What is the BEST translation of the Bible?


How many of us have asked ourselves this question? How often have we racked our brains or searched through innumerable articles or combed scholarly volumes for the answer?

Perhaps I am not terribly original in my answer, but it seems to me that if you know and understand your faith, the best translation of the Bible is the one that you read the most. The best translation is the one that inspires you to read more. If you are drawn to spend time with your Bible because you understand it well, then that is the best translation. I knew once of a Jesuit who highly recommended to most readers The Good News Bible which amounts to a paraphrase. But in that Bible stories sound like stories, the language is somewhat loose and natural. It is not to my taste, but I can see how many would benefit from it.

If you spend time studying, the best Bible for you may be one with lots and lots of notes. If not, you may prefer a stripped-down volume with only the occasional marginal note.

"Ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of Christ." (A quote of St. Jerome[?]). Intimacy with the Bible is not intimacy with Christ, but, it at least opens the door.

My personal favorite Bible, perhaps predictably, is the King James Bible. Yes, I know that it is not a "Catholic" translation, and I am well aware of some of the bias that may have gone into translating. I know that the very best texts were perhaps not used. But all of that is pushed aside when I consider the magnificence of:

"Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto us is born this day in the City of David a savior which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)

Even the RSV, another favorite for different purposes manages to turn this magnificent announcement into a rhythmless recital of "just the facts",

"For behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)

The language may be more accurate, and it may work better for many to whom the "floweriness" of the King James is a barrier.

Another example,

KJV "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3: 16)

Compare that to the straightforward, but hardly sparkling,

RSV "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Just one comparison--look at the words meaning "life forever." One is "eternal," a very workmanlike, practical term. The other, "everlasting," says pretty much the same thing, but rings in a way that "eternal" does not.

Now, it should be understood that I am not arguing that everyone should read the King James Version. I must state emphatically that I do not believe this is practical for most people in the 21st century. Terms have changed mean, archaic terms that look like other terms could be confusing (an and wist spring to mind). In the Pauline letters, where the thought is nearly impenetrable to someone accessing the best of modern scholarship, the language makes them nearly opaque. (However I can't resist one of my favorite beautiful lines, "For now we see as in a glass darkly...." It's hard to be enthusiastic enough about that wonderful line.) So for all intents and purposes the KJV is all but inaccessible to many modern readers.

I do not argue for any version in preference to any other (except for myself). I do argue that Catholics should immerse themselves in the Bible, study it, read it, enjoy it, revel in it, think about it, use it as a staple for prayer. The Bible is the continuous and living love-letter that God wrote to His People. And writing it He used His most beloved Word. Therefore, whatever Bible we should use, use it we should! Read the Bible faithfully, lovingly, and in accord with the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. You will discover treasures utterly unknown to you. More, if you meet all the other conditions, you can gain a Plenary Indulgence for reading the Bible for 30 minutes a day. (See item 50).

Now I encourage you, pick up a translation and start reading. Best to start with one of the gospels and perhaps even with one of the passion narratives. But if you have left it aside for a few days (months, years, decades...) pick it up again and become acquainted with the God who loves you through the words He has inspired.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 26, 2002 6:57 PM.

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