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Which Bible Should I Use?
A quick, short answer is that you should use a Bible that you like, one that you are most likely to pick up and read. Actually reading the Bible is more important than which translation you use, especially since the Holy Spirit is the one who will be opening the Scripture to you (See The Holy Spirit in the Reader.)
Every English language Bible is a translation, since for the most part, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. The modern versions of these languages are not identical with the older languages used during the years the Bible was written. All Bibles in languages other than the original Hebrew and Greek are translations. Therefore, there will be differences among them—this is unavoidable! English translations I have regularly used and recommend include the ESV and the NIV, especially the older, 1985 version. The New King James Version and the King James Version are also good.
Good translations stick very closely to the wording of the original language, even including word for word reproductions of what some might call idioms. A good translation also preserves gender specific pronouns when the meaning might be thought either to support a specific person of a certain gender or a reference to humanity in general. The best rule of thumb is to let the language of Scripture speak for itself, and a good translation does just that.
For studying Scripture, paraphrased translations are poor starting points. A paraphrase is a translation in which words have been added, others dropped, and exact words of the original languages have been substituted by other words that the translators consider to be more palatable or understandable to modern tastes or sensibilities. The NIV sticks to the original intent of the biblical authors without use of word for word translation (dynamic equivalence), while the KJV, the NKJV, the NASB, and more recently the ESV stick to a close translation of both the intent and the actual words of the original languages (formal equivalence). The Message Bible is an example of a translation that is extremely paraphrased, and the NET Bible paraphrases freely as occasions suit the translators’ or the editors’ tastes.
For hearing Christ’s voice in the Psalms, a translation which sticks as closely to the original language as possible is preferable over a paraphrase.
One translation that is ancient is the Septuagint. While the Septuagint (LXX for short) often departs from the Hebrew in significant ways, this is the translation of the Old Testament that the authors of the New Testament used, since many, if not most people in New Testament biblical times no longer spoke or wrote Hebrew. Greek was the international language of common exchange when the New Testament was written, and the New Testament was written in Greek with the Septuagint largely used for quotations from the Old Testament.
While not all scholars would be in agreement, I believe that God chose the Septuagint as the Old Testament to be used by authors of the New Testament for good reason. I find that the voice of Christ in Psalms is more readily apparent when reading from the Septuagint, and Christ is, after all, the point of the entire Bible (3). Since the Septuagint is a Greek translation, most readers must read a translation of it, just as most readers must read a translation of the New Testament itself, rather than the original Greek. Lancelot Brenton’s English translation of the Septuagint is the best translation I have found. I use it often.
I recommend choosing what is commonly called a Reference Bible. The references may appear on the left or right margins of the page, down a center column of the page, or in horizontal rows across the foot of the page. For my own ease of reading, I prefer either the center or side column references.
Most of what the reference columns contain are references to other portions of Scripture. In some cases, there might be a note that refers to a different possible translation or to a different manuscript tradition (1).
Some of the references refer to single words that appear elsewhere in Scripture. These are useful in doing word studies. Others refer to phrases or concepts that appear elsewhere in Scripture. Still others refer to entire verses that appear or are quoted elsewhere in Scripture. Often this last kind of reference has a back and forth movement between the Old and New Testaments. Exact repetitions of verbiage elsewhere in Scripture are called citations, and I find these the most useful form of reference.
A forward citation is a reference at a particular verse in the Old Testament which notes the occurrence of the words in that verse at a certain point or points in the New Testament. A backward citation is a reference at a verse in the New Testament that has its counterpart in the Old Testament. Both of these citation types are useful and necessary for the reader. Not all reference Bibles give both forward and backward citations for all verses. Some do a better job than others. Some give backward citations but largely ignore the forward. A good reference Bible is the ESV, since it gives fairly complete citations in both a forward and backward directions. On the other side, I find that the NET Bible lacks a fair number of forward citations for the book of Psalms. This means that verses of some psalms are found in the New Testament that the NET Bible fails to point out in the Old Testament (2).
Reference Bibles Yes, Study Bibles No
While a good study Bible should contain an excellent set of forward and backward references, not all do (2), and study Bibles contain lots more than simple references. More than one study Bible contains commentary that can only be regarded as biased to favor one form of biblical interpretation over another. For new Christians and for anyone seeking to hear directly from the Holy Spirit through Scripture, it is best not to consult a study Bible for Psalms. Even a reference Bible is not necessary for anyone familiar with the facts of Christ’s life as presented primarily in the Gospels and Acts, and also in the New Testament letters, since the Holy Spirit is able to ring the internal bells of recollection to connect the psalms with the actual events of Christ’s life.
Unfortunately, most academic scholars and editors in today’s chilly climate reject the idea that the book of Psalms was written by God, through human psalmists, with the Lord Jesus, God’s Son, as God’s intended primary speaker of those prayers. In other words, God always intended Psalms to be the prophetic prayers of Jesus Christ pointing towards his incarnation. Then, during his incarnation, he lived out those same prayers. The notes of some study Bibles reflect disbelief in a tight unity of Scripture and provide a purposefully negative influence upon readers who are seeking to hear the prophetic voice of Jesus Christ within the psalms of Scripture. These study Bibles should be avoided if your purpose is to hear the voice of Jesus Christ praying the psalms.
In a later post, Lord willing, I will write about authors who are favorable to the view of Christ in the Psalms.
(1) The original Bible was written in pieces, not all at the same time and not all at the same place. Each piece was carefully copied again and again by hand. No one has the original of any Scripture. Some of the existing copies are very, very old, and others are old, but not as old. Some of the existing copies are copied from a copy which was copied from a copy and so on. Over time, the existing copies came to contain small differences. When these differences persist over time, they become known as “manuscript traditions.”
(2) One example of a possible biblical reference is found in Psalm 2:1-2, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,…” (ESV). Everyone familiar with the lyrics of Handel’s Messiah should recognize that for centuries these time-honored words from Psalm 2 have been commonly considered to be about Jesus Christ.
As an example of a good use of references, the ESV at the very beginning of the first verse of this set of two verses in Psalms points out a citation in Acts 4:25-26, in which Psalm 2:1-2 is quoted exactly. The NET Bible, however, makes no mention anywhere in their voluminous notes for these two verses in Psalms that they are directly quoted in Acts. When the reader turns to Acts 4:25-26, the ESV cites Psalm 2:1-2 at the very outset of those verses, while the NET Bible places the reference to Psalms in the very last of eight long and arduous notes.
Further, the biblical speakers in Acts 4:24-25, just before the quotation from psalms, describe the quotation with these words, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,” (ESV). This is a very clear, scriptural, God-inspired statement (2 Timothy 3:16) that attributes the original verses in Psalms to God as author. A reader can safely assume that God knew what he meant and meant what he said when he inspired David as the go-between mouthpiece for his words. The aggregate of the NET notes, however, seems to suggest that the meaning of what God said through David as it concerns Christ was a human development through time in Israel’s long history, was only finalized by the Apostle Paul (who is not a Christian in Acts 4), and that it was not the direct intention of God from the very beginning. But the short text in Acts makes clear that those original Christians understood and quoted God’s original intention. It often seems that the editorial/translation stance of NET Bible, as just exemplified, is that the Old Testament should be read according to the assumed or academically reconstructed “theological context” of the human authors and listeners of the biblical era in which it was written, rather than the eternal theological context of God. This translation and notes should be avoided by readers desirous of hearing Jesus Christ’s voice praying the psalms.
(3) I extend my apologies to any reading this blog who might not see Christ as the point of the entire Bible. However, this blog is openly devoted to Christ. Christ is this blog’s only reason for existence.