want to provide explanatory glosses or use specific theological words?

In general, I encourage my students to compare a range of versions covering literal/formal to dynamic/functional ones. For Greek students, this comparison usually highlights most issues of difficult translations or text critical matters.

I’ve updated a chart of literal/formal to dynamic/functional translations based on a fuller listing of translations by Bruce Terry. Here’s the chart, but if you go to this Google Docs page, you will see additional commentary.

Recommended English Bible Versions to Consult and Compare

click to enlarge
Why do I recommend these? Other than providing a literal to dynamic range of translations, these also cover a range of religious perspectives including Jewish (for the Tanakh and for ecumenical versions), those that are explicitly “conservative/evangelical,” those coming from a Roman Catholic background, and those that are more broadly ecumenical. They display a range of exclusive to inclusive gender language. They also show a range of reading levels which makes for a good exercise in thinking about how we communicate a text.

Further, I am trying to reflect Bible versions that people are actually buying and reading, ones that my students will likely encounter as they lead Bible studies in churches. Here is data on the most recent information I can find:

Top English versions based on units sold
2014 survey)
Most frequently searched
2016 report)
1.       New International Version
2.       The Voice
3.      King James Version
4.      English Standard Version
5.      New King James Version
6.      New Living Translation
7.      Holman Christian Standard Bible
8.      Reina Valera 1960 (Spanish)
9.      Nueva Version Internacional (Spanish)
10.   New International Reader’s Version
1.       King James Version
2.       New International Version
3.      English Standard Version
4.      New King James Version
5.      New Living Translation
6.      The Message
7.      New American Standard Bible
8.      New Revised Standard Bible
9.      Holman Christian Standard Bible

There certainly are other criteria you could use to evaluate versions. I reflect a more liberal, ecumenical approach, but I still think this can be a good start for anyone thinking about the English Bible versions to consult when trying to take the original Greek and Hebrew texts seriously.

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