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Friday, October 16, 2009

A Loose Collection of Thoughts on Bible Reading

My father sent me a fifty for my upcoming birthday (don't ask--"older than dirt" is quite close enough), and, as I had been planning to do for a few months, I promptly spent the bulk of it on what will probably be the last Bible I ever buy, unless I surprise myself and get good enough at Greek to justify buying a combination Septuagint and New Testament in that language.

If you clicked on the link, you probably noticed it's not a study Bible. I've had several, but I quit using them a long time ago. They have their advantages--mainly, it's kind of like carrying a one-volume commentary around with you. They also have their disadvantages--mainly that it's kind of like carrying a one-volume commentary around with you. Usually, a one-volume commentary by one guy, or one committee. There's a certain potential for bias in the notes, and sometimes I think people vest more authority in the notes than is wise. The text is inspired, the notes are not.

I long ago gradually built up a set of The Expositor's Bible Commentaries so that I'd have something on the shelf on every book of the Bible, for the sake of preparing Sunday School lessons. I've also added other commentaries on individual books of the Bible. There is probably more commentary material on my shelves than I'm going to be able to read in my lifetime, unless I suffer the misfortune of a crippling illness or accident. Having a study Bible seems kind of redundant at this point. Not knocking them. If you don't see yourself picking up a shelf full of commentaries, they're just fine.

I've read several different translations over the years. The original preface to the venerable King James Version, which is seldom, if ever, printed in today's copies of the KJV, advised the reader to read the Scriptures in several translations
...varietie of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures...
which, contrary to some very ill-informed assertions, are remarkably well preserved, easily exceeding the degree of preservation of most (I almost say "all" but don't wish to spend half a day finding and linking to articles to back me up) other ancient documents--and I have taken that advice. Off the top of my head, I've read the KJV, the New King James, the New American Standard, the New International Version, the Berkeley Version, the Revised version (to the best of my recollection), the Phillips translation of the New Testament, parts of the Living Bible, the NET Bible, and the English Standard Version. There may have been--actually, I'm pretty sure there are--others that I've forgotten.

Each of these has its pluses and minuses, and for the most part, I don't knock anyone for choosing one or the other. Having been through the process, I still think it's a good idea to read several translations. If it weren't for the eyestrain factor, I'd say that using one of the parallel editions that has more than one translation side-by-side is the best way to go.

The NET Bible is quite a decent translation in very modern English. The translators' notes--there are more than sixty thousand--give an enormous quantity of detail as to the original-language texts behind the translation and the translators' reasons for choosing the translations they did, as well as alternate translations. In many respects, I think it is the "winner" out of all these translations.

But I like the ESV best. It is really a thorough update of the Revised Standard Version, which in turn was an updated King James. The ESV is a very literal translation that retains much of the classic feel of the KJV and is very "readable," which is what people say when they're trying to find a polite way to say that the New American Standard, which is often touted as the most literal translation, is a little wooden. As I've noted before, the ESV is also what all the cool Reformed guys are reading these days.

I don't have a big axe to grind when it comes to "more literal" or "less literal" translations. That may be because I've read so many. Despite people who protest otherwise, the translations really do all say the same thing: there is a God, you are (me too!), by nature and by choice, in rebellion against Him and deserve to be punished in a very real lake of fire for eternity, and the only way "out" is to change your mind about yourself, to agree with God that you really are guilty before Him, that the way you've lived your life is altogether filthy in His eyes, to turn from your own way of "making it" and to accept the eternal life that can be yours if and when you put your trust in the only provision He has made, the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, on your behalf, who proved who He was and His fitness to serve as a sinless sacrifice when He rose from the dead. You aren't worthy to enter eternal life, only He is--but when you put your faith, the faith itself being a gift of God, in Him, His righteousness is counted as though it were yours, your rebellion is pardoned, and you begin a life-long process of being conformed to His image. All the translations say that. I know, 'cause I've read them. They don't say it in one run-on sentence, like I did, but that's what they say.

Like I say, I like the ESV best, and I've been hankering for an edition that will be easy to read as I continue--well, hopefully, anyway--to age. Also, I wanted big, wide margins for making notes. I've tried keeping notes in a separate journal before. It doesn't work for me. I like making my notes and recording my thoughts in my Bible, and seeing them again and again as I make repeated trips through the text. I typically read four chapters in the Old Testament and two in the New on a daily basis. I say "typically," not "slavishly." That pace generally has me going through the New Testament about twice for every one time through the Old, and through the whole just a bit more than once per year. This edition has nice, big type, nice, big margins, and is what they call "Smyth-sewn," meaning the pages of the book are sewn together, like they did in the old days, and barring some sort of disaster, this copy and the notes I will make should very probably last me the rest of my days. No, it's not genuine leather, but the cover in which I carry my Bible is, so I never see and feel the actual cover anyway...

Hopefully, my children will be interested enough in my notes to fight over which one gets to keep my copy!

Not really. If they're really interested, I'm sure one of them will go to the trouble of transcribing my notes for the others.

Hey, I can dream!

1 comment:

  1. The NET Bible has so many great notes too. Such a great read and a great study tool.