Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Is it good to use different Bibles?

This thought came to my mind as I read the fine post and responses at Better Bibles Blog concerning the question of best uses for different Bible versions. While I certainly recognize the need to have different translations, knowing that none is perfect, I wonder if it is good to use a particular Bible for prayer and reading, while another for study, and yet another as an all-purpose Bible. I am really not sure what the answer is to this question. Ideally, it would be best to utilize one Bible translation for prayer, daily reading, study, and ministry work, however is this realistic?

I know that this is an issue that I have struggled with for a number of years. Perhaps this is why I tend to oscillate between two or three translations over a given period of time. (Although I think I may have decided on one version, which I plan to talk about in a future post.) If a person constantly changes or refers to different translations on a regular basis doesn't this in a way hinder that person's interiorization and memorization of the Sacred Text? Hmmm......


ElShaddai Edwards said...

It's a great question, Tim. I agree in principle that one Bible, one translation, is more than sufficient to get into God's Word. In fact, I spent 20 years with the same NASB, without recourse to any other translations. Looking back, it was a very simple experience - the Bible was the Bible and my "quiet waters" were not dirtied by the translation debates. I long for that type of experience again and continually challenge myself on whether comparing and interacting with different translations is a selfish "wisdom of this world" desire.

Timothy said...


Thanks for the response. I saw your response on the BBB site, which didn't include the REB. I was a bit surprised! But, I think we are in the same boat in many ways.

I just don't like the idea of having a Bible for this, a Bible for that, and another Bible for some other purpose. Of course, being able to read straight from the Biblical languages themselves would be ideal, but I don't think I will be acquiring that skill in any proficiency any time soon. Plus, I think there is something important about being able to interact with the Word in one's own native language.

So, I think I am close to making a decision about going with a particular translation for everyday use, in all circumstances. Sometimes the key might just be accepting a translation, knowing its positive and negative features, and just sticking with it. I think I just lose out in building a relationship with the Sacred Text when I am always switching translations.

ElShaddai Edwards said...

I think I just lose out in building a relationship with the Sacred Text when I am always switching translations.Bingo. I've been reading Eugene Peterson's "Eat This Word" and that relational aspect of reading the Word has really been on my mind. We get very insulated when we sit with multiple translations and compare this or contrast that. It's the same as saying "what can I get from the Bible", when the real question is "how do I live *out* the Word". A translation is a means to Kingdom living, not the Kingdom itself.

So take my answer on BBB with a grain of salt - I'm still trying to decide what translation will facilitate my relationship with the Word. And that might just be the REB...

rolf said...

I struggle with the same problem. The biggest problem for me is that I have to use the NAB for Bible Study, Lector and RCIA, it is hard to stick with one translation
without that one translation being the NAB. I would prefer to use the RSV-2CE all the time, but that is not possible now.

Timothy said...


It is too bad that the choice isn't clearly obvious. All of the major Catholic/ecumenical translations, RSV/RSV2CE/NRSV/NAB/NJB, all have their obvious limitations. But, I am just tired of switching back and forth between them on a regular basis.

I think a big thing for me is trust, which I need to build not only with the Word, but also with the fact that all those previously mentioned translations have imprimaturs. I should be content with that!

Raphael said...

Ideally, I'd like to see the American bishops commission a complete revision of the NAB, so that the version we hear at mass would match the version we can buy at the bookstore. The current liturgical version of the NT is on the right track, but there are still some phrases that must be reverted, such as "gates of hell" (not neitherworld or jaws of death), "hail full of grace", use of "Christ" rather than Messiah, "what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and to lose his SOUL" (not life or self), and correcting other such doctrinal errors the current NAB has. Then they need to revise the OT so that it matches the NT in style and reverence (and make sure those footnotes are faithful to Catholic teaching).
But until such a day, what I currently do is read the Douay-Rhiems for serious prayer and meditation, and for more casual reading, I alternate between the NAB and a vintage paperback 1966 copy of the Jerusalem Bible that I have. I also really enjoy the Confraternity NT, which the current NAB NT strongly borrows from, and should move even closer too.

Theophrastus said...

I don't know that I agree with you. For me, the primary Bible is an original language Bible, and a translation is mere commentary -- or a targum -- on the Hebrew (or Greek). (I'm going to ignore textual criticism issues here.) I think that Scripture is important not just because of its "message" but because of the way it says things.

If one belongs to a particular belief system that elevates a translation (e.g., the Vulgate or Septuagint or Slavonic Bible or Coptic Bible or Peshitta) to the class of inspired Scripture, then my comments apply to reading that inspired translation in its language (Latin, Greek, Slavonic, etc.). But most Jews and Christians believe that Hebrew (and Greek) is the ultimate version of Scripture.

Since I see a translation as mere commentary, I see no reason to limit myself to one translation. On the other hand, reading a translation without reference is in the same category as reading a commentary, reading a synopsis, etc.

To be sure, reading commentaries by themselves can be rewarding (e.g., Catholics can study the catechism with great benefit -- and the catechism can be broadly called a type of "commentary" on Scripture) but for me, it is only a shadow of Scripture.

It is a lot of work to study original languages, but if one truly believes it is a divine message, I think it is worth the trouble.

Anonymous said...

Dear Timothy,

I understand your dilemma in regard to this and that translation. Before my conversion to the Catholic Church i went back and forth between the NASB and the NKJV since they best represented the Alexandrian and Byzantine type manuscripts. As a protestant the bible was the sole source of truth and without an accurate translation we could not know what the Lord wanted from us. Now as a Catholic i am forced to chose since there is a limited amount of officially approved translations. Looking back i can say that i wasted too much time going back and forth between translation, gk variants and overall accuracy. In the end i gave up the battle and deciced to wait for the 2009 NAB revision to appear in the near future, in the meantime i will read the 1986,1991 NAB and the catholic NIV...the 1966/2008 JB.

Anonymous said...


Could i recommend that you bring this up to your confessor? The Lord will guide you through his words as he helped me. God Bless.

Timothy said...


Thanks for your thoughts. I have discussed this issue before with my spiritual advisor, who has been very helpful. It is always good to get others opinions, particularly from brothers and sisters in the faith, in order to work your way through a decision.

Paul W said...


Thanks for posting this. The advice of Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart has always been helpful for me in answering this question - and it can be adjusted for Catholic readers because of concerns over the imprimatur.

- Use a translation like the NAB as your "main" Bible.
- Use the NRSV for a translation much closer in form to the original languages.
- Use the REB or NJB for a different perspective (arguably they're too idiosyncratic to use as your main translation)
- Refer to one of the paraphrases for a fresh perspective (e.g. CEV, GNB, CCB).

Forgive me, but I find Raphael's claim troubling that translation shouldn't be about honestly reflecting the wording and meaning of the source text. I write as a Protestant, but I don't write out of a Protestant concern here. I thought the Catholic Church was comfortable with the fact that infallible and binding dogma is not a direct transcript of the words or meaning of Scripture. This is because of the way the Church coordinates Scripture and Tradition, and understands the development of Tradition.

I like modern Catholic exegetes so much because they're more often honest about what the text really says in a way many Protestants aren't. Protestants can be less honest because their whole theological framework seems to depend on a model of doctrine as little more than a direct transcript of the words or meaning of Scripture.

Timothy said...

Paul W,

Thank you for your comments. I do like the Fee and Stuart book you mentioned. I certainly appreciate the need to have multiple translation, particularly for study, but I am feeling a need to settle with one translation for regular/everyday use. For me at least, I can get easily distracted in my own spiritual growth by always switching between translations.

In regards to modern Catholic biblical exegesis I think you are quite right. Pope Benedict has made it clear, even most recently in his introduction to "Jesus of Nazareth", that the Historical Critical method is an indispensible tool. There is really no questioning the importance of it as a means to getting to the literal sense of scripture.

Of course, as Pope Benedict points out, the Catholic exegete cannot stop with the Historical Critical method. He/she should remember the three principles set out in Dei Verbum of the Second Vatican Council:

1) Be attentive to the content and unity of the whole Scripture. (Canonical criticism basically)

2) Reading the Scripture within the living Tradition of the whole Church

3) Be attentive to the analogy of the faith. (Those coherence of truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation)

Esteban Vázquez said...

Re: the languages, if you'd like me to tutor you in Greek, let me know. We're close enough for us to work something out.

Timothy said...


Hmmm....very tempting? What do you charge per credit hour? :)

Raphael said...

Paul W., you said "I find Raphael's claim troubling that translation shouldn't be about honestly reflecting the wording and meaning of the source text." You got it backwards. I do want the English translation to be an honest meaning of the source text. That is why I suggest the NAB revert some phrases to what they were orginally in the D-R Bible, which did get the translation correct.

For example, "gates of hell". The Latin reads "portae inferi" (gates of hell). The Greek reads "pulai hadou" (gates of hell). How in the world can that be translated as "powers of death" or "jaws of death"????

Take Matthew 16:26, "loss of his own soul". The Latin is "animae" and the Greek is "psuchen". Those words are in English "soul". The newer translations use "life", even though the Greek word for life is "bios". It seems almost diabolical that these newer translations are minimizing the concept of saving one's soul.

Many of these newer translations are simply wrong and misleading, and that is what is truely troubling.

Biblical Catholic said...

On the issue of memorizing scripture, I frankly don't think that memorization is all that important. We all know people who have memorized vast portions of scripture, yet don't seem to understand a word of it.

I once knew a Muslim from Pakistan. He, like most Pakistani's, spoke Urdu as his native language. He did not know a word of Arabic. He once told me that 'I have memorized the Koran word for word in Arabic, one day I hope to learn Arabic so that I will be able to understand it.'

Memorization is far less important than simple understanding, and if you can remember the general idea behind a certain passage, but don't remember the exact words, that isn't a big problem I don't think.

One thing that I notice when reading the writings of the Church Fathers is just how many of their scriptural citations are wrong. They get the general idea, but occasionally get the exact wording wrong. It is possible that some of the time they are simply quoting from alternate versions that have not survived, but the most likely explanation for the variations is simply that their memory was faulty. If even the Fathers didn't have scripture memorized word for word, I can't say that I regard it as very important.