Advice on Biblical Translations?

imgresQ. I’ve decided that this is the year I am finally going to read the bible from beginning to end. I have three versions—Good News for Modern Man (childhood), The Jerusalem Bible (my 20s), and of course the NRSV.  What do you think about moving back and forth between different translations as I read? Is the different use of language likely to make it harder or more interesting? Any feedback on this?

A: Thanks for your question! You should be commended for this endeavor – reading the bible in a year, though doable, can be challenging at times.

First, with regards to the translations, I think going back or forth or sticking to one translation are all good ideas. We use the NRSV in our worship as it’s a fairly accurate translation and incorporates some inclusive language – though, it doesn’t “flow” quite as well sometimes. Good New for Modern Man is, to some extent, a paraphrase rather than a translation as it takes many liberties with the text in the name of coherence (though not as much as “The Message.”) This translation would be more readable, but not as accurate. The Jerusalem Bible also flows pretty well, but keep in mind it comes out of the Roman Catholic tradition and so includes the Deterocanonical-Aprocrpahyl books (i.e. 7 more books than in a Protestant translation). The Jerusalem bible also translates God’s holy name, something Jews forbid and most Christians avoid as well (where the Holy Name is written in Scripture Jews say “Adonai,” instead of speaking the name, and most bibles have in all caps, “The LORD.”)

All right —so probably more about translations than you ever wanted to know. But I think most important in your endeavor will be in what order you read the bible. Starting in Genesis and plowing through is especially daunting, as parts of the historical books can drag on at times (especially with chapter upon chapter of genealogies!). A simple search online will turn up numbers of “read the bible in a year” reading plans. These tend to hop around a bit more, keeping things interesting.

Skipping around can also be helpful since the order of the bible is not necessarily chronological. While the first several chapters of Genesis purport to tell the story of the “beginning,” they were actually probably penned after other parts of the Old Testament. Likewise, though it is second, Mark was the first Gospel written, and all of Paul’s letters were written even before that.

In addition to reading plans, there are also good lists out there of the “top 50 bible stories.” Even if you don’t stick to such a list, they can be a helpful reference to highlight the importance of certain stories within the whole of the narrative.

Again, I commend you for this endeavor. Whenever we spend time in Scripture we open ourselves to hearing something new from God. Blessings to you this coming year—please do reach out and let me know how it’s going!

Comments are closed.