Episco-Fact #145
June 20, 2019

Which Bible translation is most accurate and what Bible would you recommend for me to buy for personal use?

For English speakers the monumental work of Bible translation was the Authorized Version (AV) or otherwise known as the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible which was begun in 1604 and completed in 1611. That means its 400th anniversary of use was celebrated just eight years ago. Its authority was still in place in the Mid-twentieth Century. It is the language of this translation from which this blogger learned the Bible.

More importantly, it is the Bible of some monumental English prose, poetry, and oration: think Lincoln's "Second Inaugural" or Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech on the Washington Mall. But even as these examples filled older members of this parish with inspiration, spiritual vision, models of writing, and a stable language, time and cultural erosion wore away at the meaning of the texts.

By the time the Mid-twentieth Century rolled around, "thy's" and "thou's" were no longer the intimate forms of second person pronouns in common language. We now said you for everyone, and "thy's" and "thou's" became "proper," "imperial," or even pompous speech. And charity, a fine 17th Century word for translating the Greek word "Agape," a special form of unconditional love was reduced to almsgiving.

By the Mid-twentieth Century, the KJV was replaced by my favorite compromise Bible, the Revised Standard Version (RSV), which maintained dignity and stability in a changing world. It was replaced by the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) in the 1980's, which as a grandchild of the KJV, maintained its accuracy, commitment to standardized English, and the dignity appropriate to public readings, while updating the English to more modern and inclusive ear.

And this was just for the Protestants. Time and culture shifted the Roman Catholics from the Vulgate, a Latin translation of St. Jerome, which was "the Bible" for that tradition for over a thousand years, to be replaced, or at least, supplemented by the American Standard Bible (ASB) and the Jerusalem Bible (JB) and its child the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB).

The KJV and its descendants are considered as close to literal translations as one can get within the confines of colloquializing standard English. They are accurate within the limitations of the art of translation. There are a group of Bibles translations who proclaim that they are dynamic equivalents. That means they are far more colloquial and far more specific to the language of the moment in trying to convey the meaning to modern ears. Among these are the JB and its offspring the NJB, the Good News Bible (GNB— a 1960's translation which sounds very kitschy to modern ears), and the translation that we are test driving for the summer, the Common English Bible (CEB).

For dignity and accuracy, start with an NRSV Study Bible with Apocrypha. For fluency, try a study Bible in the dynamic equivalency mode like the JB, NJB, or CEB.