Don't Let the Many Versions of the Bible Baffle You

By Palmer, Joel | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), May 27, 1996 | Go to article overview

Don't Let the Many Versions of the Bible Baffle You


Palmer, Joel, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Joel Palmer Daily Herald Staff Writer

You need to purchase a Bible, maybe for that church group you've joined or maybe for your child's upcoming confirmation.

No problem. Just about any bookstore carries it. It is, after all, the best-selling book in the history of the world.

The tricky part can come if you don't know what English-language version you want. Should you get the New International Version, the most popular English-language Bible today? Or how about the King James Version, with all those "begats" and "thees" and "thous"?

Clearly, not all Bibles are the same. There are about 50 English versions to choose from in stores today, but a little knowledge about the differences can help you from feeling overwhelmed.

Only three or four versions control the bulk of English-language Bible sales. The New International Version, first published in 1978, is No. 1 with about 30 percent to 35 percent of the market.

The NIV overtook the centuries-old favorite King James Version in 1987, and ever since King James has been relegated to second place. It now controls about 25 percent of the market, with a revised version taking in another 7 percent to 10 percent.

Third on the list is the Living Bible, which came out in 1971. It accounts for about 8 percent of sales.

The rest of the market is divided up among a host of other versions, the names of which start to blend together after too long: Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New American Bible, New American Standard Bible, New English Bible, Revised English Bible, Today's English Version, etc.

What are you getting with some of these versions?

With the King James you're probably getting something very familiar.

"Most people who go in and have to buy a Bible and have no idea what to get just go for the King James because it's what they know," said Murray Harris, a professor of New Testament Exegesis and Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield.

It's a "magnificent translation" in "beautiful language," Harris said, but it also has phrases that can mislead or bewilder the reader unfamiliar with Elizabethan English. And he said it doesn't account for the many important biblical manuscripts that were discovered since it first was published, which was in 1611.

Still, the King James Version is the book of choice among many groups such as fundamentalists, Baptists and traditional churches in the Bible Belt, said Philip Comfort, professor of New Testament Literature and Interpretation at Wheaton College and senior editor at Tyndale House Publishers Inc. in Carol Stream.

Many people take their King James very seriously, said Comfort, author of "The Complete Guide to Bible Versions," sort of the bible on Bibles.

"There are very strong, what I call King James fanatics or King James-only people," Comfort said. "They make a big deal out of the translation ... The Bible has to sound holy (to them)."

And in a way they may have a point. Think of how all those eloquent King James phrasings stick in your mind, Comfort said.

'"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,' " Comfort said, quoting Matthew 5:3. "No one is going to change that."

The NIV was developed by more than 100 scholars from around the world working from manuscripts in the original ancient languages of Greek and Hebrew. They were trying for something less literal than the King James and more in tune with the thoughts of the original writers, Comfort explained.

Popular among a wide range of churches and groups, the NIV is "the kind of Bible you're going to get out and use at a Bible study," Comfort said.

Harris, who sits on the scholars committee that reviews the NIV texts, said the version strikes a nice balance with its language.

"It is accurate and it is dignified, as well as being contemporary. …

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