On Bible Translations 1.0
Most bible translations are fine, many are good, and a few are excellent.
The King James version is excellent. Its textual basis isn’t the best but most of the time that doesn’t really matter. In places its vocabulary, grammar, and usage are archaic but most of the time that really doesn’t obscure the meaning for an educated adult reader. It sings, and by its song it transformed the English language. Its turns of phrase and rhythms are everywhere English is spoken, written, or read. It is unmatched and will never be matched. If you want to know exactly why Gerald Hammond’s essay ‘English Translations of the Bible’ in Robert Alter and Frank Kermode’s The Literary Guide to the Bible will give you a thorough explanation.
Bishop Challoner’s revision of the Douay-Rheims Bible drew heavily on the King James version. He finally dragged it over the line into modern English in the 18th century. The Revised Version and its American cousin updated the King James version sparingly on textual, philological, and grammatical grounds. Late in the 20th century the New King James version made a similar attempt while preserving the original textual basis of its namesake. They are all fine.
The Revised Standard Version was an immense scholarly and ecumenical achievement. It was my first Bible, my father’s confirmation bible covered with a book cover he made from some textured gold mid-twentieth century wallpaper. It’s good and employs a critical base text and, for the most part, contemporary vocabulary, grammar, and usage. The Oxford Annotated Bible, with notes both terse and intelligent, employs this translation. It is still the best study bible I have ever used. Less is more.
The RSV is the translation from which a thousand other translations bloomed. The NRSV, ESV, and several Catholic variants are revisions of its text. Evangelical translations such as the NASB and the NIV were undertaken in reaction to some of the choices of the RSV’s translators which rubbed evangelicals the wrong way.
The NIV is sometimes styled as a contemporary English translation but is much more traditional than the Good News Bible or the New Living Translation. Of those two the New Living Translation is superior aside from the lack of charming Annie Vallotton illustrations. It communicates the Bible’s message in simple and direct American English while sacrificing some of its idioms and rhythms better preserved in the King James Version.
Dream Bible: Parallel KJV-NLT texts with terse and intelligent notes in the style of The Oxford Annotated Bible.
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