One of my favorite bookstore haunts growing up in New Castle, Indiana was the only Christian bookstore in town. The Heritage Center, as it was called, was on S. 18th Street, a world away from my house but just down the street from our church. I could usually get a ride or bike it until I finally got that coveted driver's license. The store was run by a somewhat odd family, not particularly well organized, and always held a surprising item or two on the dusty gift-oriented shelves.
While others saved up allowances to buy the latest hit 45RPM record at Horney’s Music Store, I saved mine, as well as some lunch money, for books.
Well, and a few records, too. But it was easier bringing books home than it was rock ‘n’ roll, which is another story.
I bought books by the dozens. Especially books on faith.
While what we learned at church was interesting, I wanted to know more than what the over-simplified Sunday school stories offered. So I read books and I read my Bible.
Let it be noted that even though I was a nerd, I didn’t dress the part. Thus, the management of mom when buying my clothes. Although there was the pocket-protector period I'm not proud of...but I digress.
King James is still king & this has nothing to do with LeBron
I still own the first two “real” Bibles my parents gave me. The first, published by Cambridge, was given to me on Christmas in 1960.
The second, given to me on a birthday when I was in high school, is “the marked reference Bible” published by Zondervan featuring “the finest chained-reference system for Bible study.”
It was color coded with topics on salvation, the Holy Spirit, temporal blessings, and prophetic subjects highlighted in red, green, tan, and blue. Included were a concordance, some articles, and a series of color maps.
Both Bibles are well-worn. I carried them to church twice every Sunday, once on Wednesday nights, and every year to church camp. And I read in them regularly. But, unlike the Bibles I favor now, these two bear almost no underlinings or margin jottings.
While I read them, I wasn’t able to fully engage with them.
Both Bibles were King James Version (KJV) from 1611.
For decades, the KJV was the de facto Bible translation for nearly every church in America. For many, that is still the case.
Up until recently, the KJV was the bestselling version of the Bible in the U.S.. In sales, it’s been surpassed by the NIV (New International Version). But, in popularity, it still ranks as #1.
And that’s a little sad.
In an article I wrote for the July 1983 issue of Bookstore Journal, I stated,
“The King James Version (KJV) is the most prevalent Bible translation used. It always has been and probably always will be the most popular version. But its popularity has nothing to do with the clarity with which it communicates God’s message to modern man. While majestic and musical in style and cadence, the language of the KJV grows more archaic every day. The message is timeless, and God’s Word to us is changeless, but the language of the KJV has become foreign to modern man.”The vagaries of our ever-changing language combined with ever-improving translation makes the KJV somewhat arcane.
When it comes to the Bible, if all you’ve ever read is the KJV, it’s time you upgraded to something a little fresher. You’re missing out on a lot.
Pick a version, any version, as long as it’s something new
In 1961 my sister hosted a New Year’s Eve party in our basement, inviting all of her high school and church buddies. One of the exciting bits of trivia buzzing around the sober crowd was that even when you turned 1961 upside down, it still read 1961!
1961 was also the year that the New Testament portion of the New English Bible was released. A few years later, this would be the first non-KJV New Testament I would acquire, discovering it one day while browsing at the Heritage Center. The full New English Bible was released in 1970. Reading it was a delight.
My next non-KJV acquisition was the New Testament portion of the New Berkeley Version in Modern English. The NBV was a 1969 update of the Berkeley Version that had been first released in 1945. For years, this was my favorite version because of its very literary style and affinity with the KJV.
Next, along came The Living Bible, released in portions before the entire Bible was published in 1971. For the first time I was able to read through the entire Old Testament and enjoy doing so.
In college, I discovered the J.B. Phillips New Testament and it knocked my socks off!
These four versions -- two translations and two paraphrases -- thoroughly changed my appreciation of Scripture. Finally, I could read the Bible, understand it and enjoy it, just as if it were a captivating modern book.
No more tripping over thee’s, thou’s, and -eth endings. All four are well-underlined and marked with many margin jottings.
Over the years, many more new versions have been released and gained space on my bookshelves.
Pooh-poohing the naysayers
Among writers and editors, conversations can get very heated when the topic veers toward using the “series comma” (aka serial comma, Oxford comma, Harvard comma) versus AP style which rejects it.
Among readers of the Bible, even more heat can be generated in discussions of which translation is the best, as well as whether paraphrases, such as The Message, are of any value at all.
Strong advocates of KJV-only will insist that the King James is the only truly accurate translation of the Bible. I’ve known some to go as far as to insist that Jesus spoke in King James English.
Um, no. He didn’t.
Still, different versions will be accused of representing liberal or conservative theology, being laced with gender-neutral language, containing specific errors of interpretation, or advocating wrong ideas.
The reality is that no version -- translation or paraphrase -- is a totally perfect representation of the original manuscripts, many of which are incomplete. Further, I am not aware of any single mainstream, reputable version that will lead a reader into heresy or spiritual dissolution. They are all solidly the word of God.
In fact, many “Christian” cults use only the King James and still teach horrendously twisted ideas and false doctrine.
The problem isn’t the version. The problem is the heart, mind, and soul of the person reading.
But don’t limit yourself to reading only a single version. Feel free to enjoy your trusted KJV, but also read in at least one other translation and one paraphrase.
I have a friend who buys a new Bible in a new version every year, then reads through it, underlining and jotting notes. Even though very familiar with Scripture, he always encounters lots of new insights.
Thanks to technology, every mainstream, reputable translation and paraphrase of the Bible can be read for free online from your computer, tablet, or phone.
According to the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) below are the current top 10 bestselling versions in the U.S. based on dollar sales :
1. New International VersionThese are not the only good versions available either.
2. King James Version
3. New King James Version
4. English Standard Version
5. New Living Translation
6. Holman Christian Standard Bible
7. New International Readers Version
8. Common English Bible
9. New American Standard
10. Reina Valera 1960
But if you’re stuck on the KJV, and insist you’ll only give it up when it’s pried from your cold, dead hands, keep reading.
Something old, something new, something not inscrutable, something really cool
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language first came out in 1969, just before I headed to college in 1970. Me and my fellow English majors were enthralled with the new dictionary. Not only were there words, but also pictures! Lots and lots of great pictures! It was so exciting! This took boring text-only dictionaries to the proverbial next level.
In 1985, the same kind of excitement came to Bibles. One of the first truly modern “study Bibles” was released by Zondervan, the NIV Study Bible.
Unlike the old KJV’s that included a concordance, cross-references, and some maps, modern study Bibles put multiple, instantly accessible references right in the palms of both of your hands.
Study Bibles offer more readable fonts, better page layouts, commentary notes along the bottoms of the page, extensive introductions to each book, helpful sidebars, as well as useful concordances, maps, charts, illustrations, and cross-references.
I still favor my NIV Study Bible, while my wife leans toward the newer ESV (English Standard Version) Study Bible.
But there’s a brand new edition of one study Bible well worth considering, especially if you’re still clinging to your old, rugged, black-leather-clad KJV.
The New King James Version (NKJV) was introduced to the world with a “1 1/2 hour multi-media show featuring words and music, plus live appearances of renowned celebrities and performers” on Monday, July 19, 1982 in Dallas, Texas, during the annual CBA Convention (Christian Bookseller Magazine, June 1982).
I was there. Having to be in more than one place at a time, I missed much of the multi-media hoopla, but did snag a free copy of this new version. I and others were impressed, even though there were no pictures or maps in the free edition.
Not merely a de-thou-ing of the KJV, the NKJV represents a fresh word-for-word-leaning translation that updates the language while retaining the literary style and structure of the KJV.
For KJV readers, the NKJV it is both understandable and familiar.
A study Bible version of the NKJV has been available at least since 1997, formerly known as The Nelson Study Bible.
Now, a souped-up version of the 2007 second edition NKJV Study Bible -- The Full Color Edition -- has recently been released.**
It’s simply gorgeous, packed with all and more you’d expect in a study Bible. For example, you will find inside it...
- full-color page design
- Bible-land photos and graphics
- in-text maps and charts
- cross-references with textual notes
- word studies and indexes with Strong’s numbers
- Bible times and culture notes
- book introductions, outlines, and timelines
- reader-friendly notes and articles useful for extended study
- concordance including proper names
- articles on key biblical doctrines
- harmony of the Gospels.
On the slipcover, an offer is made for a “free Bible study tools download.” To access the download, you’ll need to input your name, email address, and the ISBN.
The “tool” is a somewhat unwieldy 221 page PDF containing Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John from the Modern Life Study Bible, another NKJV-based study Bible. There is no table of contents included in the PDF, and no explanation of how to use this “tool.”
Given that it’s the same biblical text, I’m not sure if many will find it particularly useful. My impression is that Thomas Nelson is offering it in hopes that it will entice some to buy the full book version of the Modern Life Study Bible. It would have been nice if it had actually been a real study tool rather than a marketing device.
Also referenced on the slipcover is an offer of a lifetime guarantee for which you must register online to activate.
Before opening and using your Bible, you may also want to check out the care tips located online and addressed in How To Care For Your Bible.
Shew me thy money! Or, their word will eat as doth a canker: A Final appeal
2 Timothy 2:15 admonishes those of us who follow Christ that, when it comes to faith and God’s word, we must “Study to shew thyself approved unto God.”
You mean like when Ed Sullivan used to announce that the night’s program was a “really big shew”?
Or do you mean like the archaic variant of the word “show”?
Arcahic meaning “no longer current or applicable; antiquated.”
Even putting this KJV passage into context doesn’t really make things truly clear:
“It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker...” -- 2 Timothy 2:11-17a (King James Version)Doth a canker? Like a canker sore? What? Forsooth, alas and alack, I needeth some helpeth.
Let’s look at the same passage in the NKJV:
“This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer.” -- 2 Timothy 2:11-17a (New King James Version)Oh, cancer!
That’s much more serious than a canker sore. And the approval part isn’t just about “studying” about faith, but about “being” faithful.
The NKJV Study Bible offers additional commentary and notes further clarifying the passage (click on the image at right to see the two-page spread larger).
Released just in time for Christmas gift-giving, the “full color edition” of the NKJV Study Bible is the perfect gift for friends, family members, and yourself.
Regardless if you are merely curious about the Bible, are a new believer, or a seasoned person of faith, this is the perfect addition to your Bible study bookshelf.
- The Most Popular and Fastest Growing Bible Translation Isn't What You Think It Is (Christianity Today): http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/march/most-popular-and-fastest-growing-bible-translation-niv-kjv.html?paging=off
- October 2014 CBA Bestselling Bibles List: http://cbanews.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2014/09/BiblesTranslations201410.pdf
- Translation Comparison Chart: http://www.apbrown2.net/web/TranslationComparisonChart.htm
- Thomas Nelson NKJV Guarantee: http://www.thomasnelsonbibles.com/guarantee/
- Thomas Nelson NKJV additional download: http://downloads.thomasnelson.com/FCStudyBibleNKJV
NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255): I selected these books to review and received them free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
* Okay, the headline was nothing more than a bit of a tease. Sorry about that. Please forgive me.
** Technically it's not available until 10/21/14.
What’s your preferred Bible version? What versions do you avoid and why? Do you read in both translations and paraphrases? The first time you read the Bible in a version other than the KJV, what was that experience like? Do you have a favorite version or study Bible? Share your thoughts in the comments!.
Hardcover | Kindle