In this posting, I’ll discuss the method I use for studying the Bible including some ground rules. First of all, I take a holistic approach to studying the Bible; that is, I look at the Bible as a single document, from Genesis to Revelation. As I see it, God’s revelation, as given in the Bible, is both iterative and incremental—you can’t discard any verse, book, or section without altering the message. As a result, we can safely make the presumption that the Bible isn’t going to contradict itself. That being the case, when confronted with an apparent contradiction, we need to take the verse or verses in question and try to square it or them with what the rest of the Bible has to say. This method requires one to do some heavy lifting.
Now that we’ve established an approach, let’s take a look at some ground rules. First, we need to settle on which translation to use. So, unless one is proficient in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek a translation will be needed. There are three types of translations: word-for-word, thought-for-thought, and paraphrase.
Popular word-for-word translations:
- New American Standard Bible (NASB)
- Revised Standard Version (RSV)
- King James Version (KJV)
Popular thought-for-thought translations:
- New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
- New International Version (NIV)
- New Living Translation (NLT)
Popular paraphrase translation:
- The Living Bible (TLB)
Does it seem strange that I’ve only listed one paraphrase? Well, based on a little research, I concluded that The Living Bible is the only clear paraphrase, if one defines paraphrase as not being translated from the original languages. Since The Living Bible translator, Kenneth Taylor, used the American Standard Bible (ASV) for his paraphrase, it fits our definition. Some websites list the Good News Bible (Today’s English Version) and The Message as paraphrases but they don’t fit our definition. Remember, a paraphrase represents a second level of abstraction. The first level of abstraction is the translation from the original languages. In addition, the Good News Bible is not doctrinally sound,1 rendering it an unreliable translation for serious Bible study.
I imagine there are a lot of folks out there who would immediately say that the King James Version is the best and only version to use. It just so happens that the first Bible I ever purchased was a King James Version. It was a Zondervan Red Letter Edition, containing maps and illustrations, which I picked up in 1973 and still have today. Along with the features just mentioned, the Bible’s front matter contains a title page which declares: “Authorized King James Bible” which sounds very official. But who authorized it? As it turns out, there is no record of anyone officially authorizing it;2 and by no means should anyone consider it to be divinely authorized.3
It’s ironic that many churches in the United States still hang on to the KJV even though King James himself “was a firm believer in the Divine Right of Kings and in the right of his bishops to run the Scottish Church”4 which flies in the face of the separation of church from control by the state as established in the U.S. Constitution. According to 1 Samuel 8:1-18, when Israel demanded a king, God considered their request as a rejection of His kingship over them. God also predicted that the king would become abusive and impose heavy demands on them. Unfortunately, kings and presidents are sometimes hard to distinguish.
The King James Only movement, and many churches and other religious organizations take the stance that a future one-world government will be headquartered in Rome or more specifically, the Vatican. Again, The Epistle Dedicatory in the front matter of my KJV, contains some anti-Catholic language that seems to provide some encouragement for their position:
So that if, one the one side, we shall be traduced by Popish Persons at home or abroad, who therefore will malign us, because we are poor instruments to make God’s holy Truth to be yet more and more known unto the people, whom they desire still to keep in ignorance and darkness…
Many King James only adherents claim that the language used in the KJV is somehow more reverent and respectful than the language used in modern translations. What is overlooked is the fact that the 1611 KJV was written in the common or vulgar language of its day.5 It only sounds reverent to us today because the only time we hear this type of language is in church settings; hence the acquired association.
As a final note, the KJV is no longer the most accurate translation6 and it has been revised many times since 1611.
In past years I’ve used the New International Version and the New King James Version but now I’ve settled on the New American Standard Bible (1995 Update). I use QuickVerse and Biblesoft PC Study Bible software in addition to a number of other references. QuickVerse provides a nice feature in that you can double-click on a word and the corresponding Strong’s Number appears along with the Hebrew or Greek word, translation, root, definition and list of English words and number of times used. Knuth relied heavily on Strong’s Numbers for the translations he provided in his 3:16 book.7
Finally, I interpret the Bible literally unless the context dictates otherwise. For example, in John 10:9 Jesus says: “I am the door;” which is a figure of speech. No one, I hope, would think that Jesus is a literal door like the wooden ones you may have in your home. This verse would have to be interpreted figuratively. Other verses may not be as obvious.
Although I have some Study Bibles in my library, I do not recommend their use. When one wants to study the Bible, one should focus on what the Bible says, not necessarily on what any given commentator has said. Besides, there is a tendency on the reader’s part to hold the commentators’ notes to the same authority as Scripture.
In closing, I’ve recently acquired a Jewish Bible or Tanakh for my studies. Since Christianity is of Jewish origin, I thought it a good idea to read the Scriptures from a Jewish perspective. I have The Jewish Publication Society (JPS) version.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2013 Gerard Sczepura
Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible From KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 35. ↩
Ibid., 36. ↩
“James VI and I (r. 1567-1625),” The Official Website of the British Monarchy, http://www.royal.gov.uk/historyofthemonarchy/scottish%20monarchs%28400ad-1603%29/thestewarts/jamesviandi.aspx. ↩
Lewis, The English Bible, 40. ↩
Donald E. Knuth, Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About, (Stanford: CSLI Publications, 2001), 59-60. ↩