Friday, November 14, 2008

So Many Bibles, So Little Time

I used to make just a little fun of the Life Application Bible. "You know," I would say, "it's not like those other Bibles, which don't apply to your life." Then someone from my church got one of them, and I decided to be a little less satirical about it.

You can't help noticing these days, if you're Christian at all, how many Bibles there are. First there are all of the differant translations and paraphrases: there's the venerable King James Bible and the New American Standard, newer scholarly translations like the New International and New Revised Standard Version, simpler and more modern translations like the Contemporary English Version and The Message. There is the New English Version and the New Living Translation, and the New Jerusalem Bible. ("New" seems to be a big thing, doesn't it?) I'm sure I left out somebody's favorite translation here, but I can't forget the translations which, for some reason or another, have been allowed to go out of print: The Revised Standard Version (the one I grew up with) and the Good News Bible (at least I haven't seen it around lately.) The Good News Bible started out as a New Testament called "Good News for Modern Man". The title prompted one elderly widow to wonder, "What does this have to do with me?"

Of course these days, it's not just the translations that multiply. There are also many kinds of Bibles: not just the Life Application Bible mentioned above, but also the Women's Devotional Bible, the Men's Devotional Bible, and the Sports Devotional Bible (do you know how many sports metaphors there are in the Bible?) There's also the the Adventure Bible for Kids and the Celebrate Recovery Bible for people in recovery.

A couple of days ago I was at my local evangelical bookstore and noticed The Reese Chronological Bible, which does exactly what is says. Today I was at the seminry bookstore and caught sight of The Peoples' Bible, which includes the Apocraphya and must be the Bible for Barack Obama, since it sounds suspiciously socialist to me. (On the other hand, I'm glad progressive Christians are learning a little bit about marketing.) I've also noticed The Green Bible recently. Instead of the words of Jesus printed in red, this one includes God's words about creation printed in green.

They say that the Bible is still the best-selling book in the world. We know how to sell the Bible, but do we know how to read the Bible? That's what I want to know.

In my tradition, we always come at the problem of Bible reading from the angle of competence. We want to give people the tools to correct interpretation, and then assume that they will begin to read the Bible on their own.

But I wonder: how do we teach people to love the Bible, to love to read the stories and the poems and the wisdom in that impossible and wonderful book?

Almost all children learn how to read. But some children learn to devour words, to eat up stories, to hunger for poetry, to mine the secrets hidden in all kinds of books.

I'm not sure that even the Life Application Bible can do that.

16 comments:

FranIAm said...

As a Roman Catholic I read either the New American Bible or the Jerusalem Bible- what one might call apocrypha or what would call deurtero-canonical books are included.

I personally love the Jerusalem (as opposed to the New Jerusalem) translation. Very lyrical and moving to me.

However, whatever version one chooses I simply urge people to read their Bibles!

Lovely post as always Diane.

Jennifer said...

So, there's reading and there's READING. I think we model a love for the Bible and the treasure it holds and pray that the Spirit will help us be contagious.
Great post!

Lindy said...

These are important questions Diane. As usual, I don't have any answers but I love your questions.

I'm an NIV gal, just personally. I've seen the Hunter's Bible and a few others that just made me roll my eyes. I'm holding out for the either the Lesbian Bible or, better yet a Holy Bible... Wait, that one's been done.

Have a good weekend.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I agree with what Jennifer said about modeling.

And I just had an irreverent thought. If we print the words of Jesus in red, does that make him a Communist? Or at very least as Socialist?

ROBERTA said...

Ruth! very funny (and yet quite astute) comment about the letters in red :)

As i look over at my shelf I have a few to add to the list - the Inductive Bible from my Precept upon Precept days....and a dear old friend's Amplified Bible - which might have been for the hard of hearing?

Magdalene6127 said...

"it's not like those other Bibles, which don't apply to your life."

That is a very funny statement. It made me laugh... and then sigh.

It is my constant struggle to try to make the underlying truth (it DOES apply!) tangible.

Then I run up against things like... the lectionary.

I guess I am not opposed to those bibles in concept.... only in the places where I think the heavy handed bias they display can actually do harm (as in, to our young people, in the misleading things they say about sexuality).

We know how to sell the bible, but do we know how to read the bible?

That's the question. And... for the most part, no. But... that may be as true for me as it is for anybody else! The more I know, the more I stand shaking, in awe, before my lack of understanding.

Maybe that's the way to read the bible.

Barbara B. said...

Thoughtful post. You rock, Diane.

afeatheradrift said...

I have a love affair with bibles, but I do like my translations to be the best,so I stick to the NRSV and The New Jerusalem as my regulars. I've also had the New American. I can appreciate the KJV but it is a horrid translation for the most part.

Jan said...

Recently I noticed that "Green Bible" at Barnes and Noble. The one that I am enthralled with right now is "The Five Gospels" by the Jesus Seminar! My faith is increasing with seeing what Jesus probably said and what they didn't feel like he did! (Probably because I agree.)

mompriest said...

I so agree, how to teach people to read the Bible with wonder over the mystery of how God might reveal God's self in and through reading the Bible for more than the literal words on the page but the truth inside those words....

ProclaimingSoftly (PSanafter-thought) said...

Although I haven't personally had one of those application type Bibles, people in my study group have used them. My impression is that they include study questions and thought questions, rather than tell one what to think? Am I off base on that?

People I know that have been to Lutheran Sems seem to use the NRSV bible, but I've found that the sentence structure is not easy to understand. Supposedly it is more like the original...but if I don't understand it, so what? Any translation includes the bias of the translators.

Diane said...

ps, I wasn't commenting so much on the content of the "life application" bible as on the title. There used to be Serendipity Bible study Bible, which included study questions of the type you mention.

One of the reasons we give the CEV to the young people: the NRSV does have more difficult sentence structure.

What version do you use, PS?

Katherine E. said...

Apparently there's now an Inclusive Language version from some well respected scholars. Haven't seen it personally.

Lectio divina...best way I know to invite people to love the Bible.

Thanks for the post, Diane

ProclaimingSoftly (PSanafter-thought) said...

Diane, I did catch you humor in the original posting.
I use an NIV Bible that has lots of footnotes, but doesn't have the questions or study guide info. I know it is used by the Evangelical segment of the Christian community, but I bought it because of the footnotes. The notes and intros were written by a broad array of Bible scholars, so there is some balance, and they do point out differences in interpretation of a number of verses, yet they don't admit that some verses might be taken literally, such as the verses that Lutherans use for the basis of communion. [Odd isn't it that the literalists don't recognize that possible interpretation. Of course, the word "is" is taught as part of a simile in English class.]

My husband reads from that Bible, but also looks at the NRSV and the Phillips, which belonged to his dad.

I've read a not flattering review of The Message in a book that was anti-Purpose Driven Life and its founder. I don't know what to make of that.

Diane said...

PS, I'm mixed about The Message. Eugene Peterson is a good writer; I admire that. I've read some of his other books, and I like some of his ideas. I've been reading, off and on, "Eat this Book." Peterson did translate from the original Greek and Hebrew.

But, I'm sure it carries his biases, too.

I'd like to read the review.

Pastor David said...

Diane,
You pose an excellent question. I think what is involved is a shift in models, from knowledge to be mastered to an ongoing dialogue and relationship with Scripture. Part of the problem is that this runs counter to much of what we are taught about reading, literature, and even faith. Personally, I think it starts young - and this is where the baptists have us - with knowledge mastery at a young age (5th grade and prior), when they are developmentally more inclined toward that way of learning. And then, confirmation onward, you start encouraging real engagement.

But I also just plain don't know if there is one good answer -- if you come up with one, will you let the rest of us know?

I tend to rely heavily on the NRSV as a translation, because I think it is important for us as a church (congregationally and ELCA) to have some connection through using a common text. I no longer enjoy any study bibles - I want to be able to sit down and just read. I do occassionally inquire into the notes of the New Interpreters' Study Bible, but that's about it. I had a life application bible that was given to me at COnfirmation, which I used through my sophomore year of college.

Devotionally, I use the Message. I find Petersen's translation to be dynamic and engaging in a way that the bigger, committee-translations are not. I found him to be pretty true to the text, despite leaning toward the side of paraphrase. I also gave the message to this year's confirmation students.