My mom got me hooked on exploring new translations and paraphrases of the Bible when I was a kid. Although I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s knowing that the King James Version was the real Bible – the one we used in Sunday School and church and the one to memorize Bible verses from – Mom was always searching for new ways to gain a deeper understanding of what the Bible means.
I remember one year she convinced my Uncle Helmer and Uncle Fletcher to chip in so that together they could give my grandma a Schofield Reference Bible for her birthday. It was still the King James Version, but it had lots of study aids. I knew Mom really wanted that Bible for herself, but she couldn’t afford it. Several years later when my grandma died, Mom inherited that Bible. I have it now.
When I was still in grade school I remember my mom beginning to get newer translations of the Bible to read along with the King James. The first two I remember were the J. B. Phillips paraphrase of the New Testament and the Amplified New Testament. They were about as different as could be in terms of everyday language versus precise word-for-word translation. Mom loved reading them both.
When I was in high school, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusades were periodically showing up on TV, and with them came offers to get a free book of the Bible that had just been paraphrased into easy-to-understand English – a series of books that would eventually become The Living Bible (LB). Mom received most of the Living New Testament this way – book by book. She just loved reading the books in the Living Version. She usually was smiling when she read it because the meaning of each paragraph was so easy to understand. In the mid-’70s when I was living in Chicago I remember walking to a religious book store in the Loop during one of my lunch hours to buy Mom a leather-bound Living Bible for Christmas to replace all her separate paperbacks of each book. I inherited that Bible from her.
In 1961 the New English Version of the Bible was published in England. My mom didn’t get that version, but Dagmar Vasby, a retired missionary nurse originally from Denmark who had become a member of our Methodist Church in Cambridge, frequently read from that version whenever she spoke in church. During my freshman year in college, one day when I was browsing the campus bookstore I came across the cutest little 3” by 5” leather-bound New Testament in the New English Version. I couldn’t resist it. I spent $12 on the first installment of my own library of Bibles. Its tiny size made it easy to fit into my suitcase over the years, and it traveled with me on most of my business trips throughout the ’80s.
After my college years I followed Mom’s preference for The Living Bible. I liked how easy it was to read and understand – just like Mom said. But then some well-meaning friends in a Bible study informed me that The Living Bible wasn’t as accurate as “real” translations. It was just a paraphrase and couldn’t be trusted for accuracy when doing any in-depth study. That embarrassed me enough to make me switch to the New International Version (NIV) – the gold standard for Evangelicals. Unfortunately, that conversation also cooled my enthusiasm for exploring different translations and paraphrases as Mom and I had been doing for years.
Many years later, in 2009 when I was starting to assemble a small library for guests to use at our retreat house, Whispering Winds Retreat Haven, I included three Bibles – The King James Version (KJV), The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and the New International Version (NIV). The only criticism I received about our book collection was that we should include more translations of the Bible. I guess that’s just what I wanted to hear. Mim and I made several trips to resale shops and used book stores. Our book case quickly reached the point of overflowing. The top shelf was filled with nothing but Bibles – more than a dozen different translations. The rest of the shelves were filled with inspirational books by our favorite authors.
Most importantly, I finally resumed my old habit of exploring different translations and paraphrases. Probably the paraphrase I enjoy reading most, just for fun, is The Message (MSG). It provides fresh images for my mind that help me gain new insights into what a particular passage might mean. Another version I’m enjoying is The New King James Version (NKJV). It tries to retain the poetic language of the original King James Version as closely as it can without sacrificing readability for today’s readers.
The most recent version I picked up and am currently exploring is The New Living Translation (NLT). This version is actually a revision of The Living Bible. Like its predecessor, it’s a very readable Bible.
There are a lot more versions out there. But just as my mom didn’t have the money to buy herself a Scofield Reference Bible, I don’t think I can go and buy every translation I’d like to explore. However, I always scan the religious books section in every resale store I enter. I’ve also learned about websites like www.BibleStudyTools.com where you can look up any verse in almost any version you want to read.
I guess I could be hooked on worse things than exploring different translations of the Bible. After all, the Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:15:
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (NKJV)
Work hard so God can say to you, “Well done.” Be a good workman, one who does not need to be ashamed when God examines your work. Know what his Word says and means. (LB)
Work hard so God can approve you. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. (NLT)
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (NIV)
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. (NRSV)
Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. (MSG)
Mom was right. The Living Bible says it best, especially the last part, “Know what his Word says and means.”