O Lord Jesus Christ, open Thou the eyes of my heart, that I may hear Thy word and understand and do Thy will, for I am a sojourner upon the earth. Hide not Thy commandments from me, but open mine eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of Thy law. Speak unto me the hidden and secret things of Thy wisdom. On Thee do I set my hope, O my God, that Thou shalt enlighten my mind and understanding with the light of Thy knowledge, not only to cherish those things which are written, but to do them; that in reading the lives and sayings of the saints I may not sin, but that such may serve for my restoration, enlightenment and sanctification, for the salvation of my soul, and the inheritance of life everlasting. For Thou art the enlightenment of those who lie in darkness, and from Thee cometh every good deed and every gift. Amen. (Saint John Chrysostom)
Most of us will never know Greek or Hebrew well enough to study the Holy Bible in the original languages, losing a large percentage of the meaning along the way. If you are so inclined to become a Bible scholar able to work with early texts, God bless you. For the rest of us, we’ll take a look at our choices, and do the best we can.
Beginning our study with the prayer of Saint John Chrysostom will help to make up for what we lose by reading in English. We will depend upon the Holy Spirit for enlightenment, not the translators. That being said, we still want to avoid the worst versions, and read the better ones.
Bible translations are varied and numerous, but there are a few good ones for study. Generally, the King James Version (KJV); the New King James Version (NKJV), an update of the KJV; the New International Version (NIV), one of the easiest to read, although the latest version of the NIV is questionable; and the New American Standard Bible (NASB) are acceptable.
The King James Version (KJV)
Many people believe that the King James Version is the very best translation, perhaps even perfect, and will not read anything else. You may have noticed that the KJV is often used when Bible quotes are added to a text. It is chosen because it is elegant, familiar to many ears, and in the public domain, no additional referencing is necessary. Being in English, or in any language other than the originals, however, it cannot be perfect.
“The Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible possessed today were unknown to the 54 scholars of the King James Version. The manuscripts of the Bible which were found later pointed out more clearly the serious defects of the King James Version.” (See entire article here, and please read the comments below.)
The Orthodox Study Bible (OSB)
If you are like me, you hope that when you see the word “Orthodox” in a title, it means that it can be trusted. The word “Orthodox,” however, is not enough. You can find a number of reviews for the Orthodox Study Bible online. Here is one worth noting, where the reviewer points out its non-Orthodox aspects. There is now a revised edition, but for me it’s not the word “Orthodox” that sells me on a book.
The Septuagint (LXX)
Thankfully, there is an excellent English translation of the Greek Septuagint in progress, and available online. Please use the link to learn about this invaluable Old Testament text and to read the completed sections. When I hear that the print copy is available, I will provide that link as well.
The New American Standard Bible (NASB)
If you’ve received a Bible from our Sunday school program, it was the NASB. No, it’s not perfect either, but it does have some nice features: pronouns for God are capitalized; the way Isaiah 7:14 is translated; and its readability (“11th grade level”, although I use it for as young as 4th grade.)
While researching this article for you, I ran across an interesting page about Bible translations with which I mostly agree. It is part of a Protestant site (Tyndale was not Orthodox), and I cannot recommend the site for any other purpose, but the graphic on the top of this page visually represents some of what I’ve tried to explain here. This link no longer works, but here is a similar chart.
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (and similar books)
Sects and cults have written their own Bibles. The New World Translation is the work of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Latter Day Saints, also known as Mormons, use the KJV, with footnotes and summaries explaining their (heretical) interpretations. Works such as these have serious errors, even if they look like nice books, fooling many people into thinking that they are legitimate translations. I’ve found these in Orthodox church bookstores, slipped in by visitors hoping to confuse the faithful. If you are in doubt about a Bible publisher, ask!
Paraphrases are not the same as translations. According to Wikipedia, a translation is “the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text,” while paraphrases are “restatements of the meaning of a text or passage using other words...typically explaining...the text that is being paraphrased.”
Paraphrases will reflect the personal biases of the “translators” to a greater degree than translations. You will find paraphrases advocating feminism, such as the Silent Voices Bible (I tried to look at the link about this one, but my search engine warned me away); promoting alternative (previously known as sinful) lifestyles, such as the Queen James Bible (the Google blurb said enough, don’t have to go there); as well as ones aiming for the lowest possible reading level, such as the Urban Bible.
While not all paraphrases are this extreme, remember that even the most accurate Bible is going to be far from perfect. I prefer to encourage students to read as well as possible, so that they can read the Holy Bible in the best translations.
Open Bible Gateway in a new tab. (We’ll discuss this great online resource another day, but for now we’ll use it for comparing Bible translations and paraphrases.)
Click on “Available Versions” in the left column menu. Scroll down and take a look. How many English versions are there? Thirty-five? More? Wikipedia lists so many I did not bother to count them.
- Back in Bible Gateway, click on “Passage Lookup” in the left column menu.
- For passage, enter “Isaiah 7:14”.
- For versions, select New American Standard, King James Version, The Message, The Amplified, and the Good News Translation. (I usually hide the footnotes and cross-references.)
- Click on “Lookup Passage,” and see what you get.
Try this with passages you looked up in Part One. Take a look at how different Bibles present the texts, keeping in mind that translations and paraphrases are not differentiated on Bible Gateway. You may wish to make notes about your discoveries.
By now you may have changed your ideas about the Bibles you have, either encouraged that you have a good translation on hand for studying, or ready to purchase a new one. Either way, I would also encourage you to consider loading a Bible on your favorite e-reader. And if you are ready to start reading, and don’t know where to begin, may I suggest either the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark or the Holy Gospel according to St. John. We’ll discuss more detailed reading plans another day.
Resources and Notes
(Please note that resources are provided because of the information appearing on the linked pages. This is not necessarily a recommendation of the remainder of a site, although there may in fact be valuable information there as well.)
Links found in this article:
- Prayer of Saint John Chrysostom Before Reading or Listening to the Word of God
- The Bible: Its Original Language and English Translations (I found this article interesting, especially re the history of the Bible being translated into English. However, there is a noticeable universalist flavor. Also, the section about the Revised Standard Version fails to note the problems and controversy surrounding it.)
- Chapter 2 of the Gospel According to Saint Luke
- Review of the Orthodox Study Bible
- The Septuagint online
- Bible translations comparison chart
- BibleGateway.com home page
- List of English Bible translations (Wikipedia)
My Bibles: Although I arrived here with only a KJV, and The Psalter According to the Seventy, mentioned in Part One, I’ve gathered a small collection of Bibles: an interlinear New Testament, with Greek between the NIV and NASB, used for investigating meanings; a tiny KJV New Testament with Psalms, presented to my mother in 1949 when she became a nurse (it includes the National Anthems!); a 1929 Standard American Edition, also presented to my mother, this time in 1937 upon her promotion in Sunday school; an Orthodox Study Bible, a gift to me from a generous benefactor; a New International Version, not the latest, which I use for teaching reading; a New International Reader’s Version, used for teaching younger children to read; a New King James, which I do not use except to make my collection appear larger; many New American Standard Version Bibles, which I give as gifts and use in Sunday school; and the KJV and NASB on my Kindle, along with the schedule of daily readings used in the Church.
Versions read in the Orthodox Church: “The Eastern Orthodox Church officially uses the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament which was translated from the original Hebrew language into Greek in the third century B.C. The Septuagint of the Orthodox Church contains all the Canonical Books and the Anaginoskoinena Books "worthy to be read" (called Apocrypha in the English Versions). For the New Testament, the original Greek text is used by the Greek Church, while the other Orthodox Churches have translated the Bible into their own native languages from the original Greek, with the Slavonic translation the oldest. The Orthodox Church has not, as yet, translated the Bible into English and so has no official English translation. In the meantime, the Orthodox are temporarily using … the King James Version...”
(The “original Greek text” mentioned in this quote makes things sound simpler than they are. The article explains some of the complexity involved. It is quite interesting, however the author’s bias toward universalism is apparent. See the entire article here.)
(For more information about the problems with the Revised Standard Version, see here.)
Humbly submitted by Sister Irene.
Please contact me with your comments, corrections, and questions.