In my previous essay, I took a short look into the history of the English translation of the Holy Bible. I did this so that I could have this discussion about choosing a Bible for your own use. There are a number of considerations to be made when choosing a Bible. Of course, there is always the option to purchase many separate editions. I personally feel that this is a great option as it allows you to compare and contrast the opinions of the translators and removes the reliance on any single translator's work.
Many religious institutions today believe that the King James Bible is the only English Bible that is ordained by God. I will address this at the end of this essay as it has a special relevancy to me.
From my own research, I have found three outstanding Bible translations that I feel constitute the core editions to be considered for a "primary" Bible. These translations are the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible and the New American Bible. Why do I choose these three in particular?
My first reason for choosing these three translations of the Bible is the quality of the translation. All three editions are serious scholarly works designed to bring the original text of the Bible to modern readers. The NASB and the NIV are both interdenominational Protestant efforts at making a neutral Bible while the NAB is the product of the Roman Catholic Church. If you are a Roman Catholic then I suggest most strongly using the NAB (and might I suggest the duo-tone edition from the Oxford University Press, it is a very nice edition.) The Catholic church has approved a number of Bible translations but I really feel that the NAB is THE serious Catholic study Bible. Protestants have the more difficult choice of choosing between all three.
[I would like to point out that while the NAB is produced by the Roman Catholic Church that it should not be considered to be a "Catholic" Bible. It is an excellent translation that should be considered by Protestants and Catholics alike. The NAB is the only one of these three editions to make available the complete 80 books inclusive of the Apocrypha and so, I suggest that anyone should own a copy of the NAB for reference.]
The NIV is from the early 1970's and is a very scholarly translation designed to bring the Bible to life through the use of Dynamic Equivalency. DE is a means of basing the translation on the meaning of the original phrase and not simply on a word by word basis. This method makes for a much more readable Bible that is more easily understand by a greater percentage of the population. For this reason, the NIV has been the most popular modern English Bible for more than twenty years. DE is both good and bad. It is a really wonderful tool to bring more of the Bible into a language that readers can understand because we are not required to understand archaic phrases and expressions. However, some detail must be lost because there are many times when there is additional meaning in the text that is carried through these expressions. So using DE is a tradeoff. For a Protestant diving into the Bible for the very first time, I highly recommend the NIV. But don't let it scare away serious Bible students either. The NIV is a very serious translation and has available with it some highly extensive translation notes that can be invaluable for anyone making a serious study of the Bible.
The NASB is often considered the most scholarly of the traditional translations (those translations designed to be read - the Amplified Bible, for example, is specifically a research tool that is very difficult to use as a regular reading Bible.) The NASB is an update of the ASB which was made in 1901. These two Bibles together represent more than a century of being considered the single greatest authority on the Word of God. The NASB is a word for word translation, often considered to be the authoritative means of translating the Bible. Translating word for word, however, makes the NASB harder for modern readers to read and slightly hard to understand. The NIV is far more pleasurable to read but the NASB is better for really serious research. In 1995 a new version of the NASB, knows as the Updated NASB, was made that made it slightly easier to understand while maintaining the translational integrity.
[In 2002 the English Standard Version was made as an attempt to bridge the gap between the NIV and the uNASB. The ESV is more readable than the uNASB but is closer to its translation than to the DE of the NIV.]
Now, the issue of the King James Bible or KJV. This edition of the Bible, first printed in 1611, is the most popular English version of the Bible ever translated. There are several issues with the KJV Bible. The biggest and most important issue is that the KJV is NOT a modern English translation of the Bible. It is written in Elizabethan (aka Shakespearian) English which is a language that is not generally understood today. This causes a number of issues on its own. The most prevalent issue is that modern readers find the Bible simply unusable as they cannot follow its meaning. Worse yet is the confusion that results when modern readers believe that old English words have the same meaning today as they did four hundred years ago. Many words in our vernacular have changed over the past centuries and the apparent meaning of the Bibles has often changed. This makes people believe that the Bibles says something that it doesn't. It is not uncommon for modern readers to only ever attempt to read the King James Bibles, find it too difficult and give up reading the Bible having never tried a version that was truly translated into their own language. This is the most important thing to note: we do not speak Shakespearean English - it is actually a different language. That means that we are forced to translate the KJV into the English that we speak as we read it which is quite cumbersome.
Some people and some churches like to make a claim that only the KJV is an "authentic" Bible as God intended it (apparently modern English was not acceptable to God.) This is curious as the Bible that we use today is not the actual KJV. In fact, the Bible sold to readers today is a modification of the KJV. First, the Bible was updated in 1769 to give us the far more usable book that we have today and secondly, it was truncated from 80 books to 66 in the 1880's. So the Bible that was authorized by King James I, is not quite the book that we give him credit for today.
We must also look at the purpose behind the creation of the KJV. This Bible was the product of a single denomination (an orthodox denomination) that was seeking to oppose the Roman Catholic Church while also seeking to oppose the Protestant churches which had already produced the most popular Bible at the time, the Geneva Bible. The Geneva Bible is often considered to be a more accurate translation and managed to be much more popular than the KJV in its day. The KJV is highly based upon the earlier Geneva Bible but it also referenced a number of other translations including at least one that was intentionally altered and is not a reliable source for Bible study. The decision to produce the Bible to the demands of the King rather than to the demands of accurate translation seriously degrade an otherwise remarkable translation. For its time, the KJV was a very good Bible. But not even, necessarily, the best of its day.
Today we have to question the use of the KJV. Yes, because of its age it is available without copyright which does make it available very cost effectively. However, the KJV often drives new or potential Christians away from the Bible because it is so hard to understand. It can often mislead those who try to learn from it. Many see the use of the KJV as a sign of a person who is attempting to mislead as wielding a KJV Bible tempts one to interpret it as one sees fit and to make the scriptures into whatever you want them to be. In my own experience, the KJV has often been used by a church when it wants to add or remove rules from the Bible because the KJV allows for so much individual interpretation. The KJV is often a tempting tool to a potential "Bible modifier".
Because of the bad image that the KJV projects, because it hurts more often than it helps and because it tempts so many to sin, I believe that the KJV should be relegated to scholarly duties only as a tool for comparison against translations of the early seventeenth century and even then it should be a secondary choice to the revered Geneva Bible.