From time to time I come across books, articles or other reading material that I have found particularly helpful, either for myself or for a fellow ‘seeker after the truth’ on our spiritual journey into the Christian faith.
Of course the place to start is with the Bible. Now that may sound simplistic but which version should you choose? It may come as a shock to find that there are quite a few versions to choose from. So why the choice and what are the differences? Put simply its all to do with language. The English language is a living language that is constantly evolving, words change their meaning, some go out of use and disappear from the spoken language and new ones are constantly arriving and taking their place or just simply enlarging the depth and richness of the language. When a translation of the Bible is made from the ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic texts into the English of the day it is as if the language has been frozen in time in that translation, rather like a snapshot. However, unless the translation is under constant review, the English language continues to evolve and in time the translation will have to be revisited to accommodate the changes that have taken place, or it will loose its relevance.
- New King James Version
There are many versions still available and I would recommend that the reader has more than one copy available for any serious study. I personally use four main translations. My favourite Bible has to be my copy of the ‘New King James Version’ and I will let the following extract from it’s preface tell you why I hold it in such esteem:
‘For four hundred years, and throughout several revisions of its English form, the King James Bible has been deeply revered among the English speaking peoples of the world. The precision of translation for which it is historically renowned, and the majesty of style, have enabled that monumental version of the Word of God to become the mainspring of the religion, language, and legal foundations of our civilization’.
As a complete contrast is Rob Lacey’s ‘The Street Bible’. It’s creative. It’s colourful. It’s the Bible as you’ve never read it. In this engaging new paraphrase, author and actor Rob Lacey renders the Bible in the language of the modern urban reader. Using MTV-style dialogue, Lacey lends fresh perspective to familiar stories and sayings. For new and seasoned readers alike, the street bible takes the message of the Scriptures into the 21st century to create the impact it had in the 1st century. If you are trying to engage with young people who have not been exposed to the Bible before, this is a version that they will understand and relate to, but because the language it’s written in is so cool it will become un-cool quickly. Here is a little taster this Rob Lacey’s translation of Genesis 1: 1: First off, nothing. No light, no time, no substance, no matter. Second off, God starts it all off and WHAP! Stuff everywhere!
In between these two extremes I also have a copies of the ‘New International Version’ and the ‘Revised English Bible’ both of which I recommend to the reader. The New International Version has become an immensely popular translation since it was first published in 1979. Its particular success has been to communicate the thought of the Biblical writers in clear idiomatic English. The Cambridge Wide Margin, which is the version I have, has wide clean margins all around the double-column text, enabling readers to record their own notes. It is therefore printed on paper specially chosen to sustain hand-written notes in ink, perfect for the student to add notes or highlight passages for reference purposes. It also features thorough central cross references and comprehensive footnotes. It was the version of the Bible I chose when I embarked on my ‘Reader Training’ course and has been a constant companion ever since. My version of the ‘Revised English Bible’ was presented to me by Bishop Michael in Winchester Cathedral on the completion or course, so is dear to me.
Reading and understanding the Bible is the foundation stone upon which Christian faith is built. However it can be a daunting experience whether you read the Bible for your own enlightenment or as a group seeking to unlock its teaching. So once we have chosen our copy or copies of the Bible but where do we then turn for help in understanding what is written inside. Theologians with intellects far greater than mine have for millennia agonised over and studied the Bible page by page, line by line, word by word, they have revisited the ancient sources of the texts and have even examined the punctuation in fine detail in their quest for perfection. As a consequence there are literally thousands of books and commentaries to choose from which are all designed to unlock the mysteries of the text for us – but where to begin.
At this point I must own up, this is not the place to be looking for theological treaties if you undertaking a degree or similar course, but it might be the right place if you are simply seeking after the truth or if you are trying to bring your faith into sharper focus. If the Bible is the foundation stone of Christian faith then relevant literature, whether in the form of books, articles or websites are the building blocks that will help you build and strengthen that faith.
In my opinion a good place to start would be the ‘The Lion Handbook to the Bible’. This is a great book to have next to your Bible as you start your exploration. The Bible is the world’s most widely distributed and widely read book. Some read it out of curiosity, some as part of their spiritual search, others because of its rich cultural heritage. This Handbook is designed for use with the Bible; to stand alongside it. It is not just for reference, telling the reader about the Bible. The intention is to bring together on page where it happens, information that would otherwise have to be gathered from a number of different books. This is provided visually as well as through the written word. The pictures, maps and graphics are there not to decorate the text but to illuminate its meaning. The Handbook can be used with any version of the Bible, I thoroughly recommend it has always been a great help to me.