5. Bible in English

You will be studying in English and so need an English Bible. If English is not your first language we urge and implore you to use an English Bible as much as you can. You will probably require at least two different English Bibles: an accurate, literal translation for detailed study and an easier to read, more dynamic translation for reading long passages quickly and fluently. During this module we refer to the Apocrypha (also known as the Deutero-canonical books) but you will not need to read any of it. However in some later modules you will need an Apocrypha so it may be worth buying a Bible that contains it now.

A study Bible

We sometimes refer to study Bibles (with a lower-case s) and Study Bibles (capital S). The former are Bibles that are clear and accurate enough to be useful when studying; a Study Bible is one with additional notes and other study aids such as maps. These extras can be helpful but we must remember that they are editorial additions provided to help us by fallible human beings and not part of the inspired word of God. A Study Bible is always more expensive than the basic edition but this extra cost can be worthwhile. Please contact us for further advice but any one of the following would serve you well as your study Bible; we list them in alphabetical order:

American Standard Version

American Standard Version (1901) see under Revised Version (1881) below.

English Standard Version

English Standard Version (2001) is a good compromise, being reasonably accurate and yet also quite readable. The ESV Study Bible (2008) is superb, if you can afford it. There is a wealth of supplementary material available on-line once you purchase and register an ESV Study Bible although some of this material does require an additional subscription.

Jerusalem Bible

The Jerusalem Bible (1966) is a Roman Catholic translation and so includes the Deutero-canonical books. It is a good literary translation although perhaps too difficult for any who are not fluent English readers. The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) is generally agreed to be an improvement.

New International Version

The New International Version (2011) is the most popular Bible since the days of King James. It is another useful compromise version being readable and usually accurate enough for study purposes. The NIV Student Bible is a good Study Bible. If you invest in a copy we recommend the hardback; it is more expensive than the paperback but will last much longer. A useful edition of the NIV is The Narrated Bible (Eugene OR: Harvest House, 1984). This was compiled by F. LaGard Smith, an American brother who has taught at the British Bible School. In this book he has rearranged the Bible into chronological order, linking the text with a helpful running commentary.

From its inception in 1966 the NIV was intended to be a living document – one that was constantly assessed and, when necessary, changed to reflect new understandings of how language works, changes in the way contemporary English is used, and the latest discoveries of ancient manuscripts. Over the years the NIV has been quietly corrected (usually minor printing errors) as well as being substantially revised, the most recent revision being in 2011. Thus an older NIV may not be quite the same as a more recent edition. Then when we factor in British and American editions as well as the New International Reader’s Version (2013) for those who do not speak English as a first language plus children’s editions, Study Bibles, etc., the NIV’s story gets more than a little confusing. There is more on this in Unit Four where we investigate the story of the Bible in English in much greater depth but, for now, be aware that the NIV has been revised more than once and each revision needs to be assessed almost as a new version. Also be aware that if you buy a new NIV it may not be the same as the older NIV that others are using and also be aware that, in our opinion, the NIRV is not a recommended study Bible.

Revised Standard Version

The Revised Standard Version (1952) is starting to show its age, especially in the Old Testament. If you can understand its rather old-fashioned English it is a useful version and the Harper Collins Study Bible is recommended, providing you do not pay too much heed to the premillennialism of some of the editorial notes. (If you can find one second-hand at a fair price The Eyre and Spottiswoode Study Bible has the same content published by a now defunct British company). The New Revised Standard Version (1989) is generally easier to read. The NRSV is now the Bible of choice within the English-speaking academic community. Both RSV and NRSV are available in Catholic editions with the Deutero-canonical books.

Revised Version

Revised Version (1881) / American Standard Version (1901): these two are much the same, other than in matters of grammar and spelling (American English and British English being similar but not identical). These are very literal and can be difficult to read, so are good for detailed study of short texts but not recommended for reading long passages. The ASV is now in the public domain so can once again be bought new (although in a somewhat cheap and cheerful edition). The RV is out of print but easy to find second-hand. An RV with full cross-references can be particularly useful.

A reading Bible

As well as a careful, literal Bible you will find it helpful to have access to a translation that is easy to read. Suggestions include:

Good News Translation

The Good News Translation  (previously Today’s English Version [1976] and then Good News Bible ) which is also available with the Apocrypha and also as a Study Bible, although we would not recommend the text as accurate enough for this.

Living Bible

Kenneth Taylor’s Living Bible (1971) is easy to read and was hugely popular in its day although is now starting to show its age.

The Message

The Message (2002), an “interpretation” by Eugene Peterson is good. Peterson is not inspired (and would not claim to be) but does have a gift for retelling the old truths in a fresh and memorable way.

Many of these Bibles can be read free of charge (and passages printed, subject to giving appropriate credit) at:

www.biblegateway.com 1

and the Apocrypha is free to use online at:

www.ccel.org/wwsb/index.html ( and to save you looking, “ccel” is Christian Classics Ethereal Library and “wwsb” is World Wide Study Bible).

There are very many other English Bibles available. The suggestions given above are merely that, suggestions – although based on many years of study. However it is not BBS policy to insist on a specific version of the Bible so use what you have or find something that works for you. By and large the Bibles listed above are the ones most often used in this module and where we use something else we will supply further details.

The history of the Bible in English

Unit 4 is essentially an illustrated lecture introducing some of the issues in Bible translation with specific reference to the major versions of the Bible in English available to us today.

If you want to look back over the history of the Bible in English in greater detail, the following are excellent guides so far as they go but you will see that neither could be described as contemporary.

Bruce, F. F., History of the Bible in English (Third Revised Edition) (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2003).
First published in 1981 as The English Bible.

Kubo, Sakae and Walter F. Specht, So Many Versions? Revised and Enlarged Edition (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1983).
First published in 1975. Now badly out of date but superb on what it does cover.

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