Which Bible should you read?
Posted On August 4, 2011
Time to check the mail…
just received this in an email. I was wondering what your thoughts were on the NIV 2011 version.
Every time a new version of the Bible comes out, people immediately want to condemn it – usually to sell more magazines or drive traffic to their websites and blogs. In this case, the point made is that the new NIV has “thousands of changes.” I have not seen a copy of the new NIV, but it sounds like the “thousands” of changes are really one change related to the gender of certain pronouns.
The problem translators have had for centuries is how to translate Greek and Hebrew pronouns into English pronouns (like he, she, him, her, you, it, they, and them) without losing their original meanings. The NIV apparently decided to try to be more inclusive this time around, replacing ambiguous terms like “he” with a more inclusive term “they” to show that men AND women are being addressed. This certainly reads better than if they replaced it with “he/she” or “s/he” and it is more politically correct, but I think changing the pronoun from singular to plural causes more problems than it solves.
That being said, the larger question is this: which version is the best? I can’t give a straight answer because every reader’s situation is different so I will list the situations and give you some suggestions.
If you are a new follower of Jesus, the New International Version (NIV) is good place to start. It tries to translate things so that it flows smoothly rather than give a word-for-word translation, which tends to be very choppy and difficult to read. Younger readers might benefit more from paraphrases like New Living Translation (NLT), which tries to give you the gist of things (like CliffsNotes for the Bible). It is very basic though and should not be used as a Study Bible.
If you yearn for more teaching than Sunday services can give you, then you are ready to move on to a Study Bible. There are dozens to choose from including Women’s, Teen, Men’s, and Martian’s (ok, maybe not the last one). The more literal word-for-word translations are better for studying. New Revised Standard is pretty good and New American Standard is ok. I have been pleasantly surprised with NIV Life Application Bibles as well. New King James Version is outdated and tends to make everything sound like poetry or Shakespeare. Study Bibles are quite expensive so pick one you will actually read, but be sure to have access to three or more non-study Bible versions so you can compare what the “experts” think about specific words. YouVersion is a great app or you could use BlueLetterBible.org to make it easy to compare versions in the same passage.
If you do not feel called to go to seminary, don’t fret. You might not ever become an expert, but you can still learn from the experts even if you don’t know the original languages. Online resources are online for a reason – because they are not copyright-protected any longer. Generally, you get what you pay for. A Bible Dictionary is a must. Kittle’s Theological Dictionary is excellent even if it assumes some knowledge of Greek. Vine’s dictionary is ok, but beware of anything supposedly exhaustive that is only one volume.
A commentary set or two usually proves useful for the really difficult passages. They give you some background into the history of each book of the Bible including the author and the original audience. A good commentary will also tell you what other previous commentaries have said. Beware of commentaries on the whole Bible written by one person. I don’t care how great a guy or gal is, there is no way one person could know the whole Bible even if he/she lived to be 1000 years old. One person CAN devote their life’s work to one or two books though. When an editor brings these types of authors together, he forms a commentary set. Even though these are very expensive, they are worth every penny.
New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) is usually the first one I grab from my library. It is generally excellent and does not require any previous knowledge of Greek. Its Old Testament equivalent (NICOT) is very good as well. Word Biblical Commentary is also really good. It is less scholarly than most commentaries and more conservative than most, but one should read from various different views to get a better overall picture of the truth. Anchor Bible Commentary used to be the standard of the industry, but they have become outdated. They are useful for hearing the liberal side of things.